Thursday, October 20, 2016

Oakland Police Officer Ryan Walterhouse Arrested on Conspiracy Charges

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 9:31 AM

Another Oakland police officer has been arrested for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy. Officer Ryan Walterhouse was detained by members of his own department yesterday when he showed up to work. He was booked at 1:21 a.m. today at the Alameda County Jail, but made bail.

Multiple sources close to the police department said Walterhouse is being investigated for obstruction of justice and a prostitution-related offense.

Walterhouse allegedly slept with a sex worker, and then traded confidential law enforcement information about police vice operations to see the sex worker again.

According to the Oakland police, Walterhouse's arrest followed an investigation that was unrelated to the recent sex crime scandal involving multiple Oakland cops who exploited a teenager who used the alias Celeste Guap.

Walterhouse was hired by the Oakland police in 2014 after he graduated from the Alameda County Sheriff's 151st academy. According to public records, Walterhouse is 26-years-old and grew up in the East Bay, attending Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. He graduated in 2012 from Indiana State University where he played varsity baseball.

He was a patrol officer who worked OPD Area 3, a part of the city that includes the San Antonio and Fruitvale neighborhoods which are known as "the tracks," because they are concentrated areas of sex work activity.

Jim Chanin, an attorney who is involved in efforts to reform the Oakland Police Department, said Walterhouse’s arrest is “further indication that while some of these newer officers are a credit to department, there were serious flaws in the hiring process in the last two-to-four years.”

Chanin thinks the department needs to take a careful look at all officers who are about to pass through probation to ensure that the city hires cops who will follow the law.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is Oakland Council President McElhaney Faking Sick, Canceling Meetings to Avoid Hearings on Ethics Violations?

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Did Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney fake sick last night to push back a city response to damning Grand Jury accusations?

At last night's city council meeting, a McElhaney staffer told the Express that McElhaney had bronchitis and could not attend. Councilmember Larry Reid chaired it in her place.

But Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb said during public comment that he'd spotted McElhaney moments earlier, at a party being held at the Oakland Marriott Hotel, just three blocks from City Hall.

The Express left the council meeting at approximately 9:20 p.m. and went to the Marriott. There, McElhaney was mingling with guests at a party being hosted by Assemblyman Rob Bonta and U.S. Sen Cory Booker, in honor of Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

After the party, McElhaney finally showed up at the council meeting and took her seat shortly before 10 p.m. Conveniently, she arrived four hours late — and after an agenda item to discuss and respond to her alleged ethics violations.
The councilwoman is facing possible censure by colleagues due to a recent Alameda County Grand Jury report, which accuses McElhaney of abusing her position of power by interfering with a planned townhouse development next to her home. The city's long-overdue response to the Grand Jury was scheduled to be heard last night.

According to the report, and an earlier investigation by the Express, McElhaney used her office staff to appeal against the project, and also had the city's planning director intervene. The project's developer eventually gave up, and the townhouses were never built.

The city council, mayor, and public-ethics commission are all legally required to respond to the Grand Jury within ninety days of receiving the report. Per state law, their responses must include detailed explanations of whether or not they agree with the Grand Jury's findings, and how they plan to fix any problems.

But Oakland's deadline was September 21, and so far, only the public ethics commission has responded.

In addition to last night, McElhaney also canceled rules and legislation committee meetings on October 6 and 13.  She also skipped a council meeting on October 4. 

On the agenda for both of those rules meetings was an item discussing the Grand Jury's findings, specifically that McElhaney had violated Oakland's ethics rules by sabotaging the town house development, and another item brought by members of the public and Councilmember Desley Brooks, seeking to schedule a censure hearing to have the full council decide whether or not to admonish McElhaney.

Last night, several members of the public accused McElhaney of hiding from the Grand Jury's charges and canceling meetings to prevent her ethics violations from being publicly discussed and ruled on by council.

Noni Session, who is running against McElhaney for the District Three council seat, said the Grand Jury report was correct and the council should take action to hold McElhaney accountable for ethics violations.
  • Noni Session, who is running against McElhaney for the District Three council seat, said the Grand Jury report was correct and the council should take action to hold McElhaney accountable for ethics violations.
"The Grand Jury got it right," said Noni Session, who is running against McElhaney for the District Three seat. "This sick-out is known to not be real."

