Tom Butt
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  Future of the Zeneca Site - Item J-2 on the September 24 City Council Agenda
September 23, 2019

For at least 15 years, the clean up plan for the Zeneca site has been in play. The first major battle was getting it transferred from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board jurisdiction to the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC). The thought was that DTSC was better equipped to handle the complex project. The next major battle was getting DTSC to recognize that the future use for the site could include ground floor residential (not single family), consistent with the Richmond Bay Specific Plan.

In 2018, DTSC published its recommendations in Public Comment Draft Feasibility Study and Remedial Action Plan for Lot 1, Lot 2, and the Uplands Portion of Lot 3, Campus Bay, Richmond, California. On July 10, 2018, DTSC made a presentation to the Richmond City Council describing the available options in the Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

The Minutes of the July 10, 2018, City Council meeting include the following:

COUNCIL AS A WHOLE L-1. The matter to receive a presentation on the Draft Feasibility Study/Remedial Action Plan for the Zeneca/Former Stauffer Chemical site was introduced by Planning and Building Services Director Richard Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell presented a Powerpoint presentation highlighting background information and an illustrative plan. Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) representatives, Lynn Nakashima and Janet Naito, presented a Powerpoint presentation highlighting site mitigation and restoration; cleanup and remediation; site location, history, and investigation areas; remedial technologies development and alternatives; DTSC’s recommended remedial “Alternative 3a”; monitoring, institutional controls, and the California Environmental Quality Act; and public outreach and next steps. Discussion ensued. The Council requested DTSC to consider extending the public comment period for the said draft plan from 30 days to 60 days. The Council requested staff to return with a formal recommendation for action. The following speakers gave comments: Jean Rabovsky, Tony Sustak, Devin O’Keefe, Shirley Dean, Beryl Golden, Barbara Stauss, Carolyn Graves, Sylvia Hopkins, Tarnel Abbott, Joan Lichterman, Paul Carman, Maggie Lazar, Dan Schwab, Eric Blair, Elaine Dockens, and Stephen Linsley. Further discussion ensued. The Council requested the findings for the site made by Downey Brand, LLP, the law firm that was contracted to provide assistance with environmental and implementation issues associated with the site. The Council requested DTSC to strongly consider the most effective remedial “Alternative 6a”. The Council also requested DTSC to consider the use of rail cars to transport hazardous soils. The Council directed staff to prepare a policy document reflecting the Council’s comments made on this item to formally transmit to DTSC.

Following that, Bill Lindsay sent a letter dated August 28, 2018, as instructed, to DTSC confirming the City Council’s STRONG preference for Alternative 6, citing the conclusion from the draft RAP that it “will provide the highest level of remedial effectiveness and permanence at the Site.”

Until now, this constituted City Council endorsed public policy.

Now, with no notice to the community or the CAG, we have before us tomorrow a proposed resolution sponsored by Councilmembers Johnson and Bates that, if successful, would reverse that policy. The resolution is being pushed by Shopoff Realty Investments, L.P., in Irvine CA, which purports to be on the verge of purchasing the foreclosed note that would effectively make them the new owner and future developer of the property.

There are a lot of reasons to consider a policy change, and there are a lot of reasons not to, but we don’t have either the time or the venue to discuss them in detail. A decision is 24 hours away.

The RAP concluded with a comparison of the various alternative plans, recommending Alternative 3a based on the following:

  • Meets the threshold criteria for protection of human health and the environment (e.g.,meets RAOs) and would comply with applicable requirements.
  • Moderate to high rankings on all of the balancing criteria, including a high overall long‐term effectiveness ranking and provides cleanup to accommodate the potential future land uses set forth in the RBSP.
  • Relatively high cost-effectiveness compared with other alternatives evaluated

Additional conclusions included the following:

  • Alternative 6 is ranked highest for long-term effectiveness and permanence at the Site, but it is ranked the lowest off-site long-term effectiveness and permanence due to negative long-term impacts through disposal of a large quantity of soil and cinders at a landfill. The long-term effectiveness is similar to other alternatives, but with slightly more permanence for Alternative 6 due to the removal of additional soil and the treated cinder from the Site. The additional in-situ groundwater treatment up gradient of the BAPB under Alternative 6 does not provide substantial additional long-term effectiveness or permanence, as the BAPB would still be necessary, although for less time than under the other alternatives.
  • Alternatives 3b, 4b, 5b, and 6 received slightly higher rankings of medium/high as they provide a slightly greater level of reduction in toxicity, mobility, or volume through treatment for VOCs in groundwater compared to Alternatives 3a, 4a, and 5a.
  • Alternative 6 has the lowest short-term effectiveness rating. Short-term risks to the local environment and community during remedy implementation for Alternative 6 are considerably higher than all other alternatives due to the impacts to the local and regional environment due to soil and cinder excavation and disposal.
  • Under Alternative 6, implementability has the lowest ranking relative to the other alternatives. The large volume of cinder and soil for excavation and off-haul is implementable, but requires substantially more coordination than the other alternatives due to the quantity of material to be excavated and the different waste streams(non-hazardous waste, TSCA waste, California hazardous waste, etc.).
  • Alternative 6 has a substantially higher cost than any of the other alternatives. The substantial cost that would be incurred under this alternative does not provide a comparative increase in overall protection of human health and the environment and would result in the greatest short-term impacts. Therefore, this alternative has the lowest ranking in cost effectiveness.

