City of Emeryville
Brownfield "Pilot" Project


Unusual toxic waste plan in Emeryville, Town hopes to lure more businesses
Toxic City Applies for US Grant
William Brand, Oakland Tribune
December 18, 1995

EMERYVILLE - One of the Bay Area's most amazing development stones in the 1990s is the transformation of Emeryville.

Once a square mile of rusting, industrial blight, the city has been turned into a power shopping center. Chiron, Sybase and other high-tech industries - coveted by cities around the nation -have lined up for a chance to expand and build in Emeryville.

Even Kaiser Pennanente chose to forsake Oakland for the chance to build on an old industrial site in once-grimy Emeryville. Emeryville City Council, which has shepherded this tiny town of 5,700 residents into the 1990s, is worried. Beneath all the new glitter and neon, in the city's tattered industrial heart, lies a potential toxic nightmare: the unfortunate residue of a century of almost unregulated industrial use.

So far, developers who have chosen Emeryville have the managers and lawyers to cope with the layers of government agencies that oversee pollution laws. They also have the deep pockets to bankroll the often costly toxic cleanup required, hauling away tons of contaminated soil, attempting to cleanse the ground water through elaborate pumping systems.

But what about the many smaller industrial parcels that dot Emeryville, when developers are courted by booming new cities in the untrammeled, green suburbs? Emeryville believes it has a solution: Do a soil and water toxic survey of the entire city, work out a site-by-site cleanup plan, then declare almost the entire city a toxic waste containment zone.

 It sounds diabolical. But such a zone would take advantage of emerging new federal and state efforts to ease environmental cleanup laws and help aging cities like Emeryville attract new development. The Clinton administration even has a name for it: "The Brownflelds Economic Development Initiative." Brownfields sites are abandoned, contrast to the business exodus to "greenflelds," pristine, undeveloped areas where builders don't have to worry about toxic liability.

If the waste can be contained on its present site and the source of contamination removed, the argument goes, then there is no need to go to the expense of pumping out contaminated water or digging holes and carting away vast amounts of contaminated dirt. The Brownflelds initiative also allows government to limit cleanup liability that prospective developers can face, an important consideration in an era when citizens tend to sue first, talk later.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board has approved a similar policy to lessen the standards for cleaning up ground water in very contaminated industrial sites. The state water board has held two hearings and will consider a similar policy early in 1996. So, with almost no notice, the Emeryville City Coma sitting as the city redevelopment agency, has applied for a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to complete a toxics survey of the city. The grant would be matched by $200,000 from the city's redevelopment agency.

The regional water board, the Alameda County Health Department  and the state Department of Toxic Substance Control have joined Emeryville in the application.

The containment zone idea has been used before, Emeryville City Manager John Flores says. But Emeryville's plan may be the first to attempt to apply it to an entire city.

The idea of easing environmental restrictions to encourage development on blighted urban property is very new. It's raising hackles next door in Berkeley. Some environmentalists are worried that Emeryville, in its haste to develop the city, might pave over serious environmental problems left by a century of industrial use problems that might eventually move through contaminated ground water to Berkeley, which borders Emeryville on the north, or to San Francisco Bay.

The Berkeley City Council, after watching a video ("On Berkeley Soil") made by two West Berkeley environmentalists (Erbele and Wood) on ground water contamination, voted unanimously for a report on the subject. “We wonder if it really is possible to contain pollutants on a site,” says Nabil Al Al-Hadithy, who heads Berkeley's toxins management division. "Toxic containment is an art, not a science."

Creating future problems?

Declaring containment could become a numbers game, with an area that appears safe on paper actually posing real hazards in the future, Al Hadithy said. Relaxed standards and containment may be controversial in Berkeley, but Emeryville calls the ideas "realism." "The truth is we have water contamination that can never be cleaned up. But the present law makes developers spend an incredible amount of money trying," says Emeryvilie Mayor Nom Davis.

