The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday passed a resolution urging the United States Navy to reinstate a community board to oversee its cleanup of the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard, but it wasn’t the victory that the community was hoping for.
The original proposal, introduced by Supervisor John Avalos, would have specifically advised the Navy to reinstate the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), a group of residents and activists who have acted as watchdogs to the Navy’s cleanup efforts to the Superfund site for more than a decade. The Navy had dissolved the watchdog group.
“There was a lot of concern from members of the community about accountability of the Navy towards the community, and the cleanup around the shipyard,” Avalos said, adding that the Navy dissolved the RAB board without following the required arbitration process.
In a previous meeting, residents told supervisors that during a recent Navy cleanup asbestos was released, windowsills were filled with black dust and children suffered nosebleeds. The Navy had also recently requested to transfer the land back to the city early, before the cleanup was complete.
“All we ask is for clean air to breathe, and for them to protect us, but they just turned their heads,” resident Vivian Donahue had said, noting the neighborhood’s high rate of cancer.
Before the vote took place Tuesday Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents Bayview-Hunters Point, introduced an amendment saying that the Navy should reinstate the RAB “and/or provide other appropriate forums to ensure meaningful public participation in the cleanup process.” That resolution passed 9-2, with Supervisors Avalos and Chris Daly voting no.
“I took my name off the legislation because by amending the legislation we were saying it was okay for the Navy to dissolve the RAB,” Avalos said. “There wouldn’t be any way for the community to have real input into what the Navy is up to around the cleanup.”
Maxwell said the Navy dissolved the group because they felt it was dysfunctional, adding that the same group of people always showed up to RAB meetings, and that other groups in the community felt left out.
“It wasn’t getting the information out into the community,” Maxwell said of the RAB group. “And when people would come, it would be so mean and so ugly, that people would stop coming. The information still needs to get out.”
After the hearing, Maxwell said she would like to see the Navy initiate a new coordination process where the community would help to decide the next steps in the cleanup.
Bayview Hunters Point residents and RAB members who attended the hearing were furious and announced their intention to recall Supervisor Maxwell.
“We’ve been coming here for years trying to work out issues in Bayview Hunters Point, and it’s obvious that it fell on deaf ears,” said Daniel Landry, one of the RAB members. “You’re dealing with an enlivened community that’s ready to fight. If we can get signatures on the ballot, surely we can recall a deadbeat supervisor.”
Marie Harrison, one of the original RAB members, agreed. “People from my community who are suffering had hoped that you would remember your obligation to us,” she said.