A Pollution Breakthrough

Powerful new environmental cleanup regime relies on expert use of votive candles, flowers

Pour poisonous gunk into the ground, let it stew for a few decades, then spend millions of dollars trying to extract it. Sounds like a recipe for lunacy, doesn't it?

Well, San Francisco has brewed up an asylum's worth of such crazy casseroles in places like Hunters Point, China Basin, Treasure Island, the Presidio -- the list goes on. Wackier still, various government agencies are spending millions of dollars on cleanup -- without ever intending to completely remove the contaminants.

To this, SF Weekly says: "Stop the madness!"
And we didn't just say, we did. We turned to consulting expert Chazz Levi, a New York floral specialist and event planner who uses scented votive candles to create unique olfactory environments for entertaining. Instead of spending millions of dollars on test wells and decades of pollution monitoring, Chazz came up with simple, inexpensive, and fun solutions for beautifying several of San Francisco's worst toxic waste sites.

With the money that Ms. Levi's environmental restoration plans can save, SF Weekly believes San Francisco should build more freeways and fewer public transport systems; uproot city museums by the handful, so they can be moved to other parts of town; buy at least three infrared-equipped helicopters to chase homeless people hither and yon; and otherwise continue the sort of lily-gilding nonsense that seems to keep San Franciscans so distracted they never demand real solutions to public policy problems.

Point Naval Shipyard
The government's solution: After decades as a repair and maintenance stop-off for the Navy's Pacific fleet, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is slated to become housing subdivisions, retail stores, a biotech park, and, the Navy hopes, a paper-recycling plant.

But the solvents, fuels, and other poisons deposited during the base's heyday have left the ground contaminated with heavy metals, PCBs, oil, gasoline residue, and grease, according to Department of Defense documents. The shipyard is a federal Superfund site, and will pass to the city of San Francisco during the first part of next year. By that time, the government will have spent $309 million removing contaminants, says Michael McClellan, of the Navy's cleanup team.

In some areas, workers have removed soil as deep as 10 to 12 feet and replaced it with uncontaminated landfill, McClellan says. When the job is done, he claims, "there will be some chemicals left, but they are low enough levels where they don't pose a risk."

SF Weekly's solution: Piffle, Chazz Levi says. The real task at hand is to erase the violent, military feel of the place and replace it with love. "The main thing when you're taking over a space that is a military space is, first of all, change the attitude. I think that the way to go is with passion: night bloom, gardenias, sensuous smells," Chazz says, after being shooed away from the shipyard's front gate by an overzealous guard. "These are things that are going to make people love each other and get turned on to a contact that is not combative, and is more nurturing."

Chazz would strew the base with white flowers and strategically placed "night bloom"-scented candles. "What happens in terms of its surroundings is to promote love, and that's absolutely what we need here," Chazz says.

Hunters Point's coming-out party should be a costume party, she says. "In lieu of printing place mats, I would go to the hardware store and get those little paint masks. I'd have everybody wear them, and make that be the fashion statement," she says. "Because there's nothing worse than somebody leaving an event and getting sick."

Score Card
Navy's solution:
Recycle sandblasting grit; replace soil contaminated with zinc, chromates, and other metals; remove equipment; monitor ground water.

Cost: $309 million.

SF Weekly's solution:
Install 340,322 gardenias, 55,000 assorted white flowering plants, and 554,400 large "night bloom"-scented candles.

Estimated cost: $23,498,027.
Total estimated savings:
$285,501,973.

China Basin Stadium Site
City-approved solution: With the arrival of the new millennium, San Francisco's China Basin port/industrial district will echo with the crack of bats and the roar of baseball fans at a new Giants stadium. But critters such as the S.F. Bay's native herring, seals, sea lions, birds, clams, worms, and algae won't be joining the cheers.

An environmental impact report suggests they may be endangered by tons of toxic goop the Giants plan to leave in the bay-side soil under their stadium. Critics demand that the Giants spend $5 million to replace the soil, which contains benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, zylene, lead, cyanide, and other contaminants.

The Giants say they'll protect fans from this toxic sludge by paving over the site. As for the critters, the Giants say they'll be careful not to stir up too much dust and bay-bottom silt when constructing their stadium.

SF Weekly's solution: Using her well-honed design skills, Chazz would exploit the gritty, industrial feel of the China Basin area to create an intimate, fun space for Giants fans and critters alike.

"We'd go with a 'rare amber'-scented candle. It creates a feeling of intimacy and warmth, and I think this space could use that. It's a natural fragrance, it's one that's derived of flowers, and you could definitely use some flowers and some spice in this kind of environment to make you want to stay in it," says Chazz, as she lounges on a rock pile near Test Well No. 6, which shows the ground to contain more than 3,000 times more benzene than seems reasonable.

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