SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Despite recent findings of possible widespread fraud in the $1 billion cleanup of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco city officials on Tuesday approved moving forward with plans to build more than 10,000 homes on the potentially contaminated 400-acre site.
"Although I know there are significant concerns around the cleanup, I'm confident in the plan we have to address those issues," Board of Supervisors President and Mayor-elect London Breed said during a meeting Tuesday.
The former Navy shipyard in the city's Bayview neighborhood was once home to top-secret nuclear tests from 1946 to 1969 and a place where ships returning from hydrogen bomb tests were decontaminated, both potential sources of radioactive waste.
After whistleblowers came forward with accusations that a contractor falsified reports during a six-year cleanup project, the Environmental Protection Agency released an audit finding that 90 to 97 percent of soil samples in two areas of the site were potentially compromised or intentionally falsified.
Earlier this month, Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents District 10 where the Hunters Point project is located, announced that the Navy would pay to retest the site for radiation this July.
Under Phase 1 of the Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment plan, 309 homes were already constructed in the area that will be tested next month.
The revamped Phase 2 plan by developer FivePoint would include 10,672 additional housing units with 32 percent affordable homes, a 120-room hotel, 300 acres of waterfront parks, and 58 acres of commercial space. The project encompasses the former Hunters Point Shipyard and nearby Candlestick Point, site of the former San Francisco 49ers stadium.
Despite concerns about radioactive soil, several Bayview residents traveled to City Hall Tuesday to support the redevelopment plan. Many cited the need for more housing and jobs in a neighborhood with a high poverty rate and the largest percentage of African-American residents in San Francisco.
Lottie Titus, a longtime Bayview resident who just turned 60 years old, said the neighborhood needs more affordable housing for seniors.
"It's very important that seniors have decent, habitable, safe housing to live in," Titus said. "Phase 2 of this project should move forward without delay."
Bayview resident Eloise Patton said although she is concerned about toxic soil, she still wants the project to move ahead so construction can begin once the site has been fully cleaned and cleared.
"We must get the paperwork done now so that when it's ready to go, we can start moving," Patton said.
But not everyone supported moving forward with the development.
Michael Boyd, president of Californians for Renewable Energy, urged the board to launch a new environmental review of the project, one that accounts for new information about potentially falsified soil tests.
Bayview resident Gloria Berry, who is running for District 10 supervisor, argued against moving forward while concerns still linger about toxic soil. She said it's especially important to proceed with caution, given the already high rates of asthma and cancer among Bayview residents.
"We can't risk putting the residents' health at risk," Berry said.
Despite those concerns, the board voted unanimously to approve the new Phase 2 plan for the project.
Cohen assured residents that no construction would take place until after the site was cleared by new, independent soil tests.
"We won't move forward with any development until we are certain that that the location is safe," Cohen said.
Whistleblowers who worked on the cleanup project from 2006 to 2012 claim employees of Navy contractor Tetra Tech directed workers to falsify reports and swap contaminated soil with clean dirt. Tetra Tech, which won a contract worth over $250 million for the cleanup, has denied the allegations, insisting the misconduct was limited to a few rogue employees.
Two former Tetra Tech employees, who oversaw testing of the contaminated soil, pleaded guilty to falsifying reports and were each sentenced to eight months in prison in December and May.
On May 1, Bayview residents filed a class action against Tetra Tech in San Francisco Superior Court, seeking $27 billion in damages for the allegedly botched cleanup.
Responding to the criticism last month, Tetra Tech said that it "stands by the validity of its work" and offered to pay for independent testing to verify the shipyard site was cleaned up properly and met the standards required by the U.S. Navy.
The Navy said in a statement that state and federal regulators have repeatedly verified the safety of Parcel A, where more than 300 homes were already built and where people currently live and work.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is supposed to start retesting the soil at Parcel A in July, according to Supervisor Cohen's office. The U.S. Navy has agreed to cover the cost.
"We support CDPH in their efforts to gather additional data to provide Parcel A homeowners with peace of mind," said Kimberly Ostrowski, director of the U.S. Navy Base Realignment and Closure Program, in an emailed statement.
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