Decontaminate the Community Trust, Before the Land!

Posted on by Amanda Fukutome

Decontaminate the community trust, before the land!


Dr. M. Reza Shirazi

Institute of Urban and Regional Planning

UC Berkeley



I was surprised by the op-ed published by Examiner on September 26. Signed by a number of mainly non-profit and advocacy organizations, it shows empathy with the people impacted by the manipulated soil testing in the Hunters Point Shipyard project and defines its purpose addressing the technical issues at hand. However, I would argue, the op-ed presents a reductionist and deformed image of the project and its technical aspects. 


The text states that “The cornerstone of Brownfields redevelopment is built on science, integrity, and professionalism”. And here lies the problem! The entire Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment and decontamination project has suffered from this approach to Brownfields. This approach is rooted in an extreme positivism that reduces a brownfield site to a piece of commodity and property detached from its people and history and subject to ‘scientific’ investigation by the professionals. And the Hunters Point Shipyard project has proved this approach to be dysfunctional and wrong. Decontamination process was in fact guided and controlled by local, state and federal regulatory bodies equipped with science and scientist, and was conducted by Tetra Tech, a professional company that has been ‘Leading with Science’ to address clients’ most complex needs, as they state in their website. The result: one of the, if not the, biggest case of eco-fraud in US history!


Now let me propose my alternative: the cornerstone of Brownfields redevelopment should be built on knowledge, history, and community oversight. A knowledge-based understanding from Brownfields goes beyond scientific reductionism and looks at the people on and around the site as the knowledge-holders. It does not delimit ‘science’ to scientists, but seeks ‘knowledge’ beyond the confines of ‘scientific community’. Knowledge is a co-production, and community-members are part of the ‘knowledge-community’.  Decontamination is no-longer exclusively a pure scientific project conducted by machines and tested in laboratory, but a multi-dimensional collaborative program that looks at the ‘land’ as a historic construct. It recognizes that the land is not detachable from people and history. Thus, it searches the roots of contamination in the past history, in the bodies of the residents, and in the bodily memory of the inhabitants. In this process, community is an integral part; the entire procedure is developed and overseen by the community members. Land is not exclusively proved remediated in the labs, but in the minds of the community members. 


There are also other misleading issues. Hunters Point Shipyard is not a normal Brownfield, but a Superfund site. I urge you to look at the history of Hunters Point Shipyard, and the type of activities Navy and later Triple A Machine Shop, Inc. conducted there, to realize the complexity of contamination. Comparing Shipyard to Crissy Field in San Francisco is also misleading. Crissy Fields was not a Superfund site, and was not re-developed for residential purposes. 


The op-ed further states that “Done correctly, environmental cleanup is protective of human health and of soil, air and water.” This is an obvious statement. But the fact is that the clean-up was not done correctly. Just have a look at Examiner’s previous articles to learn about the extent of data falsification and fraudulent. And I believe the introduced approach to Brownfields was responsible for this misconduct. It was the regulatory bodies guided by professionals and scientists that did not perform well in hiring companies, fixing early evidences of falsification, and overseeing the process. And now the community asks a simple, but very critical question: why people should trust re-testing as long as it is conducted by the same governmental bodies under the same performance paradigm? We need a paradigmatic shift to re-development and de-contamination projects. A ‘land’ is not a piece of commodity, but a historic construct attached to communities and people. As long as the governing paradigm remains in place, the tragedy will repeat itself.


Community members don’t trust the existing ‘remediation regime’ that has intensified the mistrust. What needs to be done first is de-contaminating the trust, than the land. A more constructive dialogue should be established with the community members based on a new communication strategy; conventional communication methods such as community meetings and hearings are too poor to serve as a platform for such as dialogue. Navy needs a re-testing plan for the main parcel of the Shipyard: the community trust.