According to the news story below, the Navy intends to dissolve a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) for the closed, and highly contaminated military installation at Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco. This is a largely poor/working class Black and Latino neighborhood and the site of many environmental justice struggles over the years. The Navy’s reason is that the meetings had taken on a “hostile tone”. This incident reveals several things. First, the RABs are basically powerless, and were intended to be so. Two, communities still used the RAB as a venue to address military contamination issues, but were shut down when they actually asserted their power. This is consistent with experiences in Hawai’i. There are several RABs in Hawai’i, including Pearl Harbor, Hickam, Lualualei, Waimanalo, Waikane, and Central Oahu. Mainly, the RABs are useful for obtaining information and raising questions and concerns. However, the controlling power resides with the military, as the Hunters Point story indicates. We need a better system for public accountability and oversight of military clean up projects.
Hunters Point Residents Angered At Navy Proposal To Shelve Cleanup Committee
Posted: 10:06 pm PST November 5, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Residents of San Francisco’s Bayview District Thursday expressed concern about community involvement in the ongoing toxic cleanup and redevelopment of the former U.S. Navy shipyard at Hunters Point at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing.
The Government Audit and Oversight Committee Thursday afternoon passed a resolution authored by Supervisor John Avalos calling on the Navy to reconsider its plan to dissolve the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) for Hunters Point.
The Navy earlier this year sent a notice of its intention to end the committee, which includes members of the Bayview community, Navy officials and environmental regulators and met regularly to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts of the 900-acre former shipyard, which was found to be contaminated by toxic metals and petroleum waste.
Some residents blame the contamination for higher incidences of cancer and asthma in the community.
The Navy said the meetings had taken on a “hostile tone,” and rules of order were not followed, according to Amy Brownell, a San Francisco Department of Public Health environmental engineer and former RAB member, who said today she agreed with the Navy’s perspective.
Other concerns cited by the Navy included lack of diverse input from the community at the meetings, and that the meetings’ focus drifted from cleanup to redevelopment and other issues, Brownell said.
Redevelopment plans include thousands of new housing units, parks and a possible new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.
Leon Mohammad, a former RAB co-chair, told the committee today that he believes the Navy’s decision was politically motivated and retaliatory against some members “for raising legitimate concerns on behalf of the Bayview-Hunters Point community.”
But Mohammad said the advisory board was necessary to ensure the cleanup effort was responsive to the community’s needs.
Minister Christopher Muhammad said the cleanup had been corrupted by “greedy developers and political expediency.”
Some residents have charged that a plan by San Francisco city officials to make an early transfer of some portions of the cleanup site from the Navy to the city in late 2010 is motivated more by concerns about developing the land than about residents’ health.
“They’ll clean it up, at some point, but at what cost to the existing population?” asked Muhammad.
San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development Director Michael Cohen insisted at the hearing that effective cleanup of the early transfer parcels would be completed.
Cohen said the early transfers were “suggested to us by the federal EPA” and called the idea that the transfers would come at the cost of removal of ground contamination an “unfortunate misconception.”
Avalos has planned a future hearing on the proposed early transfer of lands. The RAB resolution will move to the full board on Nov. 17.
“I think there’s been real questions … the Navy has been real arrogant in running the meetings,” Avalos said after today’s hearing.
“But they have to take in information that they might not necessarily like to hear,” he said.
There was no Navy representative at the hearing, and a spokesperson did not immediately return a call for comment.
On the early transfer proposal, Avalos said he believes “development is driving it.”
“It should be the general safety of people, that drives this,” he said.
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