After more than 20 years of environmental cleanup efforts, San Francisco's largest swath of undeveloped land will someday be home to thousands of families, as well as parks, businesses and perhaps even a new football stadium.
The county Board of Supervisors last week overwhelmingly approved a project to turn the abandoned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard into a bustling 700-acre residential and commercial center on the southeast shoreline of San Francisco Bay. The Miami-based developer, Lennar Corp., is in the process of negotiating with lenders to finance the initial home construction, which could begin later this year.
Supporters say the development, which will stretch west to Candlestick Park, will breath new life into the rough-edged Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood by bringing jobs, affordable housing and recreation options into an area plagued by gang crime and poverty.
"This is a part of San Francisco desperately in need of revitalization," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. "This area is the last remaining plot of land to help develop the future of what San Francisco is going to be."
But critics have raised concerns that portions of the federal Superfund site are a long way from being environmentally sound. They also fear the disappearance of the city's last predominantly black community, citing the displacement of poor black residents during the earlier redevelopment of San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood.
"Part of San Francisco died yesterday," Supervisor Chris Daly, the board's lone dissenting vote on the current proposal, said Wednesday. "The city is essentially green-lighting gentrification."
Daly had lobbied unsuccessfully for an amendment requiring 50 percent of the new residences to be set aside as affordable housing. The current plan reserves 32 percent of the units for low and moderate income residents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the cleanup of the shipyard along with the Navy, is approaching the development plan with cautious optimism, stressing that there is still work to be done.
"It's getting really close to where we feel the site can be safely transferred and development can occur, and we're trying to clean things up as fast as we can," said John Chesnutt, a manager in the EPA's Superfund Division.
The 936-acre base, which was closed in 1974, is one of 20 former military sites in California whose high levels of pollution have earned them a spot on the EPA's National Priorities List.
The shipyard received its Superfund designation in 1989, and the Navy has since spent $700 million addressing hazards such as toxic metals and chemicals and low-level radiation contamination. Only one 88-acre parcel of land has been fully transferred to the city, while the rest is still undergoing decontamination work.
Now that the Board of Supervisors has acted, the EPA will enter into a formal legal agreement with Lennar Corp. to ensure the developer takes certain environmental safety precautions during the construction phase, Chesnutt said. Those include applying a cover layer of soil or pavement over "hot spots" where the original soil was contaminated.
As a symbol of the shipyard's evolution from environmental blight to eco-friendly urban model, the development plan includes space for a green technology research hub within the 2.65 million square feet of commercial space.
The new community also will include about 10,500 new homes, 885,000 square feet of retail space and more than 300 acres of open space. Additional land has been set aside for a new stadium if the 49ers decide to stay in San Francisco rather than move to Santa Clara. Hunters Point is between San Francisco International Airport and downtown, and not far from the current stadium.
Lennar Corp. first won control of the shipyard site in 1999, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was a county supervisor. He called the current board's vote on Tuesday a "proud and historic day" for the city and for those who had devoted the past decade to seeing the project to fruition.
"Together we have secured a critical engine for our city's economic future and embraced a new vision of jobs, housing and hope for the Bayview-Hunters Point community," Newsom said in a statement.
At full build-out, the development is expected to generate $11 billion in additional property tax revenues and create up to 12,000 direct jobs, according to an economic impact report earlier this month by the city controller's office.
The majority of San Francisco residents seem to view the shipyard development favorably. In 2008, 61 percent of city voters approved Measure G, endorsing the plan and starting it down the path toward an environmental review and final approval by the city.