California Environmental Quality Act Review for Harrison Soccer and Skate Park Facility
L A Wood, July 2, 2001
To: Edward Murphy Parks and Waterfront
Re: California Environmental Quality Act Review for Harrison Soccer and Skate Park Facility
As you are aware, the proposed skate park facility was included in the initial project evaluated under the California Environmental Quality Act in 1999.
However, the design that was finally adopted, which called for a deep-dished track, was not. This was a serious failure of the CEQA officer for the project, likely caused by lack of experience with both the process and its requirements.
Unfortunately, this aspect of the project has come back to haunt the City of Berkeley in cost overruns and more. The first question to ask is why the CEQA review was not undertaken prior to the construction of the skate park. (See Attachment 1.)
In the 1999 comments to the CEQA and again in an appeal of the Harrison soccer and skate park project, I raised concerns about potential groundwater problems. The City of Berkeley engaged the Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) to oversee a site groundwater review. After the DTSC approval of the site environmental review, the construction began and was quickly stopped when Chromium 6 was discovered in the groundwater.
This discovery should have required that the CEQA Officer or the city complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the toxic plume because it is a major health and environmental concern of the project which had not been previously evaluated. An EIR should be a requirement before any further development is approved. Please consider the following:
The presence of the Chromium 6 in the groundwater represents a major problem for the construction of the skate park since the high water level can reach within several feet of the surface in the winter. The original design had factored a de-watering system into the design of the skate facility. This de-watering system is being considered again in the redesign of the skate facility. It is recognized that a six-inch thick wall needs to be constructed and the backfill engineered to keep the water from surfacing. However, there should be real concern about the any subsurface design since structural cracking is a strong possibility given the site's hydrology.
An optimistic re-design plan is underestimating the challenge to isolate the toxic groundwater plume. Long-term containment is problematic. What about site soils and the structure's stability? When a swimming pool-like concrete structure, such as the skate facility, is built a flood zone area, long-term problems with the stability the structure can be expected. No subsurface structures should be allowed at this location, especially the skate bowls. The site zoning should specify this point. Remembered that the skate bowls are children's play equipment.
Where is the evaluation of an alternative design option for an above ground facility that could avoid the need to manage groundwater in both during construction and/or as part of the facility's long-term function? Why not build above ground?
It should be noted that the past construction on 5th Street, along with the prior extreme subsurface construction at the skate facility, have accelerated the chromium groundwater movement under the whole site. No de-watering should be allowed at the skate park during either the construction phase or the implementation of long-term engineering measures that a subsurface structure will demand. The price of subsurface construction is simply too costly in terms of potential health problems, the project's budget, and hazardous waste disposal.
This project's zoning should have requirements for flood mitigation. Currently, these requirements for the Harrison soccer fields, and presumably the skate park, have been deemed unnecessary by the permit center staff, despite a request by the Zoning Adjustments Board to include such provisions. There has been some staff confusion with as to what flood zone the site is associated with. One of the questions raised by these considerations is over critical services in the immediate area. Zoning staff has not acknowledged the Union Pacific Railroad, the natural gas fueling station for the City and BUSD, the high pressure fuel lines running parallel along the railroad tracks, or even Harrison House homeless services located on site.
After the cleanup of the skate facility this last year, the City of Berkeley sent out a public health notice to nearby residents and businesses alerting them to the presence of the area's Chromium 6 groundwater contamination. If the city still chooses to move forward with the project, it should also notice parents and other users of the facility by posting information at the skate facility and fields.
The site's air quality ranks as one of the most significant concerns, especially since the project is for children's recreation. Because the facilities will attract many children, it is extremely important to understand the site's air quality and risks to health before proceeding. It very disappointing to see that the project staff has taken so long to implement air monitoring at the property. The opportunity to generate valuable data over the past year has been wasted because the project staff failed to prioritize air monitoring.
I think everyone would agree that the air quality at the site had not improved, but has actually become worse. The 1997 two-day study is now out of date because of the growth of the area's commerce and the expansion of Interstate 80.
Additionally, the initial CEQA for the project failed to acknowledge other air emissions sources like diesel fumes from the many trains (over thirty passes daily) and its immediate impacts on the air quality and noise levels. It is interesting to note that since the 1997 air study, the issue of diesel emissions and their possible health impacts have become more of a priority for all the state's regulatory agencies.