Before McElhaney arrived last night, Reid attempted to have his colleagues approve a five-sentence letter as the council's official response to the Grand Jury. The letter stated only that the council was aware of the Grand Jury's report, and that they are waiting on the city's public ethics commission to complete its investigation of the allegations against McElhaney before taking any action.

Brooks accused other members of the council of "hiding behind the public ethics commission," rather than weighing the evidence themselves and deciding whether or not to censure McElhaney.

According to Brooks, the city council's rules of procedure do not require the public ethics commission to investigate anything before the council considers whether or not to censure one of its own members. Brooks filed a motion to censure McElhaney, including a copy of the Grand Jury's report and other evidence, with the Oakland City Clerk on October 4. That same day, the clerk delivered physical copies of the censure papers to McElhaney. Later that afternoon, McElhaney claimed to be feeling sick and was absent at the evening council meeting.

Last night, Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington attempted to bring the city closer to providing the Grand Jury with a response by making a motion to tell it that Oakland will follow its censure process and hold a hearing.

As a result, a motion to schedule a censure hearing of McElhaney is now set for the rules and legislation committee meeting this Thursday.

After the meeting, McElhaney posted a long note on Facebook, saying she acted "contrary to doctors advice" by attending the party for Lee.

"After the ceremony, since I was already out of the house, I decided to head to the Council meeting in progress," she wrote.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Town Business: Police Union Attacks Kalb and Gallo; Oakland Claims Garbage Contracts No Problem

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 17, 2016 at 9:25 AM

Police Union Attacks Kalb and Gallo: As the Express reported last week, the Oakland Police Officers Association is spending tens of thousands of dollars to try to unseat councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo because the two of them sponsored Measure LL, the police commission ballot measure.

Several North and East Oakland residents sent us copies of the police union mailers that are saturating their neighborhoods. OPOA has spent $34,776 on the ads so far.

The cops call Gallo "the least effective politician in Oakland," and blame him for everything from abandoned vehicles to potholes and illegal dumping.

The police union describes Kalb as "the least responsive politician in Oakland," and imply that he ignores the needs of his constituents.

Only about 8 percent of the Oakland Police Officers Association's members actually live in Oakland. Most Oakland cops live in the suburbs of Contra Costa County, or over the hill in towns like Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, and Livermore.

OPOA didn't return emails seeking comment about the elections mailers.

In addition to their independent expenditure campaign against Kalb and Gallo, the police union has also contributed to several East Bay politicians this year. OPOA gave Nancy Skinner $4,000 for her run for the state Senate District 9 seat, and the union contributed $3,400 to Rob Bonta, the incumbent 18th District assemblymember who is running for reelection. The police union also gave Noel Gallo's opponent Viola Gonzales $1,400.

Garbage Contracts No Problem: Several years ago Oakland negotiated its biggest, most expensive city contracts. They were for garbage, food waste, and recycling collection and disposal. No sooner did the city sign the contracts than rates shot up for landlords and businesses. The city was widely criticized for locking in expensive, long-term franchises.

The Alameda County Grand Jury conducted an investigation of the city's waste contracts this year and found that Oakland failed to create a competitive bidding environment, did not perform necessary financial analyses to understand how the contracts would harm ratepayers, and rigged the contract competition to favor the incumbent companies, Waste Management and California Waste Solutions. The Grand Jury also found that Oakland improperly engaged in closed-door negotiations with the two companies that ultimately won the contracts, and that all this resulted in Oakland residents and businesses paying higher collection rates and a higher franchise fee than surrounding communities.

So how did the city respond to the Grand Jury report?


Oakland's Department of Public Works claims in their official response to the Grand Jury that they in fact solicited competitive bids, and that the big rate and franchise increases were publicly discussed on multiple occasions, and furthermore that the new rates and fees are higher than other places only because they're new. To sum up Oakland's response, everything is cool, more or less.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Windstorm Disrupts Treasure Island Music Festival, But Show Goes On (And Kamaiyah Saves the Day)

by Nick Miller
Sat, Oct 15, 2016 at 11:42 PM

Kamaiyah in rain gear during her second perfomance at today's Treasure Island fest. - PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
  • Photo By Mike Miller
  • Kamaiyah in rain gear during her second perfomance at today's Treasure Island fest.

