Tom Butt
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  Cap or Cover Up?
October 6, 2019

There is still much lingering criticism of the City Council’s decision to endorse Alternative 3A of the Feasibility Study/Remedial Action Plan for the Zeneca site. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the City Council’s vote was typical and all too common “he said; she said” journalism involving mostly unsubstantiated opinions (see articles at the end of this email) and failed to actually provide any objective or technical analysis of the complex issues involved.

For my previous postings on the subject, see:

Contrary to assertions by many critics, a common, effective and successful method of remediating brownfield sites involves some use of a “cap” It is not simply a cheap expedient but is a proven technique, often used with other strategies, to render a brownfield suitable for uses that include even recreation and housing.

Apparently, none of the journalists who wrote the articles copied at the end of this email talked to experts at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or nongovernmental organizations like the Center for Creative Land Recycling. I doubt if any took time to actually read 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.

Most brownfield remediation, like the one proposed in Alternative 3A for the Zeneca site, involve some kind of soil cover over toxic substances left in place. You can review hundreds of success stories from DTSC at

For other success stories involving remediation with caps, see

DTSC approved the issuance of the Draft Feasibility Study and Remedial Action Plan (FS/RAP) in July 2018.  DTSC also approved the FS/RAP’s preferred remedial alternative 3a. DTSC worked with the City of Richmond staff for almost two years to update the FS/RAP to ensure the preferred remedial alternative allowed the site to be used consistent with the City of Richmond’s land use plan after the cleanup.

Under state law, DTSC oversees the development of the Draft FS/RAP, which was paid for by Zeneca, Inc. because they are responsible for paying to investigate and cleanup the site. These actions occur subject to DTSC oversight. DTSC uses state and federal laws and guidance to ensure the selected cleanup protects public health and the environment.

The purpose of the proposed “cap” at Zeneca is threefold:

  • Prevent further erosion of existing soils by water and wind.
  • Prevent disturbance of existing contaminated soil by future activity such as excavation and grading.
  • Prevent entry of water from precipitation into toxic substances that could otherwise migrate beyond the site

The proposed “cap” is not just concrete; it could consist of asphalt paving on the surface, a layer of clay, or a drained waterproof membrane overlain by a 2-foot layer of clean soil that can be used for landscaping.


Homes To Be Developed On Richmond Toxic Soil Site After Decision To Cover With Concrete Cap

By John Ramos
September 30, 2019 at 6:22 pm

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Last week, the Richmond City Council voted to accept a proposal to build homes on a toxic industrial site without first removing the contaminated soil. Opponents are questioning the reasons for that vote.

Much of the old Campus Bay Business Park along the Richmond waterfront has been locked away behind fences and barbed wire for years because the ground holds so many poisons. The land, owned by drug manufacturer Zeneca, used to be a toxic dumping ground.

Sherry Padgett, a member of the Citizens Advisory Group for the site, says just last year the City Council voted to recommend to the state that the contaminated soil be dug up and removed.

“This last Tuesday, they reversed their decision,” Padgett said, “and said, no, leave it here and pour a concrete cover over it with pipes in the foundations of the buildings to vent out the gasses so that humans wouldn’t be poisoned, they think.”

Developer Shopoff Realty Investments wants to build 4,000 homes on the site and proposes the dirt, which is full of arsenic, toxic metals and chemicals, be sealed under a concrete cap.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt says he’s concerned about the dust that would be stirred up if the soil was removed before construction.

“The main argument for treating it on site is that it was actually less risky than digging it up and hauling to another state somewhere,” said Butt.

But there is another issue weighing heavily as well: money. It’s estimated that removing the Zeneca site soil could cost more than $130 million and Butt is concerned that developers would consider that a deal-breaker.

“It may cost so much that no developer would ever show up to undertake it,” said Butt. “And it would just sit there the way it is for another decade.”

But the project could eventually be worth billions and the city has asked for a $52 million “community benefits” payment to help fund city programs and services.

“These community benefit agreements are not, you know, they’re not necessarily a payoff for doing something that’s less than, you know, less than desirable,” said Butt.

But those opposing the deal say it sure feels that way. Once the property is sealed and homes are built, critics say the toxic soil will sit there, slowly leaching into the bay and groundwater.

