Opinion pieces on Harrison Skate Park
and Chromium VI Contamination


News print Opinion pieces on Harrison Skate Park and Chromium VI contamination


Opinion Piece does a disservice VIEWPOINT Friday December 8, 2000
Doug Fielding, Chairman, Association of Sports Field Users

I think the Berkeley Voice does a disservice to its readers when it publishes a "Viewpoint" like the one entitled "Harrison playing fields - who pays?" authored by L A Wood. The "Viewpoint" written by LA. Wood conveyed the notion of knowledge and authority when much of what was written was, in a word, "bunk'. Doesn't the Voice have some responsibility to its readers to not publish material with obvious factual errors?

L A Wood starts his article by saying "last week, while breaking ground (for the skatepark) .... construction crews struck contaminated ground water." Breaking ground? The skatepark has been under construction for THREE MONTHS and the Voice has had reporters covering this story for months. Struck contaminated water? Wells were dug and water was tested (and found to be free of contaminates) before the final designs were completed in June. Because of the high water table a subdrain and pump system was incorporated. into the skatepark design to deal with both rain-and ground water. There has been ongoing testing both prior to and during the entire construction process.

"The city, playing the anxious buyer, rushed in..." I guess if you define a six year process with, water tests, soil tests, air tests, long term monitoring of the air, and multiple reviews by the Environmental Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Disability Commission, Labor Commission, Zoning Commission all told 44 public meetings, the 'anxious buyer" I think most readers would wonder what the "cautious buyer" would look like. Again, the Voice covered many of these meetings during the past six years.

"Because of the extremely shallow ground water levels and Codornices Creek's... it was necessary to install a dewatering system across the-entire site." Not true. Not a word of it. Like every other playing field in the bay area the site was graded, has an irrigation system to water the fields, fences, sidewalks, and a maintenance building. We don't even have drain tiles under the field. We also put in a storm drain system around Harrison House Homeless Shelter which was designed to take water away from the building in an effort to reduce the flooding which has occurred in that building on a regular basis over many years. As aforementioned the skatepark, and the skatepark alone, does have a subdrain system.

"Any attempt to require a cleanup usually results in a bankruptcy" I don't really have much of a clue as to whether the words "any attempt" and "usually" have any truth to them but I do know that before and after bankruptcy comes the insurance company who held the liability policy on the business. Generally rather large insurance companies. Not that they look forward to paying out these claims but they do so and do it everyday. This also shouldn't be news to the Voice editors or publisher.

It is unlikely that the city government will recover anything from the UC regents for their failure to disclose the off-site Chromium 6 ..."

Do I understand L A Wood to be saying that the University of California intentionally hid information from and sold the City of Berkeley a piece of property that UC Regents knew had a chance of Chromium 6 contamination? Isn't that what "failure to disclose" means? Is this allegation something that the publishers of the Voice are ready to stand behind?

If the Berkeley Voice is interested in keeping its reader informed, then by all means let it publish factual information, pro or con, that help the general community become better educated about local affairs. The city was aware of the theoretical source of the contaminated water several blocks away. Neither the University of California nor more studies were needed to "uncover" this potential problem. What actions the city should or should not have taken given this knowledge are certainly something appropriate for "Viewpoint". But publishing a "Viewpoint" that gives the illusion of fact when much of what is written is fiction, really doesn't serve the reader.

Did the city ask the right questions on Harrison St. Playfields’ environment? FORUM
By Carol Denney December 13, 2000

On Friday, November 17, the water bubbling up from the Harrison Street skate park excavation tested positive for the carcinogen chromium 6. Toxic liquid poured into the newly-dug skate bowls at the rate of 15 gallons a minute, leaving city staff scrambling to pump out the skate bowls and halting construction.

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, city staff made an emergency request to the City Council for $100,000 to cover clean up costs, a request which was granted. The first week of costs, excluding staff time, exceeded $200,000, with no end in sight. Nabil Al-Hadithy, of the Toxics Management Department, explained gently that there was no accurate way to predict the extent of the plume of seeping poison, let alone the costs of the clean up.

Just bad luck, right? The soil had been tested before the city bought it, right? Well, yes and no. "They asked the wrong question' answers L A Wood, referring to the $25,000 okayed by the environmental commission, which' only asked if children using the proposed park would be safe.

L A Wood, the lone citizen who appealed the re-zoning of the land parcel from industrial to recreational, refuses to this day to point the finger at anyone, despite the fact that some of the City Council continue to insist that his predictions about toxicity came true by accident.

This is a patient man who attended every hearing, wrote extensively to the press, and remains willing even now to sketch the estimated extent of the poisonous plume from its source to the skate park for the bewildered city staffers who dismissed him along the way.

True, the city could have requested a "Phase One" study, a more extensive evaluation of the land, the hydrology, and the potential toxicity. The University of California conducted a Phase One study back in 1993 when it tossed around the idea of selling the land, and no chromium-6 was found. But Color Tech, the company whose leaking storage tanks had caused the original problem, had contacted the city in 1990, disclosed the problem, and was never required to clean it up.

