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.
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.
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