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News + PoliticsMayor Breed suddenly loves transit. Plus: a creeping toxic nightmare in Hunters...

Mayor Breed suddenly loves transit. Plus: a creeping toxic nightmare in Hunters Point…

... and the future of Laguna Honda Hospital and a crucial D6 supes debate. That's The Agenda for Sept. 12-19

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Public transit has never been a top priority for Mayor London Breed. She was slow, even resistant, to restoring Muni service after the pandemic. But all of a sudden over the past week or so, transit has been all over her Twitter feed:

What a remarkable coincidence: Lat week, Sup. Dean Preston informed the Mayor’s Office that he would be asking about public transportation during Question Time.

We don’t know exactly what he will ask. In the old days (when David Chiu was Board of Supes president) Question Time was a joke; Chiu cut a deal with the Mayor’s Office requiring board members to submit their questions in writing, in advance, which meant the mayor could prepare a meaningless response, in advance.

But now it’s more of a real thing: Preston let the mayor know the topic, but not the question, and there’s a little time for back and forth. And if nothing else, the fact that Breed will have to answer a serious question or two about public transit Tuesday/13 suggests that she has to pay attention.

Sup. Rafael Mandelman will also ask a question about homelessness and street conditions.

The board will also hold a hearing, as a Committee of the Whole, on the city’s plans for the future of Laguna Honda Hospital. It’s a complicated problem, although there’s no reason the public hospital should have been forced to start discharging patients. That was a failure on the part of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

There are lawsuits pending, the role of the hospital (is it a place for people, mostly seniors, who need long-term care, or should patients with different needs who are discharged from SF General with nowhere else to go wind up at Laguna Honda?) is up for discussion, and in the meantime, close to 700 people are, literally, at risk of death if they are forced to move out.

The supes have made clear that they’re unhappy with everyone involved here. Too bad they can’t force the governor to show up.

The Civil Grand Jury doesn’t get much attention in San Francisco. It’s kind of an old concept that most journalists and city leaders would rather forget about: Once a year, the presiding judge of the Superior Court choses 19 people who have applied for the job; they spend a year investigating the operations of city government (they choose the topics) and producing a report on their findings. Then the city agencies have to respond.

This year’s jury looked into a potentially serious crisis: They asked whether sea-level rise, which is inevitable, might cause toxins that are buried in the soil at Hunters Point to emerge and create a public health threat.
From the report:

The Civil Grand Jury began this investigation with a question about the potential impact of groundwater rise due to climate change on the future of the Shipyard. Over the past decade, new coastal adaptation science has emerged to show the ways shallow groundwater reacts to sea level rise. In brief, as the sea level rises, shallow groundwater near the shore rises with it, and can cause flooding, damage infrastructure, and mobilize any contaminants in the soil.

The Jury asked if rising groundwater could pose special risks to health and safety in the low-lying, heavily polluted landscape of the Shipyard. The Jury learned that experts believe the Shipyard’s soil and topography make it very likely that shallow groundwater there will be strongly affected by sea level rise. The Jury further found that rising groundwater in the Shipyard could interact in dangerous ways with future infrastructure, and with hazardous toxins the Navy plans to leave buried in the soil.

We wanted to know if this new science and these risks had been taken into account by the City, by OCII, or by the Navy and its regulators. We found that they had not.

That’s a big-time problem. The developers building housing, offices, a school, and parks at the former Navy base have insisted that the place is clean and safe, and the city has always agreed.

The residents are not convinced. And they have good reason to worry.

One of the strategies the Navy and the developer have used is to “cap” the toxins—that is, to pour concrete on top of sites where they know there are dangerous chemicals in the soil, which is supposed to keep the nasty stuff from emerging.

But if sea-level rise messes with the soil, that might not work so well.

The Mayor’s Office largely dismissed the work of the Grand Jury, noting in a response that:

While we agree that the cleanup process is complex and often technical and that climate change will continue to affect San Francisco in many ways, overall, we disagree partially or wholly with many of the CGJ’s findings and recommendations in the Report. The City believes the existing governance of the cleanup, with input from the City and state and federal environmental and health regulators, is the most robust and appropriate oversight framework. This regulatory structure is designed to identify emerging issues and incorporate them into future planning in a way that is proactive, actionable, and protective of human health and the environment.

In other words: No worries, it’s all good.

I have heard that so many times over the years, from so many agencies that have dismissed so many concerns of vulnerable communities who are up against rich and powerful development interests that I have a hard time believing it.

At any rate, the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the report Thursday/15. The meeting begins at 10am.

The two most crucial races for the future of the Board of Supes are in Districts 4 and 6, where the November elections could change the political composition of the board. (The incumbents in 2, 8, and 10 have no real competition, and will be re-elected.)

In some of the early debates, the two leading candidates in D 6, appointed incumbent Matt Dorsey and challenger Honey Mahogany, sounded a lot of the same themes and it was hard to see the policy differences.

But the early debates were held by organizations with their own agendas. The League of Women Voters is holding a nonpartisan debate Monday/12 that will give the candidates a chance to show the voters what policy issues separate them. It’s at 5:30pm at Genentech Hall in Mission Bay; you can also attend by Zoom. Registration info is here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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