"This really is an attempt to bring some rationality to the problem. There are layers and layers of government agencies that regulate toxins and all these regulations really have a very stifling effect on inner cities like Emeryville, Berkeley arid Oakland.

"Our little square-mile city has had 100 years of hard industrial use. If we are ever going to make it productive again, we've got to have an overall plan where everybody works together," she said.

'We know there are taxies in the ground and in the water," Davis continued. 'We know they must be contained or removed. But until now, the law required a developer to attempt to bring the water up to drinking water quality, for example."

Berkeley debates industrial cleanup, Council to vote on Dean's letter
William Brand, Oakland Tribune, March 12, 1996

BERKELEY - A national movement to ease requirements for cleanup of heavily polluted industrial sites may be the wave of the future, but Berkeley wants no part of it. The City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a tough letter, drafted by Mayor Shirley Dean, to the state Water Resources Control Board and the City of Emeryville protesting proposed new cleanup standards.

The Berkeley Planning Board has already voted to oppose the state plan and during a discussion of the letter at a City Council meeting last week, there was no council opposition to the idea. “I'm just against this containment zone plan, totally. I'm very concerned about protecting the environment," said Councilmember Diane Woolley-Bauer.

The state water board's proposal would create 'containment zones" around heavily polluted industrial sites in recognition that some sites are so contaminated that their ground water could never be really decontaminated. The developer would be able to build without costly cleanup if it can be proved that the polluted groundwater would not flow off the site.

Emeryville, in the meantime, has applied for a federal grant to study ground water in much of the city and eventually declare polluted areas "containment zones," a process which might make it easier to develop the city's many small industrial sites. The federal government has a similar initiative under way to ease environmental restrictions in "brownfields" - the bureaucratic term for decaying industrial sites - so that they can be developed and be economically useful again.

City is concerned.
"We're as concerned as anyone with attracting new industry and re-using old industrial sites," Dean said Monday. 'But we really don't want to see anything happen that is going to degrade the environment."

In her letter, Dean points out that citizens in Berkeley are very concerned that such interpretations could permit high levels of contamination to be left in place and result in no further cleanup attempts. "At a minimum, the City of Berkeley believes that additional safeguards and procedures must be included in amendments to the proposed policy," Dean said.

"Berkeley would like local control over all technical requirements and reviews for designation of containment zones .... Local governments must be allowed to adopt stricter regulations," she said.

State regulations should also protect communities such as Berkeley, which have strict pollution cleanup standards, from nearby cities that have looser standards, Dean added.

Environmental concern
The Emeryville proposal has created some concern among environmentalists in Berkeley that nontreated, contaminated water would eventually seep into San Francisco Bay.

The state water board has scheduled a hearing in Sacramento on March 26 on the proposal. Representatives of Emeiyville and the state water board have been invited to attend tonight's City Council meeting.

Debate over cleanup requirements creates additional mess for Berkeley
William Brand, Oakland Tribune, March 17,1996

BERKELEY - This is a city of environmentalists, but not everyone here believes a state plan to loosen toxic cleanup requirements on aging industrial sites is a bad thing.

The Berkeley City Council went on record last week opposing the state Water Quality Control Board proposal to create containment zones around industrial areas with badly polluted ground water. The move would allow development to proceed without further cleanup if there is no danger to humans.

City Council members and environmentalists, including the city's environmental commission, worry that the policy might allow industrial developers to avoid needed cleanup, potentially endangering human health.

But representatives of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, a West Berkeley industry and a Berkeley resident who is a U.S. Navy environmental official, urged the council not to condemn so hastily the proposed state policy. "It is of great concern to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce that you are considering major changes in the way you respond to state and local environmental issues without involving those most impacted," said chamber vice president Allen Hibbard.

"It is this type of action that reinforces our image as a city that does not care about its business community," he said; calling on the council to establish a task force on the issue.

