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Alliance for a Clean Waterfront

Restoring an urban shoreline

San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood is a study in contrasts. Home to both the largest concentration of African-Americans in the city and the highest percentage of homeowners, it is also home to numerous environmental hazards, including an aging sewage treatment facility, an outmoded and filthy power plant, and dozens of abandoned toxic waste sites, most notably a 500-acre Superfund site at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. This overburdened and underserved community is crying out for environmental justice.

Things weren’t always this way. A hundred years ago, South Basin was a large inlet that provided a rich habitat for wildlife. The rapid development of San Francisco after the Gold Rush spelled an end to most of its freshwater creeks. Large culverts were laid in creek channels, and became the core of the new city’s sewer and stormwater system. Today, one such creek has become a narrow inlet known as Yosemite Slough, connected to South Basin, which is now a much smaller bay encircled by Hunters Point and Candlestick Point. The shallows have been filled with trash and other illegal fill. The Navy opened, expanded, and finally abandoned the shipyard, leaving behind a legacy of pollution and joblessness. Today, the basin is impaired by toxic waste and cut off from the neighborhood by parking lots, industrial sites, and chain link fences.

The mission of the Yosemite Slough-South Basin Watershed Restoration Project is to restore this neglected shoreline and reconnect it to the community. The first phase of the project, funded by a grant from CalFed (a state/federal water partnership) is nearing completion. The partners on this project are the Alliance for a Clean Waterfront, Arc Ecology, Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates, Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Literacy for Environmental Justice, and the University of San Francisco.

Each project member plays a key role. The Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates, a neighborhood environmental advocacy group, is developing a Watershed Council made up of local residents who will guide the project. Arc Ecology, a watchdog of the Navy’s cleanup efforts at the Hunters Point Shipyard, serves as project administrator. Literacy for Environmental Justice, which educates and employs neighborhood youth around environmental issues, supplied youth staff to assist in monitoring, assessment, and surveys of the area. Golden Gate Audubon Society and the University of San Francisco, aided by the youth, have conducted a two-year census of wildlife and water quality. Clean Water Fund, again using neighborhood youth, has surveyed community members to develop a neighborhood history of the shoreline.

he Alliance for a Clean Waterfront, a coalition of 21 San Francisco neighborhood and environmental organizations dedicated to protecting and enhancing San Francisco’s water resources, focuses on the impacts of the City’s centralized sewage and stormwater system upon the neighborhood and the shoreline. San Francisco’s wastewater system combines sewage and stormwater runoff into the same pipes. During moderate to heavy rainstorms, the storage capacity of the system is exceeded, resulting in overflows of stormwater and minimally treated sewage. These overflows occur at more than 40 locations around the city. A quarter of those sites are located along the Bayview-Hunters Point shoreline, including three overflow pipes in Yosemite Slough and South Basin.

For this project, the Alliance is studying ways to divert stormwater from the central system in order to reduce the overflows in the neighborhood. Instead of being a nuisance and a health hazard, this water can benefit the watershed by creating greener streets or supplying fresh water to South Basin for habitat restoration. This study will serve as a model for the rest of San Francisco, which is about to embark on a process to redesign its wastewater infrastructure. Green methods developed in this neighborhood can be duplicated around the city.

Together, the partners demonstrate how very different groups can work cooperatively to address long-standing environmental problems. For inspiration, the project looks to Crissy Field in the Presidio of San Francisco, located across town from this site and a world away in terms of funding and opportunity. Formerly a toxic landfill on the former Army base, Crissy Field is now a popular park that includes a restored wetland. It’s the crowning achievement of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and has won international acclaim. If it can be done in the Presidio, why not in Bayview?

   

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