 Digging the skate park bowls may well have drawn a relatively stable plume of chromium 6 toward the property, giving the. city unexpected management of the gnarliest ride in town, long-term remediation of a serious carcinogen

I remember sitting at a City Council meeting during the years Fred Collignon and his enormous crowd of soccer moms, soccer dads, and beaming children would descend upon city hail from time to time and looking around the room at a group of people most of whom had never been to a City Council meeting before. "This is the face of political inevitability," I remember telling my seat mate.The people at that meeting and the politicians manipulating them saw any mention of toxicity as obstructionist nonsense from extremist nay-sayers who show up to stop anything anyone attempts to build anyway.

The environmental commission signed off on it. The Zoning Adjustments Board signed off on it. And finally, the City Council signed off on it, over the objections of Diane WoolIey and Kriss Worthington, who seemed appreciative of environmental and safety concerns.

At the Nov. 21 Council meeting, District 7 representative Kriss Worthington made a motion to ask the city attorney to investigate the possibility of cost recovery specifically from the University of California, who sold the city the land, and from Color Tech, the original polluter. The council bickered, snickered, severed the motion, and then passed it with the non traditional flurry of asides designed to soften the university's role, cast Worthington as biased, and make sure any opportunity for partisan division was thoroughly exploited.

L A Wood, on the other hand, is still drawing diagrams, making films, and writing letters, trying patiently to steer the current nightmare in a productive direction. Education about environmental issues is best taken slowly, and all parties participant in this mess have a lot to learn. I walked the site recently with Mr. Wood, and we were charged by construction crew workers probably nervous about the cameras; workers on the clock on a shut-down site spend a lot of time moving dirt pointlessly around. "You're trespassing," one of them shouted at us angrily.

"We're just leaving:' answered Mr. Wood politely. The issue of toxics doesn't divide up as neatly as the City Council does. Wood could sue the city, but with the common sense of an engineer and the patience of a saint, he's looking forward only to the next hearing and the next article where he can try, once again, to get somebody to listen

Much Ado about little, Letter to editor Berkeley Voice, December 16, 2000
Susan McKay, Landscape Architect (participated in design of the project)

Much Ado? Time to Move On

I have held my public tongue as long as I can, but after reading the latest missile from Carol Denney blasted into the print arena of the Harrison Park controversy I am compelled to comment. The controversy is about a process that has as its primary goal, the building of a public park for the citizens of Berkeley.

It seems to me that once again we have the classic Berkeley conundrum of trying to determine fail sale answers to complex problems and in the process creating a political circus to the max and sacrificing progress for absolutism. We are smart people. We should know by now SIMPLE ANSWERS AND NO RISK SOLUTIONS ARE NOT POSSIBLE.

We have used, and yes in many eases misused this land, for at least 150 years. Many vocal Berkeley citizens (in an effort to be responsible for the health and safety of our children some generous people would say) focus on the dark side of humanity. However, the side of humanity that is so often overlooked here is the brighter side. In this case it is the products of scientific research and public agency oversight and planning.

This is not a movie. The (prematurely) "sainted" L A Wood is not Erin Brockovich. Science and monitoring WAS in place. When problems were found preventive measures WERE taken. Children were NOT harmed or even put in danger. Most importantly the hazard that has surfaced CAN be cleaned up easily with science and technology that is available.

 In this situation, we-can have it all. We can mitigate the pollution (which I'm told is not so bad on the scale of it), protect the Bay and provide a park for the citizens of Berkeley. The issue of blame, looking for villains and heroes, diverts energy from the real task, which is to support positive actions for the citizens. If there is a hero here, it is the City (elected, appointed and hired) which took a chance and built a park on that site. The villainy unfortunately is more pervasive than a company, an official or any other identifiable source or act from the past. I'm willing to write, it off to the dark side of our collective human nature and instead say let's get on with it so that the plans and dreams so close to completion can be realized. Finish the skate park.

Contaminated site questioned, editor Berkeley Voice, December 16, 2000
By Karen Craig, Commission on Disability

It is not to the surprise of many in the city of Berkeley that high levels of hexavalent chrome and solvents were found at the excavation for the Harrison 'Street skateboard park. Twenty-five thousand dollars was spent by the city for testing the soil and groundwater. Why? To make sure it was safe.

Why are we not surprised that the contamination of cancer causing agents were deeper? Now the city has moved to spend upwards of $100,000 for pumps and treatment equipment and a study to find any health impacts.

I do not believe raising the level of concrete will be the answer. Do we want our kids skateboarding in concrete bowls that supposedly cover up contamination? And then there is the Harrison Street playground. How much money has been spent to prove that the area is not toxic for our kids?

Doug Fielding campaigned long and hard to convince the city council and many city commissions that the Harrison tracks were safe. The only commission to not support the playing fields was the commission on disability.

Doug Fielding, who convinced the city to okay these parks and playing fields, has the contract to build the park through the Association of Sports Field Users. He still claims the concrete will protect- the kids from contamination. I didn't believe him the first time and I don't believe him the second. What is wrong with this picture? Wake up Berkeley This is a city where free range turkeys and fair trade coffee are important to us. We cannot trust anyone who is making money off the health of our children and future generations of Berkeleyans. What kind of legacy is that?

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