Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
  < RETURN  
  Zeneca Site Before City Council Again
November 13, 2020

It has been said that Richmond is blessed with lots of vacant land for development opportunities. While that is true, it is also true that many of those opportunity sites are brownfields. A “brownfield” is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The opposite of “brownfield” is “greenfield,” which is a site that has never before been developed. In the San Francisco Bay Area, greenfield sites are often agricultural lands or open space far from urban cores. Development of greenfield site is generally considered poor environmental stewardship because it requires extended infrastructure investments, result in a loss of open space, expand commute distances and contribute to greenhouse gases. We don’t have any significant greenfield sites in Richmond, but we have plenty of brownfields.

Marina Bay was a brownfield, and so was Point Molate before it was substantially cleaned up.

The Richmond brownfield site currently in play is the former Zeneca site. At the November 10, 2020, City Council meeting, the City Council received a presentation on proposed terms of a Development Agreement and Community Benefit Agreement with Shopoff Realty Investments, the prospective new owner and developer of the site.

There were many public speakers who supported the project and the agreement, but there were also many speakers who were unhappy with the Remedial Action Plan adopted by DTSC in 2019. Councilmember Martinez was clearly against the project, not because of anything related to the project, but because he did not agree with the final DTSC Remedial Action Plan.

Although the DTSC Remedial Action Plan is not under City of Richmond jurisdiction (it is a DTSC action)  and is water under the bridge at this point, it appears that it will continue to be relitigated by Councilmembers Martinez and Willis, along with the newly-elected RPA members who join the City Council in January. The City of Richmond has no authority to change the Remedial Action Plan, but the RPA City Council members will try to render it moot by withholding approval of any development on the site.

If the RPA is successful, the result will be that no cleanup will occur anytime soon, the pollutants will continue to be subject to dispersal by wind and rain, and the groundwater will continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals.

Following is a summary of the City Council action of September 25, 2019, which was opposed by Martinez and Willis. This is an example of the no-compromise politics of the RPA.

Zeneca Clean Up Resolution
September 25, 2019

At last night’s City Council meeting, the City Council voted 5-2, with Willis and Martinez dissenting, to adopt a resolution supporting the DTSC Alternative 3A remediation of the Zeneca site instead of the Alternative 6 previously endorsed by the City Council. The final decision is not actually Richmond’s; it will be made by DTSC when they publish their final Feasibility Study and Remedial Action Plan for Lot 1, Lot 2, and the Uplands Portion of Lot 3, Campus Bay, Richmond, California.

There were 45 speakers with all but about five (mostly representing the construction trades) urging the City Council to stick with backing Alternative 6.

This is 14 years after DTSC first took responsibility for the site. The Draft Remedial Action Plan (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 [Remedial Action Objectives]) 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.

Essentially, those who opposed the resolution supporting Alternative 3A disagreed with the DTSC recommendation.

It is instructive to look back when this all began. At that time, many of the same people who showed up last night to protest the DTSC recommendation were gushing over the decision to place DTSC in charge, citing DTSC’s superior expertise and experience over the discredited San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, and characterizing the change from the Water Board to DTSC as a “victory,” with the assurance of “proper agency oversight”. On May 16, 2005, the Green Party of California published the following news release:

Cal-EPA agrees to lead clean-up of highly toxic, possibly lethal San Francisco Bay sites after pressure by Green city council member

For immediate release: Monday, May 16, 2005

Cres Vellucci, State Press Office, 916-996-1970,
Beth Moore Haines, GPCA Spokesperson, 530-277-0610,
Kevin McKeown, GPCA Spokesperson, 310-393-3639,
Sara Amir, GPCA Spokesperson, 310-270-7106,

RICHMOND (May 16, 2005) – The clean-up of two highly toxic – and possibly lethal – shoreline sites on San Francisco Bay will now be supervised by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) after a newly-elected Green Party city councilmember in Richmond led a grassroots drive to force the state agency to take immediate action.

The sites are thought to be the source of many life-threatening cancers and other ailments to people in the area, according to doctors and local activists. Both sites are contaminated with dangerous compounds, ranging from mercury and heavy metals to pesticides, PCBs and other hazardous chemicals.

The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) announced late last week that it has agreed – after demands by Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin and area progressives – to give DTSC chief oversight at the University of California, Berkeley's Richmond Field Station and adjacent Zeneca/Cherokee-Simeon Campus Bay .

"This is a wonderful victory for the many community groups and Richmond residents who mobilized to demand the proper agency oversight for cleanup of these extremely toxic sites. It is an incredible example of how a community rallying in its own interest can accomplish a better and healthier Richmond," said McLaughlin, who carried the unanimous resolution by the Richmond City Council calling on Cal-EPA to act more rigorously in correcting problems in the area.

