POWER Hunters Point Lawsuit: Did The Environmental Group Celebrate Its Failure?

07/13/2011 03:13 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith on Monday dismissed the bulk of a legal challenge against the Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment Project, a massive development plan to transform the abandoned shipyard into a sprawling neighborhood and retail center.

But Tuesday morning, a surprising press release from POWER -- the organization that filed suit against the project -- called Monday's ruling "a victory for Bayview Hunters Point community and environmental justice groups." Everyone else seemed to view it as a landslide victory for developers and proponents of the redevelopment project.

POWER's Bayview Project Organizer Jaron Browne explained the group's peculiar press release to The Huffington Post.

"We are not an anti-development group. Our concern is the health of the community," she said, adding, "until now, Lennar Urban [the project's primary developer] has been producing shoddy work in relation to contaminants and has shown that they do not take their regulatory requirements seriously. Now they will have to wait until the land is clean--that's a significant victory in our eyes."

Many have called POWER a roadblock to crucial development in the district, but Browne said that it was the process the group objected, as opposed to the project itself.

"There is so much political and economic pressure surrounding this particular project, especially considering the potential 49ers stadium," said Browne. The NFL team is threatening to move to Santa Clara in 2015, adding pressure to complete the project, and the stadium. "Both Lennar and the city have been pushing for early transfers," she said.

But the city rejects these claims. "The project timeline is not that heavily impacted by whether or not we do early transfer," Fred Blackwell, Executive Director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, told The Huffington Post. "The difference is probably about a year."

Since the project's inception, it has been met with several suits from local environmental groups, citing the possible presence of hazardous contaminants in the land. In Monday's ruling, the judge rejected the project's final legal challenge in its entirety, save for one writ prohibiting early transfer approval on some of the shipyard parcels.

With the suit's dismissal, the development of more than 10,500 homes, the possible new 49ers stadium, and loads of commercial space will soon be underway, albeit slightly behind schedule: While the ruling gives developers the go-ahead, it also prohibits the city from building anything until the land is deemed free of contaminants.

Browne admitted that POWER remains nervous about the writs that didn't pass.

"There were many elements before the judge and things that could have been stronger, absolutely," she said, specifically citing the lack of further public environmental review. "Judge Goldsmith trusts that [the Navy and the Environmental Protection Agency] will ensure that the land is clean. But without continuous public environmental review, we worry that if the city wants to get that project built in time, they might make compromises," she said.

Blackwell disagreed. "With or without the transfer, the City will not accept Navy land without the approval of the appropriate regulatory entities, or use a development approach that jeopardizes human health," he said.

Browne hopes that the agencies will adequately review and clean the land for a safe and successful project.

"We haven't been contesting development on any of the clean sites. But no community should have to choose between development and the health of its citizens," she said.

Developers seem unfazed by the hurdle, and are eager to begin building. Lennar Urban President Kofi Bonner said in a statement: "Today's ruling is a great victory for the city and the residents of Bayview Hunters Point. [...] As the Navy completes clean up of individual parcels, we will begin development. We would hope that the petitioners will now join with the greater community to move forward with this very important project."

These mutually declared "victories" suggest that while the organizations may differ in priorities, they might at least share a common goal.