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Development on the "Zeneca site," also known as Campus Bay, will be up for debate at Richmond City Council's Dec. 1 meeting.

Debate Over Zeneca Development Continues

on November 24, 2020

The debate rages on between community activists and the Richmond City Council, who are trying to push for development on the highly controversial “Zeneca site.” 

Claudia Jimenez and Gayle McLaughlin, who will be sworn-in Jan. 12, are expected to sway the majority against the proposed agreement that would clean up the property polluted with more than 100 chemicals

McLaughlin argues the agreement is being rushed and must be denied until the hazardous chemical concerns are addressed in an appropriate cleanup plan. 

“It all came forward at once,” McLaughlin said. “We think that the mayor and others on the council pushed it forward during this lame-duck period of time when the new council hasn’t been sworn in yet.” 

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said he is worried that the newly elected members will unravel the progress made by the current council. 

“I don’t want to start all over again next year when the Richmond Progressive Alliance has a majority,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. “If it doesn’t get done before they take office, I can tell you, they’ll do everything they can to stop it.”

On Dec. 1, the council will vote on the “Campus Bay Mixed-Use Project” agreement project, which proposes the “remediation of the site as approved by and in accordance with all requirements of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).”

If approved, developers would build a 4,000 housing unit, a 20,000-square foot grocery store and “approximately 30.7 acres of parks and open space.” 

The project also promises to provide $22 million in community benefits, according to agenda report prepared by Richmond’s Community Development Department.

At Thursday night’s Richmond Planning Commission meeting, McLaughlin continued to speak against the agreement. 

The commission voted unanimously to approve a recommendation for the proposed development agreement despite 32 of the 41 public speakers voicing concerns for the project. 

Members of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group (CAG) were among the people most worried.

 The group has supported a cleanup plan that involves removing all the site’s contaminated soil for more than 15 years.

“This is not a safe plan,” CAG member Tarnell Abbott said. “If you’re gonna do anything out there you have to have some safety measures and it’s not evident of what those safety measures are.”

Commission members defended the current cleanup plan, pointing to the October 2019 remedy selection by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

DTSC’s approved plan will excavate some contaminated soil and install barriers in areas where tainted soil will be left in place. 

“The approved 2019 remedy plan considered the use of the property for multi-family residential use and included measures that must be adhered to ensure that this use is protective of human health,” DTSC Public Information Officer Russ Edmondson wrote in an email. “These measures will safely prevent people from contact with contaminated material.”

The plan to remove all the contaminated soil would “create more harmful impacts to the community, including air pollution, dangerous traffic and increased dust,” according to a DTSC October 2019 press release.

The toxic substances department added that its selected plan would take about eight fewer years to implement. 

California's Department of Toxic Substances approved plan for the site will excavate some contaminated soil and install barriers in areas where tainted soil will be left in place.
California’s Department of Toxic Substances approved plan for the site will excavate some contaminated soil and install barriers in areas where tainted soil will be left in place. Photo Credit: Mathew Miranda

CAG member and chemist Steve Linsley argues the proposed cleanup is not comprehensive enough for the site’s substances of concern, including 11 cancer-causing chemicals. 

“I can’t tell you how many years down the road, but we’re going to be facing toxic pesticides, chemicals, and hazardous metals,” Linsley said. “As a result, some are likely to die and the rest will likely be affected in some way or another.”

Linsley, a former Richmond laboratory supervisor of 23 years, said he worked directly with the site and oversaw other cleanup projects in the city.

“I’m very familiar with it and I was shocked to find out what they were doing with the site,” Linsley said. 

If the agreement is approved on Dec 1., McLaughlin said she does not believe the councilmember-elects or community will “sit back and say we lost.” 

“We’re going to fight with everything we have in us for justice in this regard and not to have our community suffer the impact of leaving the toxins in place,” McLaughlin said. 


  1. Jeanne Kortz on November 25, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    The DTSC is a captured agency, that is, they are beholden to developers, the trades unions, and corporations. A full residential cleanup is possible, despite what DTSC states. The toxic dirt is watered down to keep the dust down, the dirt is then put in shipping containers, is trucked to trains which take the containers to Utah, 15 miles outside of Salt Lake City where no person lives, and is encased in a concrete bunker.

    It is hypocritical of the DTSC to point fingers at trucks and such coming in because trucks will be needed to bring in construction materials, concrete, etc. What about the health of the construction workers?

    This is a very bad plan, a Love Canal, if you will. What happens when people get sick, and some die from the less than residential cleanup? Will the City be liable?

    And what about the San Francisco Bay? Currently, toxins are leaking into the Bay affecting fish inhabiting the area. Scientists are discovering fish born with both ovaries and testes. What about sea level rise? What about earthquakes? A concrete cap will not be able to withstand an earthquake (liquifaction). And driving construction piles into mud? It’s a joke.

    Richmond needs to get it’s act together regarding development. The City needs to concentrate on the downtown area and build affordable housing there near public transportation. What follows next is a thriving community with shops, cafes, and restaurants. It brings jobs, and the jobs for constructions workers will be safe and be available much sooner.

    Tom Butt is going about planning for the City terribly wrong, and it’s going to cost lives, but as long as he doesn’t have to live there, it’s okay with him.

  2. Regina Gilligan on November 27, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Given the long list of toxic substances including the leftovers of the bombs processed here for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and add in the chemicals dropped on the properties by the UC Field Station, the PCBS, ARSENIC, ETC. an excellent Power Point was presented to the Richmond Design Review last week by Sherry Padgett who has studied the site thoroughly and was a victim of an earlier clean-up effort.
    Like Rocky Flats, CO and other sites across the U.S, the stuff is in the soil and children playing in their back yards died of complications from scratched knees. What is the future of families here?

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