Pummeling rain and heavy winds caused multi-hour delays — and more than a little bit of confusion — at today's Treasure Island Music Festival. But the skies eventually cleared and the show did go on.

Festival promoters reported that bad weather forced several performers' flights to arrive late, which pushed set times back by more than two hours. 

The rain and 20-plus MPH winds arrived just before 4 p.m. This delayed Atlanta rapper Young Thug's performance from 4:15 p.m. to after 7 p.m. Flight Facilities also canceled its set. And headliner Ice Cube was rescheduled from 9:25 p.m. to 11.

Concert-goers grew frustrated during the storm. There were lots of complaints on Twitter about lack of updates, and many left the festival altogether. TIMF did allow re-entry into the grounds for those who decided to seek shelter.

Oakland's Kamaiyah took one for the team and came out for a second performance of the day during the epic downpour.

Kamaiyah's set during the downpour. - PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER
  • Photo By Mike Miller
  • Kamaiyah's set during the downpour.

Puddles and mud ruled the grounds after the rain, but organizers extended the festival until midnight, and nearly all scheduled acts were able to perform.

The festival continues tomorrow — and bring a poncho if you're attending, because the forecast is for even more rain.

Look for more thoughts on TIMF in this week's Express.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Oakland Police Union Spending Thousands on Effort to Unseat Councilmembers Kalb and Gallo

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 2:27 PM

The Oakland Police Officers Association is paying for an expensive ad campaign against councilmembers Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo. The police union disclosed in campaign finance statements last week that they have already spent $12,800 on a mailer opposing Kalb, the incumbent District One councilmember, and the police union has spent even more on a mailer targeting District Five Councilmember Noel Gallo — $16,800.

No one has seen contents of the mailers yet, but in the past OPOA has been known to spend large sums on attack-style ads aimed at Oakland politicians who are critical of the police.

Kalb and Gallo co-sponsored Measure LL which, if approved by voters on November 8, will create a powerful police oversight commission. The Oakland police union vigorously opposed the police commission legislation, but the police sex crime scandal which came to light earlier this year caused the city council to vote to put the measure on the ballot.

Kalb said, however, that he's baffled by the police union's independent expenditures against him.

"I’ve generally been pro-police in terms of building up size of the force, wanting to pay them good wages and give them a good benefits package, and I took lead trying to get more crime investigators," Kalb told the Express

But he said he can't turn a blind eye to the police department's problems. "I want to see a civilian oversight commission as part of the solution," Kalb said.

Noel Gallo is actively campaigning for Measure LL.
  • Noel Gallo is actively campaigning for Measure LL.
Gallo also has a record of supporting the police department and law-and-order legislation. For example, in 2013 Gallo supported a youth curfew as a crime fighting tactic. He has supported increasing the department's budget to add more officers and give cops more resources. But Gallo played a leading role in supporting the police commission ballot measure and placing it on the ballot.

The police officers' union appears intent on punishing Gallo for this.

His opponent, Viola Gonzales, has been endorsed by the Oakland Police Officers Association. The police union also made a direct $1,400 contribution to her campaign. Gonzales opposes Measure LL.

Kalb's challenger, Kevin Corbett, also opposes the police commission. The police union hasn't funded his campaign, however.

The Oakland Police Officers Association has $100,000 in cash to spend before the election, according to city records, but the union hasn't come out directly against Measure LL, only against its sponsors.

On the pro-Measure LL side, the Coalition for Police Accountability has raised $16,000 so far this year, including a $5,000 contribution from the Service Employees International Union last Friday.

Rashindah Grinage, a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability, said Kalb and Gallo's campaigns pose a "test" for Oakland voters.

"Do the councilmembers represent us," she asked, "or do they represent bargaining units like the police union, most of who don't live in Oakland, and who have their own interests in mind rather than the community’s?"

The Oakland Police Officers Association didn't respond to a request for comment for this report.

Town Business: Uber for Parking; Police Sex Crime Scandal Undermined Trust in OPD

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 7:22 AM

Uber for Parking: Oakland is poised to grant a franchise to a private company that uses a web of surveillance to develop apps for parking. The company is called Streetline.

