Initial Study for the City of Berkeley's
Harrison Playing Fields


To: Edward Murphy, Project Manager
Parks and Waterfront Department City of Berkeley
L A Wood, October 1999

Initial Study for the Harrison Playing Fields and Codornices Creek Improvement Project. (Project # SCH99092010)

I will begin by stating that the placement of playing fields in the industrial sector of West Berkeley is extremely inappropriate. The proposed Harrison project continues to raise many serious issues which the Draft Initial Study has not adequately addressed, and consequently, the investigation remains incomplete. The following are some of these concerns regarding the proposed Harrison Playing Fields Project.

A. Site Use and Rezoning

Commonsense directs one to ask about the basic compatibility of the proposed playing fields project and the area's existing industrial uses. In essence, the Harrison project is being located virtually on the shoulder of Interstate 80 and in the section of the city with the poorest environmental quality, West Berkeley. Certainly, the idea of playing fields within an industrial area should be met with a good deal of skepticism.

The ideas or assumptions which underlie our present-day sense of zoning, planning and economic development have insured the partition and relative isolation of incompatible land use decisions, up to this point. Yet, within the confines of Berkeley, this isolation of urban land uses has become more troublesome, as the many recent zoning appeals for the area have shown. The 1998 rezoning of the Harrison project area was a feeble attempt to address these issues of nonconformity. Redefining the Harrison acreage only contributed to the further breakdown of zoning protections for both traditional and newly-proposed land area uses.

Historically, it has been nearly impossible to safely maintain uncontrolled growth in mixed use development while extending to heavy industry and manufacturing the option to expand. Predictably, the net effect of zoning in the last decade has been to minimize or completely dismiss many traditional protections associated with mixed use developments.

It is important to note that last year's review process of the Harrison project, and its subsequent rezoning, failed to qualify any real zoning impacts. Hence, it provides very little foundation for such a radical zoning shift and will be the source of many future zoning and development conflicts. These rezoning documents along with Zoning's inadequate initial study, are now being used to support both the health and safety of the proposed playing fields. The many questions of health and safety raised by the 1998 rezoning of the site remain unanswered.

B. Habitat

Perhaps the first fundamental mistake with the Harrison Draft Initial Study is that it has mischaracterized the site as something less than a wetlands area. This serious misrepresentation has resulted in a number of critical project omissions. Like the Harrison project and its associated review, the Codornices Creek Improvement Project, falls short of recognizing the site as a wetlands area, separated only by Interstate 80 from the marina wetlands. Although the Harrison Study partially recognizes some of the site's hydrology, it avoids investigating the site as anything more than a storm drainage project, and utterly fails to distinguish the site's wetland component.  -

Moreover, the study's recognition that some site restrictions will be needed during the rainy season because of flooding, even after the creek project is completed, is evidence of the existence of these wetlands. The Harrison project will destroy more of Berkeley's (and the East Bay's) last remaining wetland acreage. This raises the legal question of wetland protections. Where is the analysis and evaluation of this substantial change in land use, the area's wildlife protections, habitat loss, and migratory bird impacts? Where are the reviews from the state regulatory agencies that oversee wetland protections?

Instead, what has been offered in defense of the proposed habitat changes in the Harrison Study is a much narrower discussion concerning the restoration of Codornices Creek. This restoration, though integral to the preservation of the area's wetlands, is but a small part. Joining the proposed playing fields study to the creek restoration plan only serves to confuse each project by implying that they are inseparably tied.

The enhancement of the creek should not be substituted for the real discussion of habitat impacts, including a substantial destruction of much of this wetlands area by the creation of the Harrison playing fields. Additionally, there are inadequate controls to protect what little wetlands habitat would remain if the playing fields project is implemented. Clearly, the preservation of these wetlands should have been provided as a project alternative.

C. Transportation

If the city builds this "Field of Dreams", the children will come. Those served by the ballpark will primarily be our youngest citizens. The Harrison Study trivializes this fact and the project's inherent problems with public safety and transportation. A supporter of the Harrison playing fields stated at a Parks and Waterfront Commission hearing that Shoreline Park, though a possible alternative site to the proposed use of Harrison fields, was inconvenient and too far away. Yet, a closer examination of the Harrison site shows that it has extremely poor accessibility, and is arguably less accessible to children and other pedestrians than Shoreline Park.

