Foul Ball

The Giants' new stadium site is almost certainly seeping a stew of toxic chemicals into the bay. Why doesn't the government care?

Pal explains the situation this way: "There are no numerical standards that are applicable."

If there was a lack of rigid regulatory standards, the water board responded oddly to it. In one instance, the board simply changed the standard that did exist. When faced with levels of diesel, gasoline, and motor oil that exceeded the water board's own guidelines for ground water, the board simply changed the rules, at the last minute, without public hearings or a thorough evaluation of the new levels.

And where did the water board get these new levels, the ones that suddenly made the pollution levels measured at the stadium site nearly a year earlier seem reasonable?

The new guidelines for petroleum pollution of ground water were based on unverified tests conducted by fuel companies that polluted soil beneath San Francisco International Airport and are being asked to clean up the mess. In some cases, the airport tenants' proposed guidelines for petroleum pollution were 3,000 times higher than those the water board had used as recently as 1995.

When asked why the alleged polluters' guidelines were used when judging the site for the Giants stadium, Pal said, "They seemed more reasonable to us."

He elaborated on that statement in a striking way. Pal said the pollution guidelines proposed by firms alleged to have fouled the ground and water beneath the airport represented a more relevant standard for the stadium site than the water quality standards propounded by the federal EPA.

Early this year, Baykeeper, a nonprofit group that monitors bay polluters, realized that the pace of development under Mayor Willie Brown's administration had picked up exponentially, and that the largest developments were taking place on the city's highly toxic industrial waterfront.

In response, the group founded the Clean Waterfront Project, which is aimed at cajoling developers into conducting stringent cleanups on the waterfront. The waterfront project's director, Leslie Caplan, a politically inexperienced lawyer and Canadian transplant, quickly began to look at the Giants' stadium proposal and to wonder about the foundation of its environmental process. Nothing about that process seemed quite right.

First, Geomatrix was being paid by the Giants. How could anyone expect the firm's findings to be completely impartial?

Perhaps the biggest hole Baykeeper found in the environmental impact report prepared for the Giants, however, involved 40 acres of land south of China Basin Channel, which the team plans to use for a parking lot. The land, pieces of which are owned by Catellus Development Corp. and the Port of San Francisco, is at least as highly contaminated as the ballpark site.

The Giants' environmental consultants did not study the parking site as part of the stadium project.

The land to be used for parking supported the same types of industrial uses as the ballpark site. But the proposed parking lot is connected to a disconcerting bit of history that does not apply to the ballpark site itself: For most of the 1980s and '90s, a toxic-waste handler, H&H Shipping Services, operated on the future Giants parking lot. H&H cleaned out toxic waste storage tanks and sawed them into scrap metal, among other risky activities.

The Giants' explanation of the decision not to test the land seems less than compelling: The team said plans to lease the land from Catellus and the port were not completed until after Geomatrix had drawn up its work plan for the review of the ballpark site.

City and state officials accepted that explanation without question.
At every public hearing on the environmental review of or the lease proposal for the stadium site, Baykeeper asked for a delay and a more thorough study. For the most part, no one paid attention; planning commissioners, city supervisors, and port officials all voted the project through.

Watching this fast-track process, Caplan came to a realization: The Giants weren't the only ones with a financial incentive to minimize the potential harm of leaving the polluted land at the stadium site intact. The city had the same motivation.

The port owns the land that will become the stadium; the Giants will lease it for about $1.2 million a year. If an intensive cleanup were required, the cost of that remediation would have to be calculated into the fair market rent paid by the Giants.

And Paul Osmundson, the port's development director, says that would have cost the port and the city significant amounts of money.

Osmundson worked on the Embarcadero Roadway Project, where the city dug up miles of waterfront to lay down a median divider with palm trees, and watched as the water board and the state EPA required the city to pay millions of dollars for disposal of contaminated bayfront dirt in landfills in Utah.

"Had the regulatory agencies required that kind of cleanup [for the new Giants stadium], the port would not have gotten anything," Osmundson says. "The fair market value would have been zero."

Eventually, however, one member of the Board of Supervisors listened to Baykeeper. Leslie Katz asked the city's underfunded Department of the Environment to conduct a review of Geomatrix's findings.

That same week, the water board approved the Giants' lease and environmental review, rendering the Department of the Environment's findings essentially meaningless. (The study will be published sometime this month.) But the request for such a study opened a window on the extremely questionable process by which the Giants obtained environmental approval for a baseball stadium on China Basin.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.