But during heavy rains last year, the Giants decided to excavate the site and cover the footprint of the ball field with broken concrete blocks, hoping this would improve drainage and ameliorate muddy site conditions. This excavation produced the 27,000 tons of dirt the team was unable to put back in place under the ballpark.
And on Jan. 1, 1999, these extra 27,000 tons of dirt became, by the workings of a new California law, hazardous waste that could be disposed of only -- only -- at a Class 1 landfill.
And the San Francisco Giants know all about that law.
In 1998, state Sen. Byron Sher, a renowned environmental lawmaker from the Peninsula, and Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin from the North Coast, both Democrats, introduced a bill that would set thresholds for the levels of toxic metals and chemicals that would designate a substance to be hazardous waste that must be disposed of in Class 1 waste facilities. For lead, the threshold would be 350 milligrams per kilogram. Soil or any other constituent with lead above that level would have to go to a Class 1 facility.
The Giants soil was above that level.
The new law was meant to head off deregulation efforts under way at the state Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC). Environmentalists such as Jody Sparks, the president of the Toxic Assessment Group, were fighting to stop an eradication of California toxic waste regulatory guidelines that was masquerading as deregulation. The Sher/Strom-Martin law was a first step in that fight.
Sparks is one of two heavyweight environmental lobbyists in Sacramento. She and the Sierra Club are about all there is in the way of environmental lobbying in the state's capital. Sparks is both technically and politically brilliant. She knows the science of toxic waste, and the art of legislative battle.
And she's a real terrier when displeased.
Sparks fought hard alongside Sher and Strom-Martin to get the new law passed.
There were efforts to sidetrack and nullify the law. As the bill was heading toward final approval, the director of the state's toxic control bureaucracy, Jesse Huff, sent out two letters -- one to the Governor's Office -- attempting to interpret the law out of existence by suggesting that the DTSC had ultimate authority over whether the law applied in any given case.
Sher and Strom-Martin informed Huff that he was wrong as wrong gets. The law was clear: Toxic waste above the thresholds they set into law had to go to a Class 1 facility. "The opinion of some bureaucrat doesn't make the law otherwise," Sher said in an interview. "The law controls."
By Jan. 1, 1999, when the law went into effect, its meaning was settled.
And the Giants suddenly had a very expensive pile of dirt on their hands.
The Giants had a double-barreled problem.
The Sher/Strom-Martin law on toxic substance levels seemed to absolutely require that the dirt mountain on China Basin Channel be put into an expensive Class 1 hazardous waste landfill.
And there was another environmental law that appeared to require Class 1 disposal of the dirt.
Title 22 of the California Code of Regulations says that waste containing water-soluble lead above certain levels has to be hauled to a Class 1 landfill.
And the lead in the Giants soil could indeed dissolve in water. The Giants soil, it would later turn out, tested at more than 60 times the state standard for water-soluble lead.
The Giants seemed to have no way out. The Sher/Strom-Martin bill made the nonsoluble lead in the dirt Class 1 material. Application of Title 22 made the dirt into Class 1 material, too.
If the mountain at the ballpark were considered hazardous waste, the Giants would have to spend upward of $1 million to haul 18,000 cubic yards of dirt either to East Carbon, Utah, or to Kettlemen City or Buttonwillow, near Bakersfield, the locations of the nearest Class 1 facilities.
But the Giants thought they had found a loophole. The loophole is called reclassification.
Under the reclassification process, if state scientists decide that what might ordinarily be deemed toxic waste will not be a danger to wildlife or humans, the material can be "reclassified" as nonhazardous and disposed of, at a greatly reduced price, at a Class 2 facility.
On Jan. 29, the Giants sent samples of their dirt to the state Department of Toxic Substance Control and asked for such a reclassification. The Giants wanted an exemption from environmental law that would allow the team to do one of two things: take all 27,000 tons of the stadium dirt to a Class 2 waste facility, or place the dirt under a parking lot the team planned to build across China Basin Channel from the new ballpark.
The Giants' samples landed on the desk of Kimi Klein, Ph.D., a toxicologist in the DTSC waste evaluation unit, on Jan. 29. On Feb. 10, she sent DTSC staffers to collect their own samples.
She conducted the standard test on the samples, called a WET test, and she came back with results that showed the waste contained approximately 63 times the state standard for water-soluble lead.
Klein says she followed procedure and conducted two additional tests. She conducted a test called the TCLP, and still the waste came up as too hazardous to go anywhere but a Class 1 facility.