Ursula Sherman Transitional Housing Project
City of Berkeley


Harrison House, Ursula Sherman Village Housing Project (scoping comments)
L A Wood, December 24, 2001

Boss HousingThanks for the written update of the meeting that you and I attended on December 17, 2001 along with BOSS' representatives and their environmental consultant, Environ, where we discussed the proposed housing project for the Ursula Sherman Village. Here is a more detailed accounting of my concerns for the consultant(s) and any other interested parties looking at Environ's environmental proposal.

(1) Role of Consultant Environ, I believe, has a very special role to play with regards to the environmental evaluation of the Ursula Sherman Village project. As consultant, Environ will essentially serve both BOSS and the City of Berkeley. I think it is important to point this fact out. The City has limited expertise and no provisions for undertaking the task of evaluating the air quality report. Environ should be sensitive to this and attempt to put forth as evenhanded and fair a representation of the air quality issue as possible, instead of simply lobbying for its client to do a less rigorous investigation.

The financial relationship of the consultant Environ to BOSS is also of concern. As I understand it, the consultant has offered to donate to BOSS a certain amount of work without cost. This is extraordinarily generous and certainly important given BOSS's limited funding. However, I am concerned that this will tend to dictate the approach taken by Environ. This was clearly expressed by Environ's rep at our BOSS meeting who indicated that they (Environ) signed up for a simple review and had not considered a more intense investigation.

(2) AB 1553 Part of the discussion with Environ centered on Assembly Bill 1553 and issues of environmental justice. BOSS requested that Environ or the City address AB 1553 with respect to the project because it has been cited as a point of concern.

(3) PM 2.5 Data Although the city of Berkeley has collect PM 10 data at the Ursula Sherman Village site for about six months, there is no PM 2.5 data. Technical problems have prevented this. However, I believe it is fair to assume for the proposed evaluation that the amounts of PM 2.5 are at a comparable level with the PM
10 and should be factored into the review.

(4) Comparative Approach vs Health Risk Assessment The proposal by Environ calls for analysis of comparable sites. We discussed this approach and a wide range of concerns, including the difficulty in finding other local sites that could fairly represent the BOSS site.

For the record, I would rather see a formal health risk assessment based on the known data for the site and area. Sherman Village is unique because there is actual air sampling on site. Additionally, the issue of air quality at the site goes back half a decade with the Zoning Department for actual site air sampling activities. I believe these activities create a legal demand for something more than what is being proposed by Environ.

Ursula Sherman Transitional Housing Project 711 Harrison Street expansion, Environmental Impact Report
L A Wood, July 7, 2003

In January of 2002, I offered some initial comments (see above) to the proposed Ursula Sherman transitional housing project, located at Fourth Street and Harrison, as proposed by Building Opportunity for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS). I again want to offer these same comments along with additional concerns in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

First and foremost, I want to state that the proposed transitional housing project represents the most extreme scenario in urban planning and severely tests our city's General Plan, West Berkeley Area Plan, and our zoning provisions. To house children at that site challenges all our sensibilities concerning human health and environmental protection. There is no question that this project should not be allowed to proceed. The project is a Pandora's box, filled with future problems, land use conflicts and municipal liability.

The public process for this project has paralleled the planning and use permit for the adjoining site, the Harrison Soccer and Skate Park complex. Like with the skate park development, the proponent of the project, in this case BOSS's director, has made outrageous public statements in the local newspaper to fend off possible critics. An example of this is the statement that the alternative to constructing this housing project for families is the streets and crack houses. These comments, including those regarding asthma, were irresponsible and have certainly chilled any public debate about this project. It is no wonder that the public workshop scheduled at the West Berkeley Senior Center drew only five participants, all associated with the BOSS program. The public hearing at Zoning Adjustments Board reflected this problem, too.

Perhaps the lack of participation can also be attributed to the political cloud associated with the city's projects at Fourth Street and Harrison. Given the history of the city council's decisions concerning that site, those in the know are confident that the council will simply override any and all objections to move forward with the project. The fact remains, this is the worst possible location to build transitional housing for children or adults, not only in Berkeley, but in the entire county.

As you are aware, the adjoining property, the Harrison Park underwent a radical change in zoning in 1998 from light industrial to that of recreation use. Since that time, it has not surprising to see that many of the issues raised by this original (1997) environmental review to re zone the parcel are still of concern today and several more have been added. This past environmental review is a good guideline for identifying some of the potential and real problems with the proposal transitional housing project.

