Saving Richmond's Shoreline- No Housing on a Toxic Waste Dump!

Saving Richmond's Shoreline- No Housing on a Toxic Waste Dump!

By Tarnel Abbott and Deborah Bayer

Where We Stand Now

The Richmond Shoreline Alliance, Citizens for East Shore Parks, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Sunflower Alliance, and Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (or SPRAWLDEF) have filed a lawsuit against the City of Richmond based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and due process violations. The suit contends the City Council ignored evidence that the proposed cleanup process will not be sufficient for future residents living on the site, and it seeks to reopen the 2016 Environmental Impact Report to include recent science on sea level rise projections and health impacts. The lawsuit and the development have been discussed in closed session, but the public is not privy to how those discussions are going.

What You Can Do

  1. Join the Richmond Shoreline Alliance and get involved.
  2. Contact your City Council member or speak during the Public Comment portion of City Council meetings to insist on a full cleanup before any housing is built.
  3. Join the RPA Environmental Action Team (EAT) by contacting Tarnel Abbott at  [email protected]
  4. Watch this video by Richmond filmmaker Alix Mazuet to learn more.

Background

Richmond's 32 miles of shoreline is our greatest natural asset. However, over the last century the rush to develop at all costs has led to the despoiling of much of the original Bay shore. The legacy of heavy industry remains as a wound on the land and in the bodies of the people and wildlife who live nearby. 

Today, Richmond's battle is focused on the AstraZeneca (former Stauffer Chemical) site located on the south shoreline next to the U.C. Richmond Field Station and a stone’s throw from the San Francisco Bay Trail.  The Campus Bay Mixed Use Development proposal for up to 4,000 residential units was rushed through the city planning process in November and December 2020 over the objections of hundreds of community members, one month before newly-elected progressive council members Gayle McLaughlin, Claudia Jimenez and Melvin Willis were sworn in to create, with Eduardo Martinez, a council majority capable of blocking it.

More than a century of chemical manufacturing of sulfuric acid, pesticides, and fertilizer, followed by a botched cleanup in 2002, has left 550,000 cubic yards of toxic waste buried on the 86-acre site now owned by AstraZeneca. In 1994 the federal EPA recognized that the site, which is loaded with poisons such as arsenic, pesticides and volatile organic compounds like TCE, met the criteria of a Superfund site. Oversight for the cleanup is currently under the aegis of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), with AstraZeneca responsible for the cost.

In 2005, a group of concerned citizens living and working near the site formed the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group (RSSA/CAG) to serve as the public liaison with the DTSC and monitor future remediations. The group has supported a cleanup plan that involves removing all the site’s contaminated soil for more than 15 years.

In 2018 the City Council unanimously agreed with the CAG and told the DTSC that it supported a full cleanup to the highest residential standard that included removal of contaminated soil. A year later council members Demnlus Johnson and Nat Bates convinced fellow members Tom Butt and Ben Choi to reverse that position in favor of a partial cleanup that would allow for quicker development. A development agreement with Shopoff Realty Investment and Hilco Redevelopment was approved by the lame-duck City Council in December 2020. Twenty-two million dollars in community benefits was promised for improvements to the Bayview fire station, the Booker T. Anderson Community Center, Richmond Build, Richmond Promise, and the Bay Trail—some of which will be paid by future residents, not the developer. 

The DTSC proposes to leave more than 95% of the toxins in place and cover them with a 65-acre concrete cap. Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) wells will be constructed to vent toxic gases out of the soil and away from residences. However, SVE wells are designed to work in soil above the water table, and rising groundwater from sea-level rise will affect the stability of the cap as well as the effectiveness of the wells.

The DTSC claims their proposed cleanup will be good enough for residential housing, but no K-12 schools, senior centers, daycare centers, hospitals, or single-family dwellings will be allowed on site. Families with children, pregnant women, elders and other vulnerable people are expected to live there. With no containment below the site, toxins are already leaking into adjacent properties, Stege Marsh, Baxter Creek and San Francisco Bay and will continue to do so. Residents continue to demand that AstraZeneca clean up its toxic waste dump!