Comments to the 711 Harrison Street-Expansion of Homeless Shelter (Ursula Sherman Village) and Notice for Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report No. F-8977-03
L A Wood, January 17, 2003
Over a year ago, I sat with both staff and the consultant for the BOSS 711 Harrison Street and expansion of homeless shelter to discuss the proposed project at the Ursula Sherman Village. (See scoping comments) I want to thank you for keeping me abreast of the project and for this opportunity to formally address some of my concerns about the construction of the transitional housing.
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.
• 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 area's air quality.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.