Current activities have never been consist with the area zoning and have been allowed exist at that location for years. Now the petition to construct transitional housing at the site has finally raises many of these longstanding questions about the use of the property and its impact on both area zoning and businesses. Foremost it is important to make a clear distinction between limited semi-permanent clients of Harrison House who are primarily an adult population from to that of families and children residing 24/7 and long-term. This is why this transitional housing project raises serious questions and I do not support its construction at the Harrison site.

Please consider the following:

The use permit conditions for Ursula Sherman village project should reflect all the special conditions/mitigations set forth in the Harrison soccer fields, the parcel next door. However these conditions are not adequate to support the proposed housing project.

A Flood Mitigation Plan should be required for the entire project. Though this was a condition of the adjoining property, zoning staff dropped it as a development requirement. This housing project is located next to Cordornices Creek and the area's flood control is less that adequate to major flooding. Recent storms, though not heavy have clearly demonstrated this flooding problem. Even the future UC Albany housing development and creek improvements will fall short of correcting this seasonal flooding because of the constricted downstream conditions and lack of planned improvements.

The proposed site was part of the original parcel which underwent a zoning change . The environmental review (CEQA) for the zoning change identified part of the property (western edge of the property in addition to the area along the immediate creek) as wetland and indicated that some wetland restoration would be needed. Will the BOSS construction address this concern?

One mitigation of the Harrison Park was the requirement for parents to sign an environmental wavier. A similar waiver should also be required for residents of the transitional housing as well. However, this is not enough. A new waiver should be developed to alert parents to concerns over contaminated groundwater (Chromium 6) and the poor air quality at the site.

The proposed BOSS waiver is plagued with several critical problems. First, the history of the waiver process at the adjoining site shows that it has not worked. The process has lacked accountability because it has been left to the not-for-profit sports group who manages the fields. Second, public comments from BOSS indicate that they either don't understand the issue of air quality or see just don't see it as a serious problem. This attitude is likely to result in a less than complete noticing of parents concerning the emissions problems. This information should be given to BOSS's clients via Berkeley's health department.

Increased signage is certainly required for better public noticing, but it will still fall short when informing those on site. The sign(s) language should be changed to make parents and their children clearly aware of the seriousness of the air problems. The language offered by staff to update current signs is an attempt to soften the health warning.

Air quality is the biggest obstacle to the development of the project. It is certain that the site's air quality can not be substantially improved but is likely to degrade further. The Harrison Park has had a air monitor in place to measure this concern. The Boss report suggest that the site is no worst that other bay area sites and also that the City of Berkeley Transfer Station is the real source of the air problems. It is difficult to agree with this assessment given our real understanding of the air quality.

So much of the environmental review focuses on the air study recently completed at the adjoining Harrison soccer fields. Although staff has claimed it is a very good study, the air monitoring was very incomplete and suffered many technical problems. It's chief merit is more due to the fact that such a study was done at all since so few air studies are ever funded. And out of those few studies, monitoring is usually limited to one or two sampling days. However, even with the yearlong study of the city's Harrison site, much of the data remains piecemeal and less than reliable for understanding the air dynamics of the area, or site, and the potential health impacts.

It was suggested that the site's air quality might be mitigated by the city's Public Works Dept. changing over to B-100 diesel fuel. This would have very little impact since city vehicles represent a small percent of the total number of cars and trucks using the transfer station site. Furthermore, the issue of diesel is not being fully quantified by the DEIR. Where is the analysis of the diesel fumes from the three dozen daily trains? What about the train rattle and noise from trains passing so very close to the proposed housing units?

According to the DEIR, the City of Berkeley's 2nd Street Transfer Station has been identified as the major source of the PM10 particulate matter. The DEIR claims that there will be future emission reductions related to solid waste collections, and consequently, improved air quality at the transfer station. Nothing could be further from the truth! City plans are already underway to expand transfer station's operations.

The DEIR also argued that a mist suppression system recently installed at the transfer station would reduce dust and particulates. Unfortunately, this has not been the case since the employment of the mist system was initiated. Emissions have actually increased.

In the last year, the Community Conservation Center (Recycling Center), next to the proposed transitional housing, also conducted on-site air monitoring. This study found that local light industrial activities, including foundry emissions, impact the BOSS site, too.

This is one of the DEIR's blind spots, and an important part of the air quality equation. There appears to be a political reluctance to pursue, and to understand, these obvious major air emissions sources. Since light industrial activities are permitted and allowed to increase, what guarantees that their emissions won't also increase, thereby creating even more serious health risks? How will BOSS monitor and mitigate future area emissions from local businesses? Will there be limits placed on existing or new businesses that locate next to the proposed transitional housing? If so, how will this work?