Initially, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board had full jurisdiction over both sites. Community mobilization late last year resulted in a DTSC/Water Board split over jurisdiction over the Zeneca site with the Water Board retaining full jurisdiction of the UC Field Station.

However, McLaughlin and others called for a full change in the oversight of these adjoining contamination sites to DTSC because the Water Board did not have, they charged, the "expertise or experience" to handle the complex cleanup.

McLaughlin worked with Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BARRD), West County Toxics Coalition and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which helped elect McLaughlin to the Richmond City Council last November.

The Green Party of California
P.O. Box 2828, Sacramento, CA 95812
Phone: (916) 448-3437

The message, of course, was that in 2005 Gayle McLaughlin, Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BARRD), West County Toxics Coalition and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, had full faith in DTSC to study the Zeneca site and recommend a cleanup. Now, in 2019, they are saying they don’t really trust DTSC after all.

I don’t like DTSC, but I have no reason to distrust their science. Over the years, the DTSC employees I have come in contact with are arrogant, unpleasant, uncooperative and deceptive. I specifically recall two specifically unpleasant high-level meetings to discuss Zeneca with DTSDC, one arranged by former Senator Loni Hancock and the other by Senator Nancy Skinner. You would think a high-profile public agency like DTSC would develop a better public relations capability, but they haven’t.

In voting for the resolution, I felt bad about defying the wishes of so many Community Advisory Group (CAG) members who have volunteered untold hours on Zeneca over the last 14 years. If it is any consolation, I can assure them that their hard work made both the study and the design on a remediation plan far more rigorous than it would have been otherwise – a huge value added contribution.
The Bay Area is short some 440,000 housing units, a major contributor to lack of affordable housing. The Zeneca site can provide up to 4,000 housing units, including hundreds of affordable units, as well as tens of millions of dollars in community benefits. In the press release below, DTSC states, “The cleanup will allow redevelopment of the site in a manner that protects public health and the environment.” We need to cease second guessing what Gayle McLaughlin previously called “proper agency [DTSC} oversight,” and move this project along.

DTSC Approves Final Cleanup for the Zeneca Site in Richmond

Cleanup Plan Minimizes Adverse Impacts, Protects Public Health and Environment

– The Department of Toxic Substances Control today announced the final cleanup plan for a contaminated site in Richmond, along the San Francisco Bay shoreline, formerly owned by the chemical company Zeneca Inc. The cleanup will allow redevelopment of the site in a manner that protects public health and the environment. 

“We considered all public comments and selected a remedy that minimizes adverse impacts on public health and safety compared to other alternatives,” said Meredith Williams, Acting Director of DTSC. “This cleanup allows this land to be used to create needed housing and ensures that members of the community and people who live, work or play on or around the site are protected.”  

In approving the Remedial Action Plan, DTSC selected Alternative 3a, a remedy that removes heavily contaminated soil and installs either barrier or low-permeability caps across areas of the site where contamination will be left in place. These caps will safely prevent people from contact with contaminated material and prevent stormwater from spreading contaminants.

The remedy includes excavation of 7,900 cubic yards of contaminated soil, groundwater treatment, and a soil vapor extraction system. Contaminated soil will be safely disposed of and replaced with clean soil. Barrier or low-permeability caps are regularly used to safely prevent people from coming into contact with waste left in place.

Out of nine potential cleanup alternatives, DTSC received the most public comments on Alternatives 3a and 6. DTSC did not select Alternative 6, which would take about 10 years to implement, require an estimated 64,370 truck trips to transport and dispose of material, and create more harmful impacts to the community, including air pollution, dangerous traffic and increased dust. Alternative 3a will take roughly two years to complete, with 1,050 truck trips.

DTSC worked with the city of Richmond for several years to ensure the remedy supports future site uses in the city’s zoning plan, including residential uses. Last month, the Richmond City Council adopted a resolution in support of Alternative 3a. DTSC and the city will work together to ensure any redevelopment of the site includes all required protections.

The Department worked with the public extensively during this process. DTSC regularly attends community advisory group meetings and hosted and attended other public meetings, including Richmond City Council meetings. DTSC has also responded to each public comment in the plan’s Responsiveness Summary.

Zeneca is responsible for completing the cleanup. DTSC has given Zeneca 60 days to submit its plan to implement the approved remedy.

The Stauffer Chemical Company, and later Zeneca, manufactured chemicals such as sulfuric acid and pesticides at the site from the late 1800s until the late 1990s. Oversight of large portions of the site was transferred to DTSC from the San Francisco Regional Water Control Board in 2004-05.

View details about this decision and DTSC’s responses to comments received during a 2018 public comment period.