As­bestos probe: No con­spir­acy

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - — John Wil­der­muth — Stephanie M. Lee Twit­ter: @Sfc­i­tyin­sider. cityin­[email protected]­i­cle.com

Ac­tivists con­vinced that the Hunters Point Ship­yard de­vel­op­ment is a threat to the health of its neigh­bors have lost an­other bat­tle with the gov­ern­ment.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI and the in­spec­tor gen­eral of the fed­eral En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency found “no ev­i­dence that an EPA em­ployee con­spired with the (San Fran­cisco Depart­ment of Public Health) and Len­nar Corp. to con­ceal as­bestos ex­po­sure at the … site,” a sum­mary of the re­port, re­leased ear­lier this month, states. The in­spec­tor gen­eral “rec­om­mended no fur­ther ac­tion and now con­sid­ers this mat­ter closed.”

The dis­pute over as­bestos ex­po­sure be­gan

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al­most as soon as Len­nar, the de­vel­oper for the huge project that will drop an en­tirely new city neigh­bor­hood on the for­mer ship­yard site, be­gan do­ing pre­lim­i­nary grad­ing work in 2006.

The ex­ca­va­tion work re­leased as­bestos from the soil, which neigh­bor­hood groups said caused nose­bleeds, headaches, rashes and other health prob­lems for Bayview-hunters Point res­i­dents.

Although Len­nar was fined more than $500,000 in 2008 for im­prop­erly cal­i­brat­ing as­bestos-mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment, the de­vel­oper has de­nied there was ever any health risk.

In March 2011, a group of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists call­ing them­selves SLAM, for Stop Len­nar Ac­tion Move­ment, charged that more than 2,000 e-mails ob­tained un­der the fed­eral Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act showed that Len­nar, the EPA and the city Health Depart­ment con­spired to down­play and bury any ev­i­dence of a health risk from the as­bestos.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the claim be­gan in Au­gust, more than a year af­ter the city ap­proved the ship­yard project. The FBI in­ter­viewed peo­ple from the EPA, the Health Depart­ment and Iris En­vi­ron­men­tal, a con­sul­tant for Len­nar. There also was a sci­en­tific re­view of the e-mails, in­clud­ing one which SLAM cited as ev­i­dence of a crim­i­nal con­spir­acy.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found “no ef­fort to hide, mis­rep­re­sent or cover-up as­bestos mon­i­tor­ing re­sults,” and sug­gested that ac­tivists had taken the most damn­ing e-mail out of con­text. Pro­tect­ing a land­mark: Su­per­vi­sor David Chiu said he will call a public hear­ing to as­sess the state of Coit Tower, the Tele­graph Hill land­mark whose wors­en­ing con­di­tion is the sub­ject of a June bal­lot mea­sure.

“We all care deeply about the fu­ture of Coit Tower,” said Chiu, whose dis­trict in­cludes the tower. “I’ve asked Rec and Park and the Arts Com­mis­sion to take real ac­tion now to ad­dress these is­sues. I’m happy to call for a hear­ing to re­view what city agen­cies are do­ing.”

The Re­cre­ation and Park Depart­ment over­sees Coit Tower, while the Arts Com­mis­sion is re­spon­si­ble for the Great De­pres­sion-era mu­rals that line its walls. Chiu’s plan for a hear­ing comes in part be­cause the art is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and dam­aged in some places.

Jon Golinger, pres­i­dent of the Tele­graph Hill Dwellers, says the city seems more con­cerned with prof­it­ing off the tower than pre­serv­ing it. As he re­cently noted, a pri­vate din­ner party was held next to the tower’s mu­rals last spring. His bal­lot mea­sure calls for lim­it­ing such events there.

That move has been greeted with skep­ti­cism by the Re­cre­ation and Park Depart­ment, which over­sees the tower’s op­er­a­tions and wants a new ven­dor to host pri­vate func­tions to pull in more money for the agency. The Arts Com­mis­sion also wants money to re­pair the mu­rals.

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