The proposed traffic mitigations are inadequate and do not reflect the high volume of traffic in the area, particularly, the dense concentration of auto and large truck activity already apparent on the Gilman corridor. The changes to Interstate 80 and other traffic mitigations will allow for an even greater concentration of vehicles in the area, unfortunately, to the detriment of park user safety. These developments, as well as the area's burgeoning commercial growth, have not been properly factored into the project's traffic plan. This has led to the underestimation of these traffic impacts.

Project assumptions are that these transportation issues will take care of themselves. In truth, solving the problems from increasing vehicular traffic has stymied the best efforts of local and regional traffic management. Additionally, it should be recognized that the proposed playing fields are not pedestrian or bicycle friendly to the rest of Berkeley. This is a situation which is not easily altered by placing a few stop signs and crosswalks. For a city park; this qualified distinction in the Initial Study is almost unbelievable. It stands in direct opposition to the open space goals of the city regarding public safety and accessibility for all to recreation areas.

The Harrison project is, in fact, structured to discourage pedestrian traffic. This alone will add significantly to the area's vehicular traffic. This impact, of course, will be felt most at rush hour. It will also be increasingly difficult for Berkeley children who will use the site to safely gain access on foot or by bicycle. Poor public transit accessibility to the Harrison location will also contribute to more pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It should be recognized that pedestrians, especially children, cannot compete with the heavy traffic flow on the Gilman corridor. Moreover, not all of the traffic sources on Gilman have been factored into the Initial Study. Freight and passenger trains passing the site are expected to increase to more than thirty trains a day. Albany Racetrack traffic is already a serious problem and is expected to grow.

D. Environmental Quality

For over fifty years, an essential purpose of city zoning has been to protect and isolate diverse land uses, with a special focus on public health. This is why a ballpark, like the proposed Harrison playing fields, is not already located in this industrial location. The city's zoning staff should be aware of several basic facts about this Oceanview site. First, it is a fact that the environmental quality of the various districts of the city are unequal. Second, the environmental quality of the Harrison location is without question Berkeley's worst district in regard to air quality. Simply stated, playing fields for children and industrial exhaust stacks represent the extremes in zoning.

The Harrison project's environmental investigations are grossly incomplete, especially those concerning air quality. In 1997, the city contracted with Acurex Environmental corporation to conduct air monitoring of the site. The report, Ambient Air Pollution and Health Risks at Harrison Street Site Berkeley, California was limited to two days of air sampling. Now, two years later, there is a real question as to whether any of the data collected then is still relevant to the Harrison Initial Study, given the many recent changes in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site. The Acurex review certainly does not explain these toxic air conditions found on the site nor does it substitute for a complete health risk assessment. In fact, it raises more questions than it answers.

It should be noted that much of the justification for a ballpark, almost directly beneath a large cluster of industrial stacks, comes from this Acurex sampling report. Though public criticism of the report has been directed to testing protocol, the sampling did flag problems with the respiratory exposure scenario regarding chronic, adverse noncancer health effects from long-term exposure. However, this was minimized and dismissed by saying it would be no problem if children were on site just a few hours a day.

One of the collected samples by the Acurex investigation revealed traces of chromium. This should have caused great concern and been reflected in the air sampling conclusion. Instead, the chromium data was dismissed. Did the sample originate from the site's soil or was it from adjacent industrial discharge stacks, or both? Can chromium be successfully mitigated if it is a significant component of the Harrison area air? Why has there been no discussion of the current users of the site, Harrison House or the nearby Albany Village in relation to this findings. These people are exposed to airborne toxics for extended periods of time almost every day.

E. West Berkeley Health Report

The ambient air sampling also identified a high concentration of airborne particulates at the proposed site. This has a direct connection to Interstate 80 which is now being identified as the East Bay's "asthma corridor". A study prepared in April 1999 by the Bay Area Regional Asthma Management and Prevention Initiative (RAMP) of the Public Health Institute examines asthma hospitalization rates at county and sub-county levels in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Solano counties for the period from 1994 to 1996.

