Dust storm continues

Pub date August 7, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan

The dust is still settling after a contentious Board of Supervisors hearing July 31 about public health problems allegedly related to the 1,500-unit condo complex that Lennar Corp. is building on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard. Department of Public Health officials succeeded in convincing a narrow board majority not to urge a temporary halt to the project but failed to reassure hundreds of mostly African American residents of Bayview–Hunters Point that their health has not been negatively impacted by Lennar’s inability to properly monitor naturally occurring asbestos and control dust at the hilltop site.

At the hearing, minister Christopher Muhammad of the Muhammad University of Islam, which lies adjacent to Parcel A, urged a shutdown and accused the city of "environmental racism," while Dr. Arelious Walker of the True Hope Church of God in Christ and Rev. J. Edgar Boyd of Bethel AME argued that the project is safe and beneficial to the community and that, in Walker’s words, there is "no evidence to warrant a shutdown." Many project supporters were brought in by Lennar on buses. Some observers called the clash "a holy war in the Bayview."

After the board voted 5–6 against a shutdown, there were angry allegations that some pastors had not publicly disclosed their financial interest in seeing the construction project continue. During the hearings, neither Walker nor Boyd disclosed that they had a contract with Lennar to build 200 homes on Parcel A. Reached by phone, Walker denied any self-interest in recommending that Lennar’s construction project continue. "My history disproves that," Walker told the Guardian. "If anyone unearths any evidence of harm, I’d back off my support."

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is doing an assessment based on a July 17 request by the Department of Public Health. In a public health assessment of Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado County, where naturally occurring asbestos was exposed during construction of a playing field, the federal agency found that athletes, coaches, and maintenance workers were "at higher risk [of exposure to asbestos] than previously thought," according to spokesperson Susan Muza. But while the agency recommended soil removal and landscaping, Muza told us it did not recommend the school be relocated or closed.

Meanwhile, Walker also rejects the notion that Bayview–Hunters Point is being torn apart by competing religious factions. "Minister Muhammad’s group has helped prove that there is a serious problem," Walker said. "I applaud him for that. We just disagree about the dust, but that’s not going to bring about a breach. I refuse to let there be a holy war."

Walker said his motive is more African American homeownership. But he learned how tough that is when he developed 20 town houses near Candlestick Point. "We wanted a 50 percent African American homeownership rate, but only two families ended up qualifying," Walker said, blaming "bad credit."

That raises questions about the likelihood that Bayview–Hunters Point’s predominantly African American and low-income community will be able to afford Lennar’s condos, with prices ranging from $300,000 for units required to be "affordable" (about 30 percent of the units) to $700,000 for market-rate units. (Sarah Phelan)