“What are we going to do then? What?” Padgett asked. “What will we do? How will we correct that problem? So now is the time to make the right decision.”

The city council’s vote expressed official support for the plan to cap the soil. But the actual approval for such a project rests with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Richmond Confidential


Council votes on Zeneca site clean-up and development

Aaron Leathley and Victoria Dmitrieva on September 25, 2019

Electrician and two-time cancer survivor Sherry Padgett could throw a baseball from her 49th Street cabling business and hit what Richmond residents call “the Zeneca site:” an eighty-seven-acre property that contains more than a century’s inheritance of hazardous waste from manufacturers including the now-defunct herbicide maker Stauffer Chemical and the European pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Padgett calls the chemicals on the site a “witch’s brew.”

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday, the City Council voted 5-2 to reverse its support for a cleanup plan that would require the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to excavate and remove the tainted soil and cinder from the Zeneca site. The council now backs a faster, cheaper plan that would leave much of the earth there and “cap” it under concrete barriers.

Six days ago, Councilmembers Demnlus Johnson III and Nat Bates had announced their proposal to switch Richmond’s support to the capping plan.

“This city is not financially as sovereign as some of you may think,” Bates said. “This city needs revenue. This community needs jobs. This is an opportunity for this city to be bold [and] creative to clean up this site.”

“There’s no such thing as a perfect project,” Johnson said. “But here we have individuals who are willing to check off the right boxes to come to the city of Richmond.”

The Irvine-based developer Shopoff Realty Investments, which plans to build apartments and commercial space on the Zeneca plot after cleanup, also backs the plan, and says it will give the city nearly $38 million in grants for schools, community groups, and improvements to locales like the Booker T. Anderson Community Center. During his presentation, company president William Shopoff said the firm would increase its community investment by about $8 million, language ultimately incorporated into the bill.

Former vice mayor and councilmember Jovanka Beckles criticized the money offer. “No amount of money can save you when you’re infected with cancer,” she said. Trying to entice the city with tens of millions of dollars is an insult, she added. “You’re saying that you think we’re stupid, you think we’re desperate.”

Shopoff says the development would generate an estimated $31 million in property taxes and $60 million in sales taxes yearly.

“We didn’t have to come to this site,” Shopoff said. “We came to this site because we thought it would create an interesting opportunity to create housing for California – housing that’s desperately needed.” The company would finish building the first homes in late 2022 or early 2023 under the capping plan, Shopoff predicted.

The original excavation solution had vocal community support when the council adopted it in 2018, and several people voiced a sense of betrayal that the body was considering supporting the capping plan instead. “Our city council members are proposing a resolution not of, by or for the people of Richmond,” Padgett said.

“Until it’s cleaned up, don’t put people on it, or were going to have our own Love Canal situation here down in Richmond,” said Eric Bloom, the chairman of a citizen advisory committee to DTSC, referring to the polluted landfill near Niagara Falls, NY.

The excavation alternative isn’t perfect: removed soil could still contaminate an off-site landfill, according to a 2018 report by the Oakland-based environmental consultant Terraphase Engineering.

“I think there’s some confusion about the science and that’s about all I want to say about it,” Shopoff told Richmond Confidential when asked about community members’ critiques.

“We’re not here to take undue economic risk. We’ve got lots of projects we could go do,” Shopoff said.

Mayor Tom Butt, Vice Mayor Ben Choi and Councilmember Jael Myrick voted yes despite their initial reservations about the capping plan. Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis voted against the resolution.

“I don’t want to be known as the person who allowed citizens of Richmond to live on top of a toxic waste site,” Martinez said.

“Developments have caused nothing but displacement…developments have led to huge displacement of black and brown communities,” Willis said.

Some community members stressed that they didn’t oppose the development, only a cleanup plan they saw as cutting corners to bring construction more quickly.

“Build on it. Build on it but don’t leave the hazards there,” Padgett said.

At the meeting, the city council also declared October 16, 2019 as Food Day, aimed at expanding access to healthy food and relieving hunger in the community. Food Day activities will take place in the North Richmond Farm from 11 to 2 that day, including healthy cooking demonstrations and nutrition education as well as food giveaways. The council also declared October 2019 as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Richmond.

