At Livermore City Council's June 14 meeting, residents and city officials addressed an ongoing debate about whether toxic waste is present at the site where Eden Housing's 130-unit affordable housing development will be built.
Save Livermore Downtown, a community organization that opposes the project, published an ad in The Independent newspaper that said the City Council "Ignored newfound concerns regarding toxic waste at Eden Housing site" when they unanimously approved the proposed plan last month.
"It has long been known that the site where Eden Housing seeks to build housing has been contaminated with lead, arsenic, petroleum, hydrocarbons, perchloroethylene and other toxic poisons. Yet a new letter from the regional board overseeing site cleanup was ignored by the City Council in their rush to approve the flawed Eden Housing Plan," the ad reads, which also features the symbol for radioactive contamination.
The letter the group referenced in the ad was a standard correspondence sent to the city by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board in February, city officials said.
Former Livermore Mayor John Marchand was the first to comment on this issue during the citizens forum portion of the council meeting. Marchand said that there is no radioactive contamination at the site and that the purpose of the Save Livermore Downtown ad was to "create fear and distrust in our community" as part of a "carefully crafted misinformation campaign."
He also addressed the group's alternative plan, which calls for the housing development to be moved to another location -- potentially displacing existing businesses -- and a community park to be built at the current project site.
"If the members of this group of many names truly believe that this site was as contaminated as they claim, then they should instead support the site remaining a parking lot and a parking garage and never becoming a park where children would play," Marchand said.
Two speakers following Marchand echoed similar sentiments about the veracity of the ad's claims.
Donna Cabanne of the Tri-Valley branch of the Sierra Club doubled down on the assertion that the site is contaminated. "There is considerable contamination underneath the Eden Housing downtown property," she said, adding that the Sierra Club passed a resolution in support of any action to delay the project until the water board concludes an investigation and shares with the public the extent and degree of contamination and the cleanup remediation plan. In its resolution, the group also requests that the city and Eden Housing give the public 30 days to review and comment on the impacts of the contamination.
While the discussion was not an agendized item, Mayor Bob Woerner and Vice Mayor Trish Munro acknowledged the debate toward the end of the meeting during matters initiated.
"This record needs to be set straight," Woerner said before asking city staff to clarify the points addressed in the water board's letter.
City engineer Bob Vinn said the overall purpose of the letter "was for the water board to communicate their concurrence with the city report's conclusions and request additional evaluation to assess any impacts from the property's former use as a lumber yard and also to notify the city that a site management plan would have to be reviewed and approved by the water board prior to construction and redevelopment of the site."
Vinn also said the water board made two requests, including a data gap assessment work plan and an interim remedial action plan. He added that the information from these reports would provide the board with an understanding of the extent of site contamination and identify remedial options to reduce or eliminate future impacts. Vinn said that the letter is standard as part of the process of remediating possible contamination at a development site.
When Woerner asked, "Is there any basis for believing that there is radioactive material on the site?" Vinn answered, "No."
At the end of the discussion, Munro added that before the council approved the project, the question about contamination was asked at its May 24 meeting and city staff "completely debunked the idea."
"This damage cannot be ignored because it damages the whole community," Munro said of the Save Livermore Downtown ad, which she referred to as "propaganda." She continued, "It's nonsense to waste everyone's time. It wastes our energy and it wastes money and it's a non-issue. It distracts us from working on the real problems and solutions that we could be working on."
A complete recording of the June 14 council meeting is available here and a list of all water board communications and site reports related to the Eden Housing project can be found on the city's website.