Housing Venture Splits San Francisco Community
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES: Out on the southeast edge of San Francisco, Muslim Minister Christopher Muhammad walks across a vacant schoolyard that sits next to the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. It's a Superfund cleanup site and one of the most polluted places in California. Now a portion of that area is being cleaned up and redeveloped for condominiums. Muhammad says too many people are focusing on the jobs in that construction and not enough on the plumes of potentially toxic dust that settle on his yard and the neighborhood.
CHRISTOPHER MUHAMMAD: The stuff on that jungle gym, literally on the swings and slides, it's very thick. And the children are doing what children do. So what happens is we now have a health crisis with our children because we don't know what exposure level they've experienced.
GONZALES: Muhammad says since construction began, his students and nearby residents have suffered from chronic headaches, bronchitis, rashes and other illnesses. Muhammad and other community activists took their complaints to the Board of Supervisors, demanding that the construction site be temporarily shut down so that nearby residents could be tested for exposure to asbestos.
JUANA TEO: My name Juana Teo. I live on the 1700 block of Newcomb Avenue. I come here with a clear message for you all. The Bay View Hunters Point community is suffering. People are sick: nose bleeds, asthma, you name it. If the shipyard construction and redevelopment is safe, then what is the hesitation in proving it?
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GONZALES: But that's not necessary, says the city's Public Health Director Mitch Katz.
MITCH KATZ: Our overall professional judgment based on all of the information is that there is no health risk posed by the development of parcel A.
GONZALES: Janice Brenner(ph) is a mother who's raised four children in the neighborhood.
JANICE BRENNER: We all can agree that there is health issue in the Bay View Hunters Point, but that didn't just start yesterday. So why are we, all of a sudden, trying to do something about it now that's going to stop the effect of jobs and homes being created for the people that's there? And to be honest with you, I'm more concerned about one of my kids walking through Hunters Point getting shot than I am concerned about them getting sick or getting asthma or cancer.
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GONZALES: Leading the charge to keep the building project open is the head of the local NAACP, Reverend Amos Brown. Like other black Christian ministers, Brown says jobs are key to keeping his flock in San Francisco. He also says when Health Department investigators went to the neighborhood to verify health complaints, they were intimidated.
AMOS BROWN: And I'm sad to say that you have members, some members of the Nation of Islam, who were following behind those health officials and telling the neighbors, don't you talk to them because you can't trust them. And this thing of sowing mistrust, it is wrong.
GONZALES: Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad denies that charge and he insists that some black community leaders have been compromised by the Lennar Corporation, the company building condominiums in the old shipyard.
MUHAMMAD: And now you have leaders in the community who have been purchased by Lennar. Lennar has an MO. They finance leaders and all of this is done to buy silence.
GONZALES: Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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