Two years ago City Council requested that Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) evaluate the cumulative impact of all the BAAQMD air discharge permit's issued within a quarter mile of Pacific Steel Castings at Second and Gilman Streets, which included the Harrison play field parcels. This request was based on concerns over the many air borne chemicals pollutants in the area. Unfortunately, BAAQMD has now chosen not to conduct the study. The air study could have been an opportunity to identify the types of metal, chemicals and volumes in local air. Current air assessments have failed to address these pollution sources, like formaldehyde and Phenol, or the impacts from long-term exposure. (See Attachment.)

The BOSS housing project should have a zoning provision for continual air monitoring on site. The Harrison Park air monitor could work for both sites. Note that the Community Environmental Advisory Commission unanimously voted to request the City Manager to continue to fund the air monitor. Planting trees on the western edge of the proposed site is not effective mitigation to the serous air quality and is likely add to the problem.

Perhaps the most extreme mitigation offered by the project staff is the requirement for a Hepa filtration system. Such a system, if maintained properly, would certainly change interior air quality for the better. But the problem lies in the fact that those most at risk, children, will be playing outside much of the time. Are the children of the housing complex going to stay inside all day?

The mitigation plan also calls for the windows to be closed during the day. It should be noted that the City of Berkeley's air study suggests that emissions produced during daylight hours linger well into the evening. These proposed mitigations are not only unworkable, but absolutely absurd.

The site geology and soils have been much talked about because of the toxic chrome plume and skatepark construction. Today, there are serious concerns over containment and the potential exposure to chromium 6. The history of the site and this ever present toxic plume raise question about potential health impacts to residents. The site should undergo a complete cleanup including existing underground tanks. Further, the city of Berkeley city ordinance requires all developers to clean up the site as part of its environmental/groundwater protection measures. It is particularly important that this site be completely remediated because of the extreme land use changes being proposed.

A provision for Harrison Park use permit and zoning changes gives area business the right to expand in the face of park users complaints and park activities. Will the proposed transitional housing have a similar use permit provision? It should be a concern that again we are proposing another major change in area activities without knowing how this will impact local businesses. A comprehensive study of these new area activities and their actual impact to local businesses should be undertaken before the approval of the housing project. Businesses need to be asked directly.

This housing project raises the issue of environmental justice as perhaps no other property in Berkeley. More than a year ago the California Air Resource Board (CARB) began discussions regarding environmental justice as reflected in AB 1553. BOSS consultants were asked to address this concern over locating residents in close proximity to industrial facilities and uses that contain or produce materials that will contain or produce materials that because of its quantity, concentrations or physical or chemical characteristics, poses a significant hazard to human health Where is this evaluation?

Several months ago BAAQMD staff were asked about the Transfer Station air discharge Permit and possible conflicts with future housing residents over dust and odors. The question: what would happen if the City of Berkeley Transfer Station received 5 verified complaints and repeatedly? Would conditions be placed on the city's permit or the city forced to spend millions of dollars to mitigate the problem? Or could the city loose the permit and the ability to operate the transfer station.

There are many alternatives to the location of the proposed housing project. The placement of this housing project should be considered in a broader context of the county. Certainly many of Alameda County's clients will be directed to the proposed transitional housing in Berkeley. Has anyone asked the County of Alameda for input? Currently the county reports that they have over 50,000 children at risk for asthma or other respiratory ailments. Remember, the particulate matter at the proposed site exceeded the state standard of 50 ug/m3 for more than a third of the year!

The consultant for the BOSS project began the site evaluation headed in the wrong direction. Early in the project, consultants argued that they should perform a comparative analysis of other similar sites instead of a health risk analysis based on past collected air data at the Harrison site. This flawed approach was also seen in the housing proposal's focus on the City of Berkeley Transfer Station as the most significant air borne pollutant source affecting the Ursula Sherman Village.

This approach has caused the BOSS proposal/evaluation to fall short of answering the critical questions which this legal environmental review and use permit demand. I ask that this project not be approved. We should Encourage BOSS to relocate this much needed housing project to a more appropriate and healthy site.

Housing Advisory Commission City of Berkeley
L A Wood, December 6, 2001

Public Hearing for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency 711 Harrison, Ursula Sherman Village Project

Dear Commissioners:
I write this letter to express my concerns over the proposal to fund permanent housing at the Seventh Street Harrison house known as the Ursula Sherman Village. I am unable to give oral testimony tonight because I have commission duties across town. I request that this testimony be made part of the Public Hearing record.

