A report released in 2014 by the California Cancer Prevention Center was inconclusive about heightened risks for cancer on Treasure Island, noting that the fluctuating size of the island’s population — 2,500 as of the 2010 census — “makes any sort of meaningful site-specific statistical analysis infeasible.”
“We may not speak the King’s English,” Harrison said, “but we know what’s happening to us. We see it and live it everyday, so if you want to know about it, ask us, don’t ask somebody else because they don’t live here.”
Bob Beck is director of the Treasure Island Development Authority, the city agency overseeing the area’s development. He doesn’t live on the island, nor do any of his seven staff. But with his engineering background, he sees Treasure Island as “an incredible location, from an engineering perspective—it’s a very interesting project to be working on.”
“The city has a pretty high affordable housing requirement on the whole,” according to Beck, “but it’s been an emphasis here, with an added emphasis on the formerly homeless.”
Beck is eager to start construction on the up to 8,000 new homes planned to be built over the next two decades. (Currently, the island has just under a thousand units.)
“We’re very interested in getting into construction and start helping to contribute to the solution [for the housing crisis],” he said.
Beck’s signature was on the November 2013 letter that went out to 24 households on Treasure Island who were forced to relocate due to chemical pollution beneath their homes. In spite of the relocations and a news investigation that found the Navy wanted to suppress radiation concerns, overall Beck said he believes “the Navy’s been doing a good job” with the cleanup.
Harrison, however, worries what could happen as sea levels rise due to climate change. Contaminated dirt in the Bay might move closer to where people live, work, and go to school, she contended.
“There are so many holes in the city’s [current] climate plan,” she said. “We’re not engineers, and we’re not scientists, but if we can point out so many holes in the plan, there’s a problem.”
When asked about the cleanup, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) deferred to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA said its oversight and review process is sufficient.
“The Navy’s own internal routine quality-control system functions as it is designed to do," a public affairs officer for EPA Region 9 responded in an email. “When the Navy has found any concerns, it has reported them and corrected them.”
The cleanup is far from finished. The EPA rep said current health hazards can result from inhalation, drinking water and skin contact. The agency expects Hunters Point to be taken off the EPA Superfund site registry by 2021. By its own estimate, the Navy will finally finish its Treasure Island cleanup in 2022. In the meantime, they are excavating contaminated soil, storm drains, and other structures and moving them offsite.
“They also protect the public from contaminated water through banning use of groundwater for drinking or bathing and through treatments such as injecting iron or lactate to promote chemical breakdown of contaminants,” the spokeswoman said.
According to the DTSC, there is also the costly process of moving especially contaminated dirt to land owned by private subcontractors, U.S. Ecology and Energy Solutions, located hundreds of miles away in Idaho and Utah. This is radioactive soil so dangerous that there are no dump sites in California that will touch the stuff, according to the DTSC’s communications officer Sanford Nax.
For the formerly homeless moving onto Treasure Island, it’s difficult to say whether the trade-off of a roof over one’s head for a condition like asthma, or worse, is worth it.
But health concerns haven’t stopped the first 88 homes at the Shipyard from being snapped up by market-rate homebuyers for between $400,000 and $700,000 apiece. Residents began moving in in April.
Meanwhile, Lennar recently solidified plans for more base redevelopments across the Bay, at the recently decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station and Concord Naval Weapons Station.
Regarding all the mishaps and blame-passing tied to the Hunters Point and Shipyard projects, Harrison can’t help but wonder whether things would be different if the people living on and near these former bases were wealthier. She pointed to the Victorian-style homes in the affluent Marina District that were damaged in an earthquake in 1989. In much of the neighborhood, signs of the quake had vanished within just a year.
“Do you really think if that happened on Evans Street [in Hunters Point] it would really get rebuilt that fast?” she asked. “I would like to say that we get fair treatment from the city, but I would be lying.”