Underneath the Asphalt
By Kimberly Veklerov
San Francisco Chronicle
Feb. 15, 2019
Photo courtesy SF Chronicle
Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design Kristina Hill was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article discussing the environmental concerns facing the redevelopment of the Charles P. Howard Terminal into a new stadium for the Oakland A’s. The site— located on the Oakland Inner Harbor— is currently a container storage and parking site for trucks. Regulatory documents have revealed that the dirt and groundwater contain hazardous and cancer-causing chemicals, the legacy from a century of industrial use.
In the coming months, an environmental review will determine how to deal with the presence of toxic chemicals. Strategies— which will require state approval— range from removing the dirt entirely to sealing it from human contact. In recent decades, the city and port have capped the site with asphalt ranging from 4 to 30 inches in depth, and are required by law to monitor the groundwater and keep the cap safely intact.
The site’s location on the water also complicates the redevelopment process. Sea level rise and storms can cause contamination to leak from the cap.
Right now, groundwater flows toward San Francisco Bay. But in the coming decades, its direction could change as it bumps up against a rising sea, said Hill. Groundwater flooding is already happening in locations around the East Bay, she said.
“People think that flooding is something that comes sideways in from the ocean, but this kind of flooding actually bubbles up through the soil over a long period of time,” she said, creating “soupy shorelines.”
The site’s immediate neighbors are industrial users, but a few blocks east is the growing commercial and residential area around Jack London Square. In addition, the development team plans to build additional housing near the stadium, which places communities at risk of exposure. Since the groundwater can contain harmful chemicals, Hill recommends that people in the surrounding community should push for the installation of additional monitoring wells to track the changing dynamic.