Even a city staff member whose job is to encourage new industrial concers to to move to Berkeley cited problems of toxic cleanup requirements.  -

Kate Squire, a city economic development department employee, said she has tried for several years to convince "green" environmental industries to locate on old industrial sites in West Berkeley.

Squire said the law requires polluted groundwater to be cleaned to an almost pristine standard. But with current technology, that is impossible. So the state water board will only issue industrial developers conditional approval. Lenders worry that at some future time sites will face future and possibly expensive cleanup liability and as a result, many industrial property owners simply leave old sites vacant.

Brian Riley, environmental con­sultant for Courtaulds Aerospace, a company moving from 1604 4th St. to Southern California, said the firm is worried about future development and cleanup liability. The company doesn't want to avoid cleanup, he said, but neither does it want to spend the next decade tangled in a web of impossible regulations..

Randy Friedman, an environ­mental coordinator for the U.S. Navy, said there are sound reasons for the state's containment proposal. For one thing, cleanups are horrendously expensive.

And the dangers of contaminated groundwater at industrial sites has been overstated. Urban runoff from the streets is a much greater threat, he said. "Each day the equivalent of 10 railroad tank cars of oil are dumped into San Francisco. Bay from runoff from streets," Friedman said. "That dwarfs the few molecules of contaminated water that might reach the Bay from Emeryville."

On behalf of Emeryville
Alan H. Adler, Berkeley Voice, April 11, 1996

Your article, "Berkeley eyes potential Emeryville pollution" is pseudo muckraking. It attempts to alarm your readers to a "problem," i.e. a method of cleaning up toxic wastes chosen by Emeryville, formerly an industrial city which has been transforming itself to one that provides many valuable jobs and services to the citizens of Berkeley, e.g., the smorgasboard of services at its mall and a convenient railroad linkage. Emeryville obtained a $200,000 federal grant to begin studying and developing its polluted sites using containment zones. In response, Berkeley complained (under the advice of its clean-water guru, L A Wood) to Emeryville and the State Water Resources Control. Board about Emeryville's taking advantage of the Clinton administration's proactive policy.

This reminds me of the corruption of the planning process that I read about 20 years ago in a book entitled Politics, Planning and the Public Interest, by Edward Banfleld. I checked the facts and learned that Emeryville has a clean record in addressing pollution problems while the City of Berkeley, because it is wealthy enough to have its own health agency (supported by higher taxes on its residents) doesn't have to report its pollution from miles of leaking sewers on land owned by it. Recently, Berkeley decided to hold a symposium about electric vehicles in which its flyer claimed that it had pioneered an electric car program at the Ashby BART. In fact, Berkeley has no such program; it is Emeryville which facilitated electric cars combo to and from it to the Ashby BART station.

Berkeley extols the virtues of a sister city in a foreign country, while choosing to attack its progressive next-door neighbor, Emeryvilic, which in the last 10 years has cleaned up toxic waste sites in areas adjacent to its low-income neighborhoods. It is interesting to note that, if Berkeley were to hold itself to Mr. Wood's pristine standards with regard to cleaning up its own pollution (by the widespread hauling of tons of soil and the pumping and treating of ground water, ) the city would go bankrupt. At a time when the city has its own planning problems with its libraries, civic center and avenues, it should not be spending its taxpayers' money making unsubstantiated accusations about the attempts of its neighbor city to solve a universal problem.

Why isn't the railroad linkage in Berkeley? Why doesn't Berkeley use electric cars to transport if city employees to BART, e.g. from its Public Works facilities on Aliston Way below San Pablo Avenue? Why doesn't Berkeley obtain a federal grant to at least carefully study polluted sites?

Inner city pollution threat
L A Wood , Berkeley Voice, January 25, 1996
Also directed to the Berkeley Planning Commission January 22, 1996

Earlier this month, Berkeley's Planning Commission gave unanimous approval not to support containment zone policies in this city. The recommendation was founded on a number of commission objections to this pollution zones concept. Certainly, these toxic policies and their obvious incongruities with the West Berkeley Plan are of paramount concern.

