San Jose

San Jose Land Slated For High Rise is Contaminated: Lawsuit

San Jose city leaders are targeting a vacant lot near City Hall for development of a high rise, but critics say the land is contaminated with at least one toxic chemical, and they've filed a lawsuit to ensure it's cleaned up.

The site on Fourth and Saint John streets in downtown San Jose is prime real estate. Officials envision a building that would add hundreds of units to the student housing demand at San Jose State University.

But critics say something scary resides underneath: cancer causing chemicals.

Attorney Tanya Gulesserian says there's "a leaking underground storage tank, which caused contamination on the property site" that once featured a gas station.

A group of union workers released a Santa Clara County document from 2006 that states the land is contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen. They filed a lawsuit, demanding all construction plans stop until adequate testing is conducted.

"Require the city to disclose, analyze and mitigate potentially significant impacts so this site can be safely developed," Gulesserian said during a news conference Thursday.

The lawsuit says the city read the county report but ruled that re-zoning the property for joint commercial and residential use would result in no significant impact. The city attorney's office said the project isn’t ready for an environmental impact report, but one will be conducted at the appropriate time.

Paul Oller is a plaintiff in the suit, as a neighbor of the property and retired union plumber.

"This is very personal to me," Oller said. "I mean, it's a nasty place. When you break the blacktop up, you have some serious dirt underneath there."

Oller says he doesn’t want bulldozers digging up the land that contains cancer causing chemicals.

Critics say they’re not against the development; they just want scientific proof that the land is safe before the bulldozers arrive.

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