The Age-Adjusted Asthma Hospitalization Data, by zip code, indicates that the area surrounding the proposed playing fields, 94710, is an area of high incidence for asthma-related hospitalizations findings show this Oceanview area in general to have the highest overall rate of asthma-related hospitalizations in Berkeley. It should be noted that the report also concluded that similar to national and previously published California data, "children less than fifteen years of age, African-Americans, and those living in urban areas have high rates of asthma hospitalizations."

The RAMP report provides another strong indication of the possible and likely, chronic respiratory health problems now being discussed concerning the Harrison playing fields site. This report, taken along with recent testimony from a resident near Harrison about his son's hospitalization for reactive airwave disease, should be cause for alarm. Moreover, the report suggests a more widespread health problem in West Berkeley and is a preliminary confirmation of what has been said about the current poor air quality in that section of the city. The study finds that much of West Berkeley, specifically zip codes 94710, 94702 and 94703, is within this area of high incidence of asthma-related hospitalizations.

F. Aeration and Auto Emissions

Several years ago, the city, in response to residents living next to contaminated gas station sites, imposed restrictions on the common practice of toxic soil aeration. This was a city-wide recognition that toxic emissions of this type are a great health concern. The proposed playing fields, next to the freeway, will experience a perpetual stream of air contaminants from autos whose toxic constituents are the same as those emitted by gasoline-saturated soils. This aspect of air contamination has not been fully explored or quantified.

G. Soil / Groundwater

The Harrison site soil is contaminated to the point that if vegetables were grown there, they would be unsafe to consume. Serious implications can be drawn from this evaluation which were not discussed in the Initial Study. It needs to be recognized that there is a continual deposition of contaminants from airborne sources, both stationary and mobile, at the site. This means that the topsoil will be a source of toxic exposures for children coming in direct contact with the field.

The supposition that soil contaminants will be contained or stay in place is faulted. The site geology analysis argues that the location is partially landfill, but also argues that the top surface will act as a "confining unit" that will supposedly contain all chemical pollutants underground. This is an unfounded misrepresentation of soil and groundwater dynamics. As site investigations have suggested, groundwater levels are variable.

Because the subsoil is quite contaminated, the concern over upward percolation is real. Therefore, it is incorrect for the Initial Study to state that "surface soils would not pose unacceptable health risks to residential receptors via direct contact pathway." Remember, this site will have children rolling around on the ground while playing sports.

City staff and those responsible for the Harrison Initial Study may not be aware that in 1995 this question of environmental containment was answered in depth by the City of Berkeley. From these discussions the city recognized that containment is a very imperfect science. The percolation of toxics is likely at some sites in Berkeley, including the Harrison site, because of groundwater activity. Furthermore, containment zones are often required to have a restricted or impervious site cap, i.e. concrete or asphalt. The grassy fields fail the test of safe containment.

These fairly recent city containment policies focus on community health. The policies are clear: Berkeley toxic sites should be cleaned up to maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) because toxic containment does not work This should be reflected in future land use choices and clean up practices. (See attachment 4.) Council even went so far as to redress the City of Emeryville when Berkeley suspected groundwater contaminants from Emeryville were impacting our aquifer. The soil sample analysis for the Harrison site stated that chromium lead and zinc were present in all soil samples tested. These are all present in the upper soil levels where they are likely to come in direct contact with park users.

H. Regulatory Oversight

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which oversees local area air quality, has been under fire for its failure to adequately control emissions in Oceanview. The fact is that BAAQMD relies primarily on stationary monitoring outside of Berkeley.. Hence, Berkeley air quality assurance is based on regional, and not local, monitoring. This is of little value in understanding Berkeley's actual air emissions and air quality. Yet it is these projections which are offered in support of projects like the Harrison playing fields as well as the local expansion of heavy industrial activities and their emissions.