If you believe DTSC, Alternative 3A is a prudent and safe choice, and there are a lot of downsides to Alternative 6, including the years it would take to execute, the disruption and risk to the community from hauling tens of thousands of truckloads through Richmond and the potential exposure to dust in the removal process.  The Community Advisory Group - CAG (or at least the most vocal members); however, has been largely skeptical of DTSC’s work over the years and believes that Alternative 6 (dig and haul) is the only prudent choice.

It appears that this resolution has enough votes to pass. The least we can do is get into the resolution a requirement that Shopoff commits to a substantial Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to mitigate the risks to which the City and future residents may be exposed with a less intensive and substantially less expensive cleanup. The amount I want to see is $52 million over 10 years at least equally distributed beginning at the time DTSC adopts the RAP. Zeneca, alone, stands to save as much as $100 million for implementing Alternative 3A instead of 6.

The CBA can provide substantial funding to sustain the Richmond Promise, which otherwise could run out of money in as few as seven years. It could provide upgrades for nearby City parks and buildings.

The City negotiated a $90 million CBA from Chevron. Chevron has a value of $190 billion, while AstraZeneca has a value of more than half that at $109 billion. Chevron’s project cost $1 billion. The projected buildout at Zeneca will cost half again as much as that.

When the City Council adopts the resolution, it will be a political bombshell, a blow to the CAG and  to community members who have followed this for years and believed the City Council was on their side. There remains a deep suspicion and mistrust about both the science and motives of DTSC.

I will not support this without a clear, firm and irreversible commitment to the CBA at a level of at least $52 million included in the resolution and guaranteed in a way endorsed by the city attorney as iron clad.


$$ Committed

Richmond Promise (Cash plus endowment value) 

$30 million

Fire Station & Community

$2 million

Community Center

$3 million

Trailhead and Bridge to trail

$2 million

Community Grants

$2 million

At Risk Youth 


Total Committed*


Shortfall from $52 million

$12, 250,000

*Does not include development fees that would be imposed in any case.

The Fight to Clean Up Another Richmond Brownfield

Residents say a state proposal to clean up the toxic Zeneca site on the Richmond shoreline doesn't go far enough.

By Janis Hashe

Tarnel Abbott is a member of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group, which is advocating for a more comprehensive cleanup of the site. - PHOTO BY LANCE YAMAMOTO
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
Tarnel Abbott is a member of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group, which is advocating for a more comprehensive cleanup of the site.

If you've walked your dog at Point Isabel, shopped at the Costco next door, or watched a great blue heron wade into the nearby Stege Marsh wetlands, you were right next to a toxic stew that has been the subject of controversy for decades.

Now, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is proposing to continue to cap part of the 86-acre Zeneca site on the Richmond shoreline. But residents are concerned that the effort doesn't go far enough to protect the environment and human health.

Contamination of the site began in 1887, when the Stauffer Chemical Company began trucking in pyrite (fool's gold) from a Sierra mine, "roasting" it on-site to make sulfuric acid, and allowing the highly toxic cinders to pile up. By the 1950s, the company was manufacturing and storing pesticides and herbicides, allowing runoff to accumulate in "chemical ponds." By 1997, after multiple mergers, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca closed the site, and from 1999 to 2002, "cleanup" began. This included demolishing site structures, digging up toxic soil, mixing it with limestone to neutralize it, spreading it over 30 acres, and capping it with a thin concrete cap, which was intended to be temporary. In 2009, the DTSC fined Zeneca and the University of California for several violations related to the cleanup effort, and fined them $510,000 as part of a settlement agreement.

People began to get sick. Sherry Padgett, who owned a business nearby, developed multiple melanomas. Barbara Stauss said her husband worked in an office on the Zeneca site and used to walk around the area on his lunch hour. He developed cancer and died. Concerned residents didn't have the means to prove that these illnesses were connected to the "cleanup" and the toxins that remained, however. But Padgett and other Richmond residents formed the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group (RSSA CAG) and began to agitate for a comprehensive cleanup. Fifteen years later, they're still at it.

The group has been battling with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and, now, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which assumed control of the cleanup effort in 2005. Stephen Linsley, chair of the RSSA CAG's toxics committee, is a chemist and former environmental compliance supervisor for the West County Wastewater District. He said there are hot spots remaining all over the site, containing more than 100 chemicals and toxic materials, including arsenic, barium, copper, lead, mercury, and volatile organic compounds. "There are toxic metals in the ground and the groundwater," he said. During a storm or an earthquake, these can migrate off-site, he said. The group also has concerns about radioactive materials.

