Don’t shoot the shipyard messengers

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Rev. Amos’ Brown’s recent op-ed in the Examiner is the latest in a string of attacks on anyone who suggests that anything about Lennar's redevelopment plan could be improved.

These types of attacks are called “shooting the messenger.” And while they can be effective in silencing critics, they don’t address the problems contained in the message that the (now smeared) messenger was delivering.

In this latest instance of shooting the messenger, Amos’ target is the outspoken Minister Christopher Muhammad, who leads the Nation of Islam mosque on Third Street in Bayview Hunter’s Point and represents the Muslim school that sits adjacent to the shipyard.

Muhammad, who is good at firing up his followers with feisty soul-shaking speeches, has taken to comparing Florida-based developer Lennar to an invasive Burmese python, ever since Lennar failed to control toxic asbestos at the shipyard.

Muhammad also has taken to saying that if Lennar had screwed up in Pacific Heights and the kids at the school had been white, the response from Mayor Gavin Newsom and corporation would have been very different—and Lennar would likely have been fined more than $500,000, which is equal to the cost of one of the 10,500 condos that they are planning to build on the shipyard and Candlestick Point in the next decade.

Muhammad, who has been making these comments at just about every commission, hearing, and meeting citywide, recently took his show on the road to embarrass Newsom at the townhalls in Napa and San Jose, where the man who wants to be California’s next governor was hoping to seduce supporters with speeches and a sunny smile, not be shouted down by a black minister shouting about asbestos and poor innocent children.

Last month, Newsom responded to Muhammad’s crashing of his gubernatorial run in what seemed like sour grapes manner: according to columnists Matier and Ross, Newsom saw that a letter was fired off to Muhammad’s school, with the help of Brown, demanding that $24,000 (of unpaid back rent totaling $168,000) be settled in 30 days, or the school—and with it the kids—will face eviction.

Newsom also tried to “shoot the messenger” during an interview with the Guardian about Lennar’s failures to control the dust, targeting non-politically correct comments that activist Francisco da Costa frequently lets slip, rather than explain why he has never stood outside City Hall and publicly said that San Francisco won't tolerate developers who promise to protect community health, then turn around and repeatedly break those promises.

And in recent weeks, Newsom supporters, afraid that alternatives to Lennar’s conceptual plan for the shipyard and Candlestick Point will delay job and home ownership opportunities, have been attacking Saul Bloom, the executive director of the Bayview-based non-profit Arc Ecology.

With Bloom as its most vocal messenger, Arc Ecology has been tracking military base cleanups for decades and is the leading repository of knowledge about toxins at the shipyard, and the Navy’s and city’s plans to address these environmental injustices.

And now that is Arc advocating for a complete removal of a radiologically-contaminated dump on the shipyard, and raising valid questions about the sanity of building a road over San Francisco’s last remaining unbridged waterway, and the desirability of bifurcating Candlestick Park, Bayview’s only large piece of wide open public space, attempts are being made to ensure that Arc Ecology’s contract with the city is not renewed.

But as Assemblymember Tom Ammiano commented to the Guardian last week about these shipyard-related goings on, “Sure, there’s crazy stuff going on. But within the insanity, there’s a progressive message: the community wants radiological contaminants removed from the shipyard.”

Ammiano, along with Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Sens. Leland Yee, recently sent Newsom a letter advocating for the complete removal of the shipyard. A letter that Sen. Mark Leno, who is simultaneously carrying Candlestick Point related legislation, says he would have signed, if he had been asked. This means that San Francisco’s entire delegation in Sacramento has joined forces to ask Newsom to advocate for a complete excavation of a radioactive dump on the shipyard.

Newsom replied with a letter that, judging from its language, suggests the mayor supports capping, rather than excavating, this radiologically impacted dump. (See letter here).

Moving forward: is it possible, in this historic moment, in which Newsom is running for governor, San Francisco’s entire delegation in Sacramento says its on the same page when it comes to the shipyard cleanup, the Democrats are in control in Congress, and President Barack Obama is our commander in chief, that the U.S. Navy can be directed-and financially enabled-- to excavate the toxic landfill?

And to do it in such a way that decent-paying local green jobs are created, the shipyard is healed, and decades of environmental and social injustice in the Bayview is erased?

The answer, clearly, is yes. But it will involve folks all around the table unclenching their fists and agreeing to hold hands and lift up the entire community, instead of shooting each other’s messengers.