Bayview Fights the Power
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.