As the Commission may know, the City of Berkeley has developed the adjoining site as soccer fields and a skate park. The city is nearing completion of a process that has included a zoning change to accommodate recreational use, and a public discussion about the site's air quality. As yet, the questions about air quality remain unresolved as testing has just begun. However, much of what has surfaced in that discussion has direct application to the proposed BOSS project Please consider the following:

Air Quality

The City of Berkeley's concern over air quality at the 4th Street and Harrison property dates back to at least 1997 and was first raised in the site rezoning process. A two-day air sampling was conducted at the site at that time. Although the "study" was a very limited, the sampling did manage to identify possible problems, including that of airborne particulate matter, and specifically PM 10s.

Nearly two years later, this question of air quality resurfaced during the 1999 Soccer Fields/Skate Park California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Another study was made public in the process regarding asthma and the incidence of hospitalization by zip code in Alameda County. It showed that the 94710 area, which includes the site of the proposed housing units at 711 Harrison Street and the city's soccer fields, was the most impacted area in Berkeley.

In response to this new asthma report and to the Soccer Park Project use permit, the City of Berkeley's Public Health Officer reviewed the issues, including the asthma report, and then released a written statement. (See Attachment 1.) The statement goes far in recognizing the air quality problems in that part of West Berkeley. However, the Public Health Officer concluded that the health risks from those air quality problems are outweighed by the benefits of recreation, given the limited time children would spend on site

Currently, most of the residents of Harrison House are limited in time they are allowed on site (out by 8 AM and in after 5 PM). The proposed project at 711 Harrison, Ursula Sherman Village, would be different in that it will allow children and adults to remain in permanent housing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and up to an eighteen-month stay. This, I think, will radically change the health risks for those who would occupy the proposed new residences, especially the children.

Another problem directly associated with the poor air quality at the Harrison site is the presence of diesel fumes and soot. You may not be aware that more than a year ago, the State of California and its Air Quality Management Districts set new priorities on the reduction of diesel emissions. The proposed residential units are to be located adjacent to the railroad tracks and downwind from the nearly three dozen daily passing trains, the City of Berkeley's Transfer Station (dump), and many other operating diesel vehicles. I believe that these diesel emissions would be a serious problem for residents of the proposed 711 Harrison units.

Presently, the Harrison soccer fields are being air sampled in a year tong study for both PM 10 and PM 2.5 emissions. This monitoring began about six months ago and has generated more information regarding the high levels of particulates at the Harrison site. Last month, Berkeley's Community Environmental Advisory Commission requested that city staff post the city's soccer park, which is next door to the proposed 711 Harrison housing units, with an air quality advisory notice regarding particulate levels recorded on site. (See Attachment 2.) This follows the posting of the site (and the noticing of local residents) last year with a Chrome 6 notice when Hexavalent Chromium was found in the groundwater beneath the Harrison site. (See Attachment 3.)

Environmental Justice

Commissioners should be aware that the rezoning of the city's soccer fields and skate park, adjacent to the proposed 711 Harrison housing units, requires that parents whose children come to the site MUST sign an environmental waiver in order to participate at the facility. (See Attachment 4.) This special mitigation was required by Zoning for the use permit of the soccer fields because the surrounding area is still zoned for light industrial. It should be remembered that the 711 Harrison site is in this light industrial area as well. The proposed site is even less suited for residential housing than for park use. Will residents be required to sign a waiver to occupy the 711 Harrison units?

The issues of air quality and environmental waivers raise questions about the proposed 711 Harrison Housing project's location and that of environmental justice. I am well aware that there is no justice in being homelessness. However, it is important to afford fair treatment to people of all income levels with respect to housing, including the development, implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations, and policies that safeguard people's health. The development of residential housing at 711 Harrison location speaks directly to this point. The site is simply inappropriate for long-term residential housing.


There is no question that the project's location is riddled with serious problems concerning environmental, quality-of-life, and health issues. Unquestionably, the air quality has degraded at the site in the last four years and promises to become more polluted because of the expansion of Interstate 80. There are no mitigations in place to reduce the air pollution present at the site or to protect the proposed project's residential population. Although I support the BOSS program and feel its work is crucial to Berkeley and our homeless population, I cannot support the residential housing project at 711 Harrison.

Finally, I believe our housing policies need to more closely reflect West Berkeley's environmental reality. New locations, like the proposed residential project, are problematic when constructed in such close proximity to industrial facilities and uses that contain or produce material that, because of its concentrations or physical or chemical characteristics, pose a significant hazard to human health.


1. Assessment and Recommendation Re: Air Quality at the Harrison Playing Fields Project, Poki Namkung, Berkeley Public Health Officer
2. Poor Air Quality Notices wanted at West Berkeley Soccer fields, Daily Planet Nov. 3, 2001
3. Public Notice re: Hexavalent Chromium Pollution -Northwest Berkeley
4. Use Permit #99-10000112, Page 7, "Special Conditions"

Cc: Berkeley City Council

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