By Rebecca Rosen Lum, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
posted on Thu, Feb. 17, 2005

Critics of the Campus Bay cleanup, many carrying signs bearing a skull and crossbones, left Tuesday's Richmond City Council meeting looking baffled after a public hearing dissolved in a fusillade of blistering exchanges between members and resulted in little official action.

The council postponed a vote on Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin's resolution asking for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to take control of the entire cleanup, including marshlands and the neighboring UC Berkeley field station.

As it stands, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board oversees those areas.

The measure would also ask the DTSC to stop the work while a safe plan is developed.

Developer Cherokee Simeon is prepping the waterfront property off Interstate 580 in south Richmond, formerly home of Stauffer Chemical, for possible development as a business park and housing.

For more than 100 years, workers concocted pesticides from deadly chemicals at the site. Spills were common, and tests later revealed heavy metals, PCBs, and volatile compounds in the soil and marsh mud.

Interim City Attorney Everett Jenkins said he has not had time to assess whether requesting the state to take specific actions could mean increased liability for the city.

McLaughlin's resolution dovetails with a draft bill by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, to forbid developers from "agency shopping" for the most lenient regulatory body to oversee a toxic cleanup.

Critics say that is what Cherokee Simeon did in having the project overseen by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board. Company officials deny the charge.

Unlike the DTSC, the water board employs no toxicologists, and its oversight includes no public hearings.

Mark Freiberg, director of the UC Berkeley office of environmental health and safety, said the university has "properly, aggressively and safely" remediated its portion of the expanse with the help of the water board.

But environmental lawyer Peter Weiner said DTSC officials told him "there are worse problems on the UC field station side, that there are PCBs and mercury."

At Hancock's urging, CalEPA in October transferred partial authority of the project to the DTSC, but only for the "uplands" portion of the Cherokee-owned land.

In January, the DTSC examined 4,000 cubic yards of marsh mud that was moved onto the uplands to drain. It was laced with high concentrations of arsenic, lead, copper and mercury, and the agency ordered Simeon to haul it to a toxics landfill.

The water board had previously declared it clean.

"The issue before you is not how good or bad the developer is, or how good or bad the university is," Weiner told the council. "It is said a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. We feel the same way in this society about people overseeing themselves."

Mayor Irma Anderson said before the council votes on McLaughlin's resolution, she wants to consult with Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner and the DTSC.

For the second time, the council also put off voting to require industrial property owners to conduct an environmental review before razing buildings where toxic chemicals were made or stored.

The motion, by McLaughlin and Councilman Tom Butt, resulted from destruction of laboratories, chemical plants and hazardous waste storage units at the Campus Bay site. The city issued a permit on a 5-inch by 8-inch card with no explanations.

Council members scolded Butt for failing to provide a staff report.

"We have no control over staff reports," he responded. "This was put on the agenda more than a month ago. You'd think this might have caught someone's eye."

The council gave its blessing to only one motion related to Campus Bay. It officially thanked resident Ethel Dotson for getting a community advisory group off the ground.

Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum at 510-262-2713 or