Arc Ecology: E-Mails Between City and Lennar Aren't So Scandalous, Though 'Look Bad'

Categories: Environment
dust-bowl-cause-1.jpg
There's no covering THAT up.
Arc Ecology's director Saul Bloom has reason to be bitter with the city.

Since 2006, his environmental non-profit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts to monitor and educate the public about the environmental clean-up and redevelopment work at the toxic Hunter's Point Shipyard.

But the city didn't always like what Arc Ecology had to say: Last year, the city awarded the contract to another agency after Arc Ecology had contested a plan to put a bridge over Yosemite Slough in Candlestick Point State Recreational Area. Arc Ecology is currently suing the city for free-speech violations.

If Bloom wanted the ultimate payback, now would be a perfect time to unleash his vitriol.

Yesterday Bayview community groups released scathing e-mails that allegedly show a "conspiracy" by government officials to "cover-up dangers" of the redevelopment project by its developer, Lennar Corp.

But Bloom isn't fueling that fire; instead he is siding mostly with the city.

But why?

Bloom tells SF Weekly that the dug-up e-mails are not as scandalous as the activists have portrayed them.

"I still didn't see anything [that] suggested to me that the data we were getting from the [shipyard's construction dust] monitors had been messed with," Bloom said. "The city, the EPA, and the community are talking past each other and none of them understand each other's point of view."

The Stop Lennar Action Movement, a coalition of Bayview community organizations, held a press conference on Monday where it made public a string of e-mails among the Department of Public Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Lennar officials.

The organization -- which got the e-mails through a records request --  pointed to excerpted sentences from the missives, which they argued prove government agencies were altering their messages to "conceal the health threats of the asbestos-laden dust."

The EPA and DPH aren't saying squat, other than they're investigating the allegations.  

But this isn't exactly a new issue.

In a 2008 cover story, SF Weekly wrote about Bayview activists and their ongoing efforts -- led by the Nation of Islam, which runs a private school next to the shipyard -- to convince the community that the government is lying about the levels of naturally occurring asbestos released into the neighborhood during construction at the shipyard.

Multiple government agencies have insisted that Bayview residents face no long-term health threat. Yet the activists -- presenting examples of kids with itchy eyes and throats -- have refused to believe that they were getting the whole truth. 

The fact that those same activists picked the e-mails to share with the public is suspect, Bloom said.

"I know where the press release came from, so I'm assuming the portions of the e-mails that were extracted reinforced the argument the authors of the press release were trying to make," he said.

One e-mail came from the outbox of San Francisco Department of Public Health official Amy Brownell. She asked Lennar for suggested language the city should use when referring to the dust monitors.

"I'm sure you will also want to change my wording on how I portray the problems, lack of monitors, etc. Go ahead and change any way you want." her e-mail reads. "I may change some of it back, but I'm willing to read your versions."

Now the activists are calling for Mayor Ed Lee to fire Brownell over the e-mails.

But Bloom said her e-mails don't really raise red flags.

The e-mail "sounds to me that if [Lennar] had a reasonable argument, she would listen to it, but she wasn't going to misinform the public," he said. "I don't believe, knowing Amy Brownell, she took pains to cover-up something that she knew, in her heart, would create a problem for public health."

In another email, the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Remedial Project Manager Mark Ripperda wrote a Lennar consultant, asking him about language he was using about the asbestos levels was correct. "I'm not the asbestos expert, so is this a true statement?" Ripperda writes.

Bloom said the email was "troubling with regard to judgment, although I think it's more a case of open mouth insert foot."

"Mark [Ripperda] should have gone to EPA's own internal experts rather than ask Lennar's - even just for the sake of appearances," Bloom wrote in an email to SF Weekly on Tuesday. "What Mark is doing is something almost everyone does - relying on the professional ethics of a consultant to tell him the truth about a condition."

In another email, Ripperda asks the same Lennar consultant about how to present the information about the asbestos analysis to the general public "without getting into the details of risk assessment."

Bloom notes, "Seems to me that Mark [Ripperda] is simply speaking to the need to make the conclusion technically understandable to scared people versus cooking any books."  

Still, Bloom says the tone of the emails do make the city and EPA "look bad" -- and if you hadn't spent years studying this like him to put them into context, it would make the government agencies look like they had an inappropriate relationship with the company they were supposed to be regulating.  

"People aren't wrong about being nervous about the city's relationship with Lennar," Bloom added. "They just may not be properly interpreting it in this particular instance."

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3 comments
Mad at Corporate Corruption
Mad at Corporate Corruption

Oh really? Ms Smiley, you are running Mr Bloom's uninformed comments as news? You describe the residents of Bayview Hunters Point as "activists" as if they have nothing better to do than agitate.

Could it be that they are sick? That their kids are sick? That this has been going on so long that they are rightfully angry as well?

And there's no such thing as a "little asbestos" or lead or arsenic or radiation. With the cumulative chemical exposure we have now, anything that can be prevented needs to be eliminated in any case.

Perhaps Mr Bloom has a problem with the Nation of Islam..I didn't see Mr Bloom's group advocating for the removal of toxic chemicals at the site...could it be that this bona fide resident and provider of education for Bayview residents has legitimate concerns and is standing up in a more novle way than Mr Bloom can for the people of the Bayview?

Perhaps if Mr Bloom cared as much for the habitat of human beings as for that of the wetlands, which as most of us know should both be protected simultaneously, it would be that he would understand these emails better. It's collusion, it's political influence. Ms. Smiley, do your readers a favor and look into campaign contributions from Lennar to City and Federal politicians, look into Willie Brown's role (Lennar is or was one of his clients), and you may already know Lennar's tenacious PR person, who in fact may have "inspired" this blog. But don't try to pass this off as any kind of real news.

h. brown
h. brown

Crystal ball?

I see a new City contract in Saul's future.

h.

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