Unfortunately, Berkeley's City Planning Department is now suggesting that council wait until all the economic development interests are explored. Planning staff suggests it could generate such a report sometime in late March or April, however incomplete. So, the question has become, "Why is it so important to take action immediately? Why now?"

There are numerous justifications for rejecting containment zone policies in Berkeley. Rejection could be rationalized simply because of the West Berkeley Plan alone. However, there is a bigger issue here to understand. Perhaps the examination of the parallels to another political decision taken some 20 years ago will help reveal the imperative to act now.

The issue was apartheid. So what does apartheid have to do with containment zones? Surprisingly, these issues have much in common. No one will forget that Berkeley's anti-apartheid movement focused on racism. At a time when most of the country didn't understand apartheid policies, Berkeley stood up and said, "No!" Council certainly didn't wait for city planners' economic impact analysis. The moment would have been lost. The boycott was the right thing to do. Over two decades later, Berkeleyans now look back with pride on that timely council action.

Containment zones are about racism, too, but this racism has a strong environmental component. Most of you are aware that Berkeley's large industrial areas that a contaminated sites are primarily located in the mixed residential districts of central, south and west Berkeley. Like many inner city areas around the country, these districts represent Berkeley's lowerincome families, high density housing, most rentals, more children, more ethnic diversity, and so on. This type of environmental racism is directed at these groups of citizens.

All Berkeley residents should have an equal opportunity to quality of life. Containment zone policies, by definition, damage and reduce the quality of the environment throughout America's inner cities. Should council wait for our economic developers' forecasts on containments zones? Of what real value is this?

Today, although our federal and state environmental regulation is in turmoil, this is a very exciting and challenging time. However, never before has so much been at stake. The state review process is drawing to a close, and the city of Berkeley has not been heard. It should be noted that several south and west Berkeley toxic sites are currently being sized up for containment zone policies.

Unlike apartheid, there won't be the throngs of supporters urging the City Council to do the right thing, for in truth, few understand the program and even less are aware of its pending implementation or lasting consequences. Yet, this issue is no less important to us, our children and our country than those raised by South Africa's apartheid policies. Containment zones are the apartheid of our inner cities. Sustainable development is good, but development at any cost is immoral.

I ask your readers to contact their city representatives. Urge them to join with the Planning Commission in saying, "no!" Let this message be heard now, in both California's state Capitol and in Washington, D.C. Silence is consent.

Dirly story
Carolyn Erbele, Berkeley Voice, February 22, 1996

Editor: Your readers have undoubtedly heard the current national debate about the high cost of toxic soil and groundwater cleanups. Some regulators and economic developers in California have pointed to the depleted, state-designated cleanup funds as proof of the impossibility of the task. Unfortunately, most of your readerships hasn't been given all the dirt on this pollution story.

In the early days of California's leaky tank cleanup program, funds were distributed by a tier system. This originally meant that those property owners in greatest need were to be given first priority to receive these tax generated cleanup funds. This distribution scheme was to insure that the small service station owners with toxic sites could afford to comply with the state's soil and groundwater regulations.

With a billion dollars spent in the state thus far, and only one-quarter of California's toxic sites cleaned, some are calling this effort a waste. But there is more to this story. Some time ago, large corporate owners of toxic sites petitioned Gov. Wilson to change the way these funds were distributed. It's not surprising that these same multinational businesses own most of the states' contaminated sites.

The fund, which was created to aid those in need first, has become little more than corporate welfare. These giants deliberately plundered the cleanup fund.

Meanwhile, they lobbied to reduce cleanup requirements. Now they're complaining that there's no money for cleanup. Who are these corporate bandits who have exhausted California's cleanup dollars and who continue to pollute our communities? You know them as Shell, Exxon and Chevron.

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