On March 2, after one-third of the Giants' toxic earth was laid down as a cover over garbage at Altamont, where it was exposed to the wind, DTSC sent a second letter to Bair, this one revoking the reclassification. The letter was faxed at 4 p.m. Eyewitnesses were calling DTSC and complaining that trucks were rolling to Altamont at 5:30 p.m., according to DTSC spokesman Frank Simpson.
Somehow, the Giants obtained a letter of apology out of Stephens on March 3. The letter accepted all the blame for the "mistake" in allowing the Giants to truck their toxic dirt to a Class 2, nontoxic facility. The team also received a pronouncement from DTSC that the lead mound did not pose any risk to people who worked or lived nearby the ballpark construction site.
Drawing on the first letter, the Giants drafted a press release that would set the tone for the media coverage. The whole mess was the result of a bureaucratic boo-boo. DTSC had admitted it. It wasn't the Giants' fault. The press ate it up and repeated it.
The second letter found its way to the Health Department, and its director, a Willie Brown appointee, Dr. Mitchell Katz, signed a press release repeating the DTSC assertion that the dirt posed no health threat. The media dutifully repeated the press release's main points almost verbatim.
Instead of questioning the Giants, the local newspapers and other media outlets acted as surrogate spokespeople for the team.
KTVU Channel 2 is a part owner of the Giants. The San Francisco Examiner recently entered into a joint news-gathering agreement with KTVU. KNBR radio is also a part owner of the Giants. And Giants Executive Vice President Larry Baer, who heads up the corporate entity building the new ballpark, the China Basin Ballpark Corp., pulled a four-year tenure at KPIX-TV Channel 5 in the late '80s.
These and other news outlets repeated the Giants' simple version of events faithfully.
The coverage was as unquestioning as it was illogical. On the one hand, state regulators were so incompetent they could not choose the proper standard for testing toxic materials. But on the other hand, the regulators were the voice of absolute truth when they proclaimed that the Giants' dirt mountain posed no threat to public health or the environment.
Last week was a triumph in damage control for the San Francisco Giants. I heartily congratulate them on a week of expert work.
Even if bamboozling San Francisco's permanently bamboozled press is not particularly challenging work.
Others were not so happily predisposed toward the Giants.
Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor whose district covers the Altamont landfill, was hopping mad -- at both the state and the Giants. "I'm pissed," he said in an interview. "As far as I am concerned we now have a hazardous waste site in Altamont."
Haggerty is now calling for hearings into the matter at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. He suspects that political pressure brought to bear by the Giants and San Francisco officials might have played a part in the rush to judgment by DTSC. "I can't say I haven't thought about that," he said.
He's not alone in thinking that way. Supervisor Tom Ammiano has called for his own hearings in San Francisco this week. Asked what he thought of the surprisingly quick decision by DTSC he said, "[The Giants] are very well connected, aren't they?"
The suspicion that political pressure could have been brought to bear on DTSC is not an unreasonable one. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is an old ally of Willie Brown. And Davis has already appointed his own director of the California Environmental Protection Agency, the department under which DTSC falls.
But don't expect the real manner in which the Giants and their political patrons exerted pressure on DTSC to be revealed anytime soon. Those doings appear to have already been buried underneath fear and God knows what else.
But as Haggerty and Ammiano prepare to hold their respective hearings, one thing is clear: The Giants will have to, at the very least, rebut some serious charges of wrongdoing.
Steve Bloom from the Sierra Club has his own opinions about how serious those charges might be:
"They had the trucks to haul the dirt arranged days in advance [of the DTSC decision]. They knew a decision was coming, and they knew what the decision was beforehand. They did the hauling in a flaming hurry, because they knew they had a legal problem. They wanted to get as much of the pile out of there before anyone found out.
"The [Sher/Strom-Martin] law carries criminal penalties. What would you call what they did? What would that be? A criminal conspiracy? I think so."
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