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Cleanup, cleanup

Submitted by on 1, June 4, 2009 – 6:00 am14 Comments

alameda-point-jetSitting in on their monthly gig as Alameda’s redevelopment board, the City Council got a report Wednesday night on how the Navy’s cleanup plan for Alameda Point squares with SunCal’s development proposal for the site.

Turns out that the Navy has agreed to clean up the land to the standards required to develop the Preliminary Development Concept, and not SunCal’s proposed development plan, which has has not yet been approved by the council or redevelopment board, as the PDC was (and has three times as much housing in it as the PDC).

That means that SunCal would be responsible for getting regulatory approvals and paying for any additional cleanup required by its development plans if they’re approved, Base Reuse Manager Debbie Potter said, unless the Navy agrees otherwise.

But Potter said that environmental regulators have been pushing the Navy to clean up the base so it’s safe for any type of use, including housing, regardless of what developers plan to build there. She said some areas of the base have been cleaned up to that higher standard even though they are slated for commercial or recreational use, for which less cleanup is legally required.

Still, Potter said SunCal has a line item in its project financials for environmental cleanup. That figure has not been disclosed.


  • AD says:


    do you know what this line item will pay for exactly? The initiative says Suncal will do lead and asbestos abatement—this is standard clean up and not the toxic remediation the Navy is working on. With the Navy going by one plan and Suncal by another, will there be unremediated toxic substances under a place where Suncal plans to put housing?

    It would be useful to get a copy of these higher and lower standards too, with toxic substances listed.

    • Hi AD,

      I understand there is a line in SunCal’s pro forma for any additional remediation beyond what the Navy is required to do, but I don’t know what that number is because the pro forma has not been made public. I think the asbestos and lead remediation in the buildings is separate.

      As far as the standards, I don’t know if there is a list per se. There are different cleanup standards for residential development, commercial/industrial and recreational uses (with the most stringent standards for residential uses). Each cleanup plan is individual based on what the contaminant is, where it is, how much is there and probably a whole host of other things.

      But I think the thrust of last night’s presentation was that the regulators are pushing the Navy to clean up as much of the base as possible to an unrestricted standard, meaning it is safe for any type of use. The one focus area was a cleanup spot along Seaplane Lagoon, which I don’t think was originally being contemplated for housing but is now. It sounded like most of that would be cleaned up to a residential standard, and again, any additional cleanup would be SunCal’s responsibility.

  • Santa Claritan says:

    The problem with the Navy remediating land to office/industrial standards, and then expecting any developer to do further remediation to residential standards, is three fold.

    First, developers in California shop for the most lax, loosey goosey geochemists, geologists and consultants they can find, who will propose remediations which “don’t really work”. If these consultants have California engineering licenses, there are very tough state laws which effectively prevent members of the public (e.g. homebuyers) who are injured by the lax remediation from recovering against the engineers. On top of that, even the largest engineering, geology and geotechnical companies carry $1Million in liability insurance coverage at most, regardless of the risk they are creating. If they cause harm to the public, through their expert opinions, and their insurance isn’t enough to pay for all the damages from their negligence, they just file bankruptcy. In connection with this project, I’ve already seen one engineering firm mentioned who were responsible for grotesque design errors which were blamed, in part, for one of the major Metrolink crashes in the L.A. area. That firm only had $1Million in liability insurance, even though their design fees alone were in the $5Million range. Bottom line: Don’t rely on developers’ geochemists, engineers and geologists.

    Second, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control is a huge problem. Its management decisions on remediation issues change like the wind, depending on who is Governor and depending on who is appointed as DTSC Director and Director and Assistant Director of Cal EPA, DTSC’s parent agency. In one case in the early 2000’s, the Assistant Director of Cal EPA’s boyfriend was the lawyer for a developer of a school site surrounded by contaminated sites and oil fields. You can guess what happened.

    Third, an additional problem at DTSC, which exists now, is that the environmental toxics public interest community and senior DTSC management have recognized that DTSC’s in house staff does not have the technical expertise or experience to recognize when they are being fed a bunch of baloney by a developer’s geologists, hydrologists and geochemists. That means that the public cannot trust DTSC’s technical employees to protect them. As a result, “the public” has to hire its own expert geochemists and geologists. And if you think a “city council” hiring geochemists and geologists to “protect the public”, you’re crazy. Local politics (i.e. developer and realtor influence) color what a city’s geochemists and geologists are allowed to report “on paper”.

    “Remediation” of a property highly contaminated by toxic substances which are volatile organic chemicals, creating off gassing of toxic fumes, to allow a property to be used for homes, schools, offices and other places where people spend work days indoors is a sick, sick joke, from a public health point of view. The cost-conscious Navy can’t be trusted, The developer can’t be trusted. The city can’t be trusted. DTSC can’t be trusted.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    OMG! That is scary! Thank you, Michele, for keeping your eye on that, and thank you Santa Clarita for looking in on us!

  • DL Morrison says:

    When SunCal estimated the cost of preparing the site at around $700M, I don’t think the estimate included anything towards soil and groundwater cleanup — I can’t confirm that, because the financial estimates are no longer on the Alameda-Point site.