These regulatory limitations are only exacerbated by BAAQMD's narrow focus on air discharges from single sources. Consequently, BAAQMD completely misses the cumulative impacts of its authorized discharge permits, and because of this, it has failed to control and reduce the area's air pollution. Our more frequently occurring "bad air days" provide ample evidence of this, thus confirming inadequate regional oversight.

BAAQMD lacks the ability to understand, much less regulate, air discharge activities for such diverse land uses as are proposed here. BAAQMD's evaluations of the Harrison site are singularly focused on mobile sources of contaminants and avoid qualifying impacts from stationary air pollution sources in the area. This gives them only half picture, and raises serious doubts about the accuracy of their Harrison analysis.

Unfortunately for Berkeley and its children, BAAQMD doesn't have a clue about the real health risks arising from the mixed use of urban/industrial areas because so few health risk assessments are ever performed. The few health risk assessments which have been conducted, are embarrassingly incomplete, simplistic and/or inaccurate. Like most polluters, regulators are not motivated to look closely at pollution when it interferes with business or development.

This can easily be understood by examining BAAQMD's permit activities in the last year or so. BAAQMD has authorized several substantial air discharge permits within a few hundred yards of the proposed Harrison project site. These include an incinerator, which regulators insist on calling a thermo treatment unit, at Pacific Steel Castings (PSC), organic compounds from micro breweries, and a very large expansion of Berkeley Asphalt's operations. These increases in area emissions have added even more uncertainty about the area's environmental health.

Although BAAQMD is apparently oblivious to this fact, Berkeley residents living in the vicinity of the Harrison site are keenly aware of these changes and their impacts on the area's air quality. Their sworn public testimony, taken during the last three months at two PSC hearings, has begun to reveal a serious area health problem arising from chronic exposure. These statements, given under oath, constitute a community health survey of sorts. Although not officially a part of the Initial Study, this information should be given considerable weight when evaluating regulatory data of the site.

Spurred by a recommendation from the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, the City of Berkeley will request that BAAQMD conduct a health screening of Pacific Steel Castings' emissions, based upon maximum allowable limits. Furthermore, about a month ago, BAAQMD verbally offered to sample the air downwind from PSC's discharge stacks. Incidentally, this air sampling would be conducted in virtually the same area that the Harrison site is located. Even BAAQMD cannot comfortably stand behind its past evaluations, given the many changes to the air dynamics in this area and community outcry.

Berkeley's city council is now considering a request to BAAQMD for an area-wide emissions exposure study of-all BAAQMD discharge permit holders within a quarter mile of 2nd Street and Gilman. These council actions bring into question the validity of BAAQMD's previous evaluations which are presented in the Harrison Draft Initial Study. If Berkeley's city council and environmental commission are asking for further investigations, surely this is a signal that more study is needed as well as a more detailed California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.

I. Environmental Justice

After reviewing the many pages of data and the regulatory evaluations, it's important to return to the core issue facing the proposed playing fields project. Who is really at risk? This is a question which is now being asked nationally as inner cities begin to redevelop previously contaminated industrial areas and military bases. Redevelopment of this type reflects changes in land use from typically industrial uses to housing and recreational areas. Like the Harrison project, these sites are not being cleaned up. Instead, they are being partially covered up and their toxic elements dismissed. As a result, more children are being unnecessarily exposed to harmful toxic pollutants.

And what kids are those? A national survey shows minority communities are most likely to be situated near toxic sites. Minority children from these lower income areas have a multifactoral risk of illness, and this is why we routinely see higher rates of asthma-related deaths and hospitalizations for African-American children than Caucasian children. However, all children chronically exposed to toxics are subject to a higher risk of developing serious illnesses such as asthma and cancer.

Finally, I want to go on record as opposing this project based on ethical, moral, and scientific grounds. I also want to express my immediate concerns over the environmental indicators and what appears to be a larger West Berkeley health crisis. I submit these comments and attachments for evaluation in regard to the Initial Study for the Harrison Playing Fields and Codornices Creek Improvement Project and request that a detailed Environmental Impact Report be undertaken.

Terry Roberts, Office of the Governor, Planning and Research Communities for a Better Environment, Berkeley City Council, Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission, Berkeley Commission on Disabilities

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