In other action, the council entered into the record that last month it honored Elijah ‘Pumpsie’ Green at a community softball game.
Green, a Richmond native, was the first African American baseball player to play for the Boston Red Sox.

The city of Richmond transportation division and Richmond’s bicycle-pedestrian advisory committee also invited the residents to celebrate California Clean Air Day at a lunchtime bike ride on October 2 at noon at City Hall.

Pouring concrete over toxic soil where 4,000 apartments may rise is not OK, activists tell Richmond council

City officials gave their blessing to allow developers to cap the contaminated soil and build on top of it, though its ultimately up to the state.
Richmond resident, entrepreneur and activist Sherry Padgett points out 30 acres of contaminated marshland in Richmond, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. For the past 11 years, the Department of Toxic Substances has been responsible for cleaning up the site of a former factory where pesticides and sulfuric acid were once manufactured, located at the edge of the San Francisco Bay. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

By Ali Tadayon | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: September 28, 2019 at 6:21 am | UPDATED: September 28, 2019 at 6:30 am

RICHMOND — Activists are livid with the Richmond City Council’s recent decision that it’s OK for a developer to pour concrete over an 86-acre brownfield and plop 4,000 apartments atop it instead of removing the toxic soil altogether.

At a meeting Tuesday, they accused the council of settling for a concrete cap of the site because developer Shopoff Realty Investments offered to contribute $52 million toward city programs and services. Capping the former shoreline toxic waste dump with concrete is a far cheaper alternative than hauling away the contaminated dirt.

The Zeneca site east of Marina Bay and west of Interstate 580 has long been a point of controversy in Richmond. Pesticide producer Stauffer Chemical Co. and later pharmaceutical company Zeneca dumped toxic byproducts — including benzene, arsenic and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — at the site for about 100 years before Zeneca — now known as AstraZeneca — stopped the practice in 1997; the site has been fenced off since.

AstraZeneca started cleaning up the property in 2000, and four years later the California Department of Toxic Substances began overseeing the work. But activists have been upset with the state’s recommendation to essentially leave the toxic soil there, and now they’re angry at the city for going along despite agreeing last year that soil removal is the best option. Back then, the council directed City Manager Bill Lindsay to let the state know it prefers that the dirt be replaced.

Activists have argued that soil removal, though more expensive, is safer for the health of people who’ll end up living there.
“It’s one of the most complex toxic sites in the state of California,” said Sherry Padgett, a cancer survivor who lives near the property and has been fighting for full cleanup for years.

Developers long have viewed the property as potentially valuable waterfront real estate. Irvington-based Shopoff Realty Investments is in the process of buying the foreclosed land with the intention of building more than 4,000 apartments — including around 400 affordable ones — but only if it can cover up the soil with concrete.

If allowed to do so, Shopoff has agreed to give the city $52 million through a “community benefits agreement” to help finance municipal services and programs, including around $9 million to the Richmond Promise college scholarship program and $18 million to local schools,and for fire station upgrades.

If all goes well, Shopoff hopes to finish acquiring the land over the next few months, obtain building permits and break ground in late 2022 or early 2023.

“We didn’t have to come to the site. We wanted to come to this site because it presented an interesting opportunity to create housing for Californians, housing that’s desperately needed,” Bill Shopoff, president and CEO of Shopoff Realty Investments, said at the council meeting.

Of the 40-plus people who spoke at the meeting, most opposed the council’s decision and several activists likened the community benefits agreement to a “corporate bribe.”

“The only community benefit that would be worth it would be a hospital funded and staffed forever in order to care for the future generations that will be poisoned by this toxic waste,” activist Tarnell Abbott told the council.

Richmond’s newest council members, Demnlus Johnson and Nat Bates, proposed supporting the concrete cap option and were joined by Mayor Tom Butt and council members Ben Choi and Jael Myrick. Council members Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis said they wanted to stick with the original decision for soil removal.

Shopoff said although Shopoff Realty Investments would pay for much of the cleanup, AstraZeneca would be on the hook for some of it too and the two parties are still negotiating who would pay for what.

