Bayview fights the power by James Whooley SAN FRANCISCO-Members of six neighborhood groups in the Bayview/Hunter's Point district here have joined forces to fight construction of a 240-megawatt electric and steam co- generation plant nearby. Co-generation uses natural gas to produce electricity for consumers and steam for businesses. The proposed facility is expected to use 400,000 gallons of aqueous ammonia and release up to 350 tons of airborne toxics in an area which "already has an incredible amount of hazards and toxins," says Wendy Brummer-Kocks, director of the Innes Avenue Coalition, one of the groups organizing opposition to the plant. Environmental troubles began for Bayview with the World War II boom at the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard. Closed in 1974, the shipyard is now a federal Superfund site due to severe chemical and radioactive contamination. Low-income residents continue to live in the housing projects originally built as temporary quarters for shipyard workers 50 years ago. Although it is one of San Francisco's poorest areas, the predominantly African-American community has the highest rate of home ownership in the city. Along with the shipyard, Bayview is home to two PG&E power plants, a sewage treatment plant and a hazardous materials waste disposal plant. In all, there are 58 reported leaking storage facilities and 73 hazardous waste sites in the district. "We feel the health of our residents is worse than other parts of the city because of these facilities," says Kocks. "Everybody knows kids with asthma, emphysema is common among middle-aged people, and we see lots of strange instances of cancer. At our last meeting, everyone was talking about dogs they knew that had died of tumors." Among the toxins the new plant would emit are nitrogen oxides, precursor organic compound (poc), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (pm10), which contains several known carcinogens, including asbestos, arsenic, and lead. Other dangers from these emissions include decreased lung function, impairments to the immune system, and decreased flow of oxygen to the bloodstream. The California Energy Commission (CEC) accepted an application to build the plant from the San Francisco Energy Company (SFEC) in September, 1994, beginning a year-long review process. With a 60-day extension granted by the CEC to the company last month, the state commission's independent staff will continue to accept input at least through November 1995 before making a decision. During the decision-making process, "we look at 20 to 25 different technical aspects," says Terry O'Brien, Regulatory Program Manager for the CEC. Those factors include the impact of the proposed plant on air quality, noise levels, worker safety, and its cumulative impact on the community. Both the company and its opposition have taken advantage of a series of CEC-sponsored community meetings to present information to the commission. The SFEC claims the proposed plant would offer a needed economic boost to Bayview/Hunter's Point without harming residents' health. The company has even suggested that construction of the plant could diminish the cumulative amount of toxins released into the community by lessening the operations of the two existing PG&E plants, older facilities that produce more pollution than do their modern counterparts. The SFEC is fighting for the $185 million plant with a strong lineup of legal and technical advisors, including several engineers from the multinational giant Bechtel. In addition, the SFEC recently admitted to the local media that it paid "community supporters" to applaud the project at a January hearing by the San Francisco Port Commission. According to Brummer-Kocks, this type of tactic is nothing new for the SFEC and its parent company, Applied Energy Services (AES). "We have contacts in Maine who had beaten AES. The Maine folks told us it was common for the company to pay off supporters. It's standard operating procedure for AES," she says. In organizing against the proposed facility, the six Bayview/Hunter's Point neighborhood groups have achieved an unprecedented level of cooperation, according to community activists. The Innes Avenue Coalition, the Morgan Heights Homeowners Association, the Mariner's Village Homeowners Association, the Hunter's View Residence Management Council, Inc., Northridge Cooperative Homes, and C. Hillside Village have banded together to form the Southeast Alliance for Environmental Justice (SAEJ).SAEJ is a multi-racial group whose members range from homeowners to public housing tenants. Although CEC staff members have been willing to listen to community organizers, the state energy commission has not made community health a priority in its investigations and has not given community activists enough opportunity to be heard, according to Linda Richardson of the Morgan Heights Homeowners Association. "The process itself is so rigid that for the community itself to have an impact the process must be changed," says Richardson. She rejects both the economic and cumulative environmental arguments put forth by the SFEC. While the construction of the plant could bring temporary jobs to the community, the facility itself will employ only 19 to 25 permanent employees. "We are not about to compromise the environment of this community for 20 jobs," says Richardson. As for reduced emissions from the two existing plants, she says, they are required by the federal Clean Air Act to install catalytic converters and reduce emissions by 90 percent by the year 2000, regardless of the existence of any new facilities. "There are critical issues this community is bringing to the forefront, such as environmental justice, the socio-economic dimensions of energy planning and siting, and environmental racism," says Anne Eng of the Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, which is representing the Morgan Heights Homeowners Association. "We are the first to bring the issue of environmental racism to the attention of the CEC," she says. But Eng says the process remains stacked against communities, noting that discussion of the need for another power plant began in 1992, while public comment was not invited until late 1994, after a specific plant had been proposed. A preliminary staff report on the proposal is due from the CEC. April 15. Activists say they will continue to participate in the review process, but retain the option of legal action if the state commission rules against what they call the right to breathe in their own neighborhood.