Padgett, who won a Jefferson Award for community activism, resigned from the Richmond community group several years ago in frustration with the lack of cleanup progress. Eric Blum, who is now RSSA CAG's chair, said the DTSC hasn't been open to the group's requests for more comprehensive testing and doing a thorough remediation of the site. "The DTSC is accustomed to redeveloping brownfields to an industrial standard, and there is a lack of engagement in looking at other solutions," he said. "Their basic stance is 'leave it there and cap it,' leaving Richmond with a toxic legacy."

Ironically, Blum noted, the Richmond community group had lobbied for the DTSC to assume control of the cleanup after being dissatisfied with what they described as the Water Quality Board's inaction over a period of years. "We wanted [DTSC] to come in so we would have expertise that would advocate for a thorough cleanup," he said. "They think that is what they are doing. We do not."

At the Richmond City Council meeting on July 10, two DTSC representatives and Richard Mitchell, Richmond's Director of Planning and Building, presented the reasons behind the department's choice of proposing — out of nine possible options — only a partial cleanup. An email from a DTSC spokesperson stated, "DTSC believes that the proposed cleanup alternative is protective of human health and the environment, and will accommodate the land uses identified in the City of Richmond's Richmond Bay Specific Plan."

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson from AstraZeneca wrote, "The proposed cleanup and restoration plan is robust and will return the site to a condition that is protective of human health and the environment."

But during the open comments section of the Richmond City Council meeting, resident after resident approached the podium to disagree, saying the proposed remedial plan for the Zeneca site was unacceptable. One attendee carried a sign reading: "Zeneca: I thought this business was to cure illness, not cause it!"

The DTSC's current proposal would permanently remove only small portions of contaminated soil from the site. Some acreage would continue to be capped using building foundations and roads from future development. The rest of the contaminated soil would remain on-site. Little else would be done to further cleanup Stege Marsh, except for the injection of various chemicals and "monitoring of groundwater to confirm the effectiveness of source remediation," according to a DTSC presentation at the city council meeting.

Several Richmond city councilmembers questioned the DTSC's conclusions and proposal, which the DTSC says is based on nine criteria required by federal and state statutes, with cost being one of them. Councilmember Ada Recinos asked why one of the nine possible options — a complete site cleanup — was not being considered, since the cleanup is being funded by AstraZeneca. DTSC representative Janet Naito responded that this option, Alternative 6, was not chosen based on the potential impacts, noting that the department estimates 65,000 truck trips would be necessary to clear the site of 500,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, "which also have to be put somewhere." Councilmember Jael Myrick pursued the question, saying the community had expressed its desire to have the area cleaned up to residential standards, meaning single-family housing could be built there. (The current proposal would clean up the site for mixed-use development, with residential housing only allowed above the first floor.) Councilmember Eduardo Martinez then asked, given that "community acceptance" is also one of the nine criteria, "If everyone during the public comment period wants Alternative 6, would that sway you?"

Replied Naito, "I can't comment on that."

Mayor Tom Butt weighed in with the harshest criticism of the meeting. "My belief is that DTSC is not working for the people of California, but for the polluters," he said. "I have no confidence in the DTSC, and this reflects the opinions of people in Richmond."

All of this might have been unnecessary if UC Berkeley's ambitious plan to build a "global campus" on the current Berkeley Richmond Field Station site, which is adjacent to the Zeneca site and is included in the cleanup efforts, had not come to a screeching halt in 2016. First announced in 2012, the campus plan was touted as a model for city-university partnerships. It was a large part of the strategy for Richmond's 2013 South Shoreline Specific Plan, which envisioned the area as a "vibrant, mixed-use community" and would have required a comprehensive cleanup of the site. But in August 2016, UC Berkeley announced that, due to "budgetary challenges" and the fact that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who had spearheaded the effort, was stepping down, the entire proposal had been tabled.

Today, despite years of setbacks and hopes raised, then dashed, the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group continues its fight for environmental justice. It's urging concerned citizens to attend the DTSC public hearing on Thursday, July 26, 6 p.m., at UC Berkeley's Richmond Field Station, 1301 S. 46th St., Room 445, Richmond. The group is also urging the DTSC to extend the public comment period for an additional 30 days. It currently ends August 10; comments can be sent to

According to the DTSC, the department will review all comments received from the public, provide written responses, and then determine what, if any, modifications will be made to the current proposal.

Blum said he still has hope that the DTSC will consider the more thorough option. "We hope the DTSC will reconsider its position and develop a comprehensive cleanup," he said. 

Editor's note: We misspelled Barbara Stauss' name. This version has been corrected.