25 Sep Council Approves Capping and Developing Toxic Zeneca Site

Posted at 21:42h by Pulse Editor
By Edward Booth

The Richmond City Council has voted to support a development plan that includes capping and then building on the polluted Zeneca site.

The Zeneca site, which has a history of heavy contamination, is located between the Richmond Annex and Marina Bay area. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) took control of managing the area in 2005.

The developer, Irvine-based Shopoff Realty Investments, looks to build 4,080 residential units on 320 acres along the south Richmond shoreline. The planned 65-acre development at the Zeneca site would include residential units, a grocery store, restaurants and a waterfront park, according to a 10-minute Shopoff presentation to council Tuesday.

Shopoff also promised a community benefits agreement of $52 million, with $40 million going to the Richmond Promise scholarship program.

On July 10 last year, after much community feedback, the council unanimously voted to pursue a full cleanup of the site prior to developing it, which would involve digging up the toxic soil and hauling it elsewhere. This was in opposition to a DTSC recommendation of capping the site, which public commenters argued wouldn’t do enough to ensure the health of locals and the environment. The following month, then-city manager Bill Lindsey sent a letter to DTSC establishing the preference of cleaning, not capping, the site.

At the Tuesday meeting, community members opposed to the plan packed the council chambers, many holding colorful posters and orange signs that read: “No Sell-out! Richmond Deserves Better!” The majority of public commenters asked for a return to the full cleanup plan, though representatives from several trade unions spoke in favor of the plan.

The commenters expressed frustration about being given only five days notice on the issue. Many of them said they lived near the site and listed the dangers of storms, earthquakes, and rising sea levels releasing the toxins potentially into the entire bay.

Andres Soto criticized Councilmembers Nat Bates and Demnlus Johnson III, the councilmembers who sponsored the resolution and the only two who weren’t on the council during the July meeting. Soto, like others, said no one was against developing the site. They only disagreed with the method of managing the toxic material.

“Nobody is disputing the need to develop,” Soto said. “But the idea was we were going to clean this up, we weren’t going to do the old Richmond way where you cut a backroom deal, where people’s health is compromised because you want to put some change in your pocket.”

Former councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who approved the full clean-up, criticized a part of the resolution that establishes an intent to buy pollution insurance.

“I tell you no amount of money can save you when you’re infected with cancer or some other life-threatening disease,” she said.

William Shopoff, CEO of Shopoff Realty, said that not only will capping the site cost substantially less than removing the hazardous material, but would also be less intrusive to the rest of the community. He noted that fully cleaning the soil would require the removal of half a million square yards of dirt, roughly equivalent to 65,000 truckloads. The process, he said, would release of toxic particulate matter into the air.

Those opposed to the development chose Sherry Padgett — who owns a business near the site and member of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group — to speak for ten minutes.

Padgett detailed the toxins present in the area. She said 30 percent of mucksucker fish, which don’t leave the area, develop both ovaries and testes because of endocrine disruptors. She criticized the development plans, and said there should have been discussion of how the money being spent on community benefits could be better used to clean up the area.

Padgett said the councilmembers were voting on a resolution that favored AstraZeneca and Shopoff.

“Our city councilmembers are considering a resolution that is not of, by, or for the people of Richmond,” she said.

Bates and Johnson openly supported the proposal. Bates argued that if the council had listened to those opposed the project in the case of Marina Bay, it would never have been developed.

“This city needs revenue. This community needs jobs,” Bates said. “This is an opportunity for the city to be bold, creative and work with the developer to clean up the site.”

Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Eduardo Martinez opposed the proposal and supported a full cleanup, saying they didn’t want their names attached to the proposed project.

Willis said that though the community benefits sounded great, he had no confidence that a half-cleanup and cap would be sustainable.

“I don’t want to be known as the person who allowed citizens in Richmond to live on top of a toxic waste site,”Marinez said.

Councilmembers Jael Myrick and Ben Choi said there were significant problems with a full cleanup as well.

Willis made a substitute motion to table the item so the community would have a better chance to respond. This motion failed 3-3-1, with Choi, Willis and Martinez for; Butt, Bates and Johnson against; and Myrick abstaining.

The final motion passed 5-2, with Martinez and Willis voting against it.