The city's 2nd Street Transfer Station and recycling activities, also directly upwind of the recreational facility, represent another substantial source of airborne particulates. However, the Transfer Station has not been previously addressed in any environmental review. This City of Berkeley operation is of great concern because it currently has no engineered dust suppression. Plans for anticipated future activities should recognize that this source of emissions will only grow as will its impact on this proposed project.
The 1997 study failed to clearly distinguish the airborne chrome found in the limited site samplings. The identification of the chromium 6 groundwater plume and a nearby electroplating company and discharge stack has raised further questions about the nature of this 1997 air sampling. Several months ago, the city announced that it would test for chromium 6 at the site. No data is available at this time.
Since the limited 1997 site air monitoring, an additional concern about nearby steel industry emissions has also been publicly raised. Because of the area's wind patterns, the steel industry, located directly up wind, is recognized as a potential and likely generator of dioxin. What is known about local dioxin levels at the fields and skate park site? This should be part of the evaluation of the site's air quality.
The planting of trees along the western portion of the property will probably do little to mitigate the poor air quality on site. Since no air modeling has been done regarding the location of the trees, they (the trees) may well contribute to higher pollution and particulate levels on site. The air study currently being considered should address this question, too.
The 1999 CEQA recognized the growing traffic in the area, but failed to fully consider the extent of that growth. Current area traffic conditions, especially on weekday afternoons, are of particular concern. Moreover, since the proposed project in 1997, no real changes have occurred to mitigate area traffic along the Gilman corridor, other than the expansion of Interstate 80, which has only increased traffic flow into the area. Furthermore, the area now includes new facilities like the U.S. Postal Service truck center
located at 8th and Harrison, which has substantially added to the area's many commercial vehicles.
Our planning efforts and project reviews in Berkeley simply don't take traffic issues seriously when considering new development Nowhere are such problems more apparent than along the Gilman corridor with its large volume of truck and commercial traffic. This is a difficult point to mitigate because neither the city nor the region have kept pace with the growing numbers of trucks and autos and the growth in west and northwest Berkeley. How can the project plan mitigate these critical traffic concerns regarding pedestrian safety for those coming and going from the skate park and fields?
Furthermore, the University of California is moving forward with its plans at Albany Village to commercially development its San Pablo border. All of this increased traffic is directly related to the safety of Berkeley and Albany children traveling on foot or bike to the park. These unknowns concerning the project's impact on the area traffic should be explored in an EIR.
Emergency Response Public Noticing
The area around the proposed skate park facility is zoned for light industrial and is home to a number of businesses that use and store large volumes of chemicals and gases, like Precision Technical Coatings, a couple of buildings away. This last month, the Takara Sake factory, in another part of Berkeley, had a release of ammonia, which necessitated the evacuation of some residents in the surrounding area.
The Takara emergency identified several problems, including that of public emergency noticing of those nearby. What provisions are in place to address these issues concerning the field and skate park uses, given that the majority of those anticipated to use the park will be children?
The issues around traffic, air quality and groundwater should compel the project to complete a more extensive investigation of the site, namely an ER before approving any further construction at the site. Issues of environmental quality should be resolved before the park and skate facility are opened. And the construction options for the skate facility should be expanded to include an above ground structure. This would eliminate any further management of the toxic Chromium 6 groundwater plume and its cost.
To: Lisa Caronna, Director Department of Parks and Waterfront
December 19, 2000
Re: Skateboard Park California Environmental Quality Act Review
Dear Ms. Caronna:
Recent events at Fifth and Harrison Streets and the discovery of the chromium six plume raise questions about the need for a California Environmental Quality Act review specifically for the skateboard park's design and construction. As you know, the design of the skateboard portion of the facility came after the project's CEQA, and so it was not reviewed. It's now apparent that the deep bowl design should have required another CEQA study. Why wasn't an additional CEQA study performed for just the skate park?
Over the last several years, I have videotaped the Harrison site and viewed ponding and aquatic flora. In my CEQA comments to the project last year, I expressed concerns to you that the Harrison site was a seasonal wetland and that the many native plants on the site were evidence of this fact. The CEQA response was that the project would be sensitive to these concerns. I visited the site last week and see no evidence of these plants. Where are the plants? Under two feet of dirt? Why weren't the project's CEQA review guidelines about this issue respected?
Finally, I request a California Environment Quality Act review of the current design of the skateboard park at Fifth and Harrison Streets before the construction is allowed to proceed.