    Looking at their current Master Plan, tho, I don’t see any reference to environmental cleanup. So, given that the Navy has spent $400M (?) or thereabouts already, and expects to continue its efforts for several years to come, what does SunCal propose to spend on its own remediation efforts? And what will that add to SunCal’s ultimate costs, or to the costs that future property owners might be expected to bear?

  • DL Morrison says:

    Thanks to Action Alameda for posting a copy of SunCal’s draft Master Budget from Sept ’08. See pg. 1 of the budget (pg. 3 of the pdf), “Remediation” — for dollar amount, it reads: “BY OTHERS”.

    So, no, the $700M did not include remediation.


    (This is a large document, that’s slow to open.)

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Santa Claritan seems to suggest that we can trust no one to be genuinely and ethically concerned about the clean up at the former Alameda Naval Sir Station. How, then, do we get it cleaned up? If literally no one is trustworthy, it’s a pretty lonely world, and we don’t get a base cleaned up, either…

  • David Howard says:

    Oh! That’s an easy one! Can I answer?

    The answer is… we don’t get it cleaned up. Reject SunCal’s plan to put all that housing on contaminated land that may or may not be properly cleaned up to support housing. Go back to a plan compatible with the Navy’s existing plan for clean-up, whether it be the PDC or something much like it, or don’t build housing at all, and focus on adaptive re-use of the buildings there for light industry and job creation.

    All this debate about whether or not SunCal’s plan is the right _housing_ plan when the real question is whether or not housing is right for the site at all.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Why don’t we just think about it for the next 50 years? Have you all read that little 5th grade reader about how Alameda was originally developed? It was an isthmus given to a few Spanish settlers who grazed their cattle here. Then a couple of homes were built. A road. And then a few more homes. Another road. And then more. The Army Engineers made it an island. (The photos are upstairs at the Oakland Library) Then the Key system went in. And thanks to GM went out.

    Why don’t we keep what we have, and build what we can as we can afford it? And as it suits our needs? Why shouldn’t ALL be recreation and a wildlife preserve? If we commercialize it, let do it ourselves. No need to give the developers all the profit forever like Alameda has always done. Alameda is broke. The lease for all the City owned land at Ballena Bay nets the City about $125k per year. (May be twice that now) For everything over the bridge. Alameda gets $100-200k per year while the developer gets everything for every business, every boat dock, every building, every year. For the next hundred years or so. A taxpayer giveaway. How much do they charge for a berth at Ballena Bay for a year? How many berths do they have? How many businesses? And so on. We get darn near zip. Thanks to a pretty useless City Council not unlike that which we have now. (one former Councilmember is luckily a part owner of Ballena now).

    Alameda needs to be administered and managed like a business, not a taxpayer giveaway. Frankly after paying off AIG et al., we don’t have that much left to give.

  • Santa Claritan says:

    John Spangler said: “How, then, do we get it cleaned up? If literally no one is trustworthy, it’s a pretty lonely world, and we don’t get a base cleaned up, either…”

    The real world of toxic remediation is not “lonely”. It’s filled with people made sick by half @ssed remediation. Did you ever hear the story about the houses built on a “remediated” military training base in San Diego County. Two kids were killed when unexploded ordnance blew up. The “remediators” had missed it, because they were trying to stay within a budget.

    The only way the public is protected from bogus geology, geochemistry and engineering relating to land where enclosed structures where humans will live in work, is for the community members hire their own experts, to review what the developers propose, to review what DTSC ultimately agrees to, and to publicly raise holy h@ll when a remediation is not being conducted in a thorough and effective manner.

    Under California law creating “Community Advisory Groups” for DTSC remediation projects, DTSC is legally obligated to pay for experts to advise the Community Advisory Group. But of course, DTSC always cries poor mouth, that they don’t have the money in their budget. So while idealistic, a public funded expert “for the community” is usually not going to happen. It doesn’t hurt for locals to demand that a CAG be formed by DTSC and expert money provided.

    Assuing there is no expert money coming from state agencies, local residents are left having to find some public spirited engineer, geochemist or geologist in their community who will read the technical reports and then ream the public agencies for accepting them if they are sloppily done or render scientifically incorrect conclusions. If there is no “volunteer” from the community, then the community really needs to raise money to hire its own experts.

    Once again, without independent experts monitoring what the owner of the contaminated property is doing, both in terms of investigation and implementation of a remediation plan, a committee of concerned citizens simply has to raise money to pay its own experts, to prevent the concerned citizens’ community from being harmed by the responsible party/owner and by DTSC.

  • J.E.A says:

    That was a great post….You must write the same thing and send it to the local papers. I had no idea…….The more I learn the more depressed I get…

  • David Howard says:

    Click my name above for a recent SF Chronicle news story about Midway Village in San Francisco – a former Navy site, where people are sick, and DTSC says it is clean.

    Or google “Daly City housing complex haunted by toxic past.”

    Un-related to the DSTC, read the story (link below) about Willis, California, where a private company asserts that their property is not responsible for local illnesses, contrary to UCSF researchers.


    Or google “Local Company Linked To Cancer Rates In Willits”

  • J.E.A says:

    So, now on this beautiful Sunday afternoon I’m even more depressed. Thanks for the links….(I think)

  • DL Morrison says:

    Thanks to Santa Claritan too. Can we contact you thru this blog’s owner?

    And “Dave” also, is there any way that we can contact you?


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