Streetline's proposal is as follows: the company will blanket 750 city blocks with sensors and cameras to record the comings and goings of cars. Oakland will also turn over license plate recognition data, traffic camera feeds, gate and meter payment information, and other surveillance inputs to Streetline. The company will use this information to build a free "parking assistant" app that Oakland residents and visitors can download. The app literally guides drivers to open parking spaces.

The whole thing is free for Oakland. But of course nothing is ever free. Streetline will own all the data, and Streetline makes its money by selling this data to third parties. One money-maker is selling a "guided enforcement" app to cities that want a better way to spot illegally parked cars.

The deal with Oakland would last three years. Oakland will also have to participate in a marketing push to get at least 10,000 people to download and use the app.

Oakland's privacy commission will be examining the underlying technology and potential civil liberties issues regarding the Streetline app. But this week the proposal is coming before the Public Works Committee as part of a larger package of parking initiatives.

Police Sex Crime Scandal Undermined Trust in OPD: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Task Force, a multi-agency group that includes the Alameda County District Attorney, Oakland Police Department, and numerous nonprofits, just issued its annual report. According to the task force, efforts to stop the commercial sexual exploitation of children were undermined by dozens of cops from Oakland, Richmond, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, Contra Costa Sheriff's Office, and other police agencies who sexually exploited a teenager. The case has damaged what trust there was in law enforcement, and will make it more difficult for the authorities to find and protect trafficked and exploited kids.

The task force wrote:

"The recent law enforcement sexual misconduct accusations led to heightened mistrust in law enforcement agencies and shone a spotlight on the issue of CSEC. Many service providers reported that the allegations further exacerbated their clients' mistrust in law enforcement. Others noted that this was one of the reasons why their clients felt isolated from safety measures in the city. The most significant impact is the damage the accusations had on OPD's credibility in the fight against sexual exploitation, damaging years of hard work and dedicated attention to handling CSEC in a comprehensive way."

In response, the task force is recommending that all City of Oakland employees undergo training to identify children who may be commercially sexually exploited.

The CSEC task force's annual report is scheduled to be heard at the Life Enrichment Committee on Tuesday.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hapless Chargers Punt Win to First-Place Oakland Raiders

by Nick Miller
Sun, Oct 9, 2016 at 9:50 PM

Michael Crabtree reels in a fourth-and-two fade pass for a touchdown in the third quarter. - COURTESY OF THE RAIDERS
  • Courtesy of the Raiders
  • Michael Crabtree reels in a fourth-and-two fade pass for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The struggling San Diego Chargers gifted the gritty Raiders a win this afternoon in Oakland — but a porous Silver and Black defense did its best to blow the victory.

The Chargers, perhaps the league's most gaffe-prone team this season, especially in the final quarter, committed four turnovers. Punter Drew Kaser shanked a 16 yarder, which led to a Raider touchdown.

But the lowlight for the Bolts was with the game on the line, when Kaser inexplicably botched the hold on what would have been a game-tying, 36-yard field goal.

Despite these turnovers and an overwhelming time-of-possession advantage (36:17 to 23:42), the Raiders just inched out the win, 34-31

After the game, Coach Jack Del Rio told reporters that his defense has a tendency to do some of its own gift-giving by allowing big plays, which is keeping these teams in games.

He said the guys needed to "stop playing Santa Claus."

Coach didn't name names, but it was clear that safety Reggie Nelson and defensive back David Amerson botched multiple coverages. Tyrell Williams burned Amerson on a 29-yard post-route TD early in the game, no thanks to Nelson's blown help. And Williams also shook Amerson for a 50-yarder after the DB took a bogus angle on a tackle.

These defensive woes again highlighted the Raider secondary's trouble with smaller, speedier wideouts.

And the team allowed more than 400 yards in offense for the fourth time this season.

On the upside, it was the strongest showing of the year by Amari Cooper (138 yards, including a 64-yard shake 'n' bake touchdown). Sebastian Janikowski drained four field goals. New acquisition Perry Riley Jr. caused two fumbles and led the squad in tackles. And Sean Smith and Karl Joseph both notched interceptions.

But the game's defining moment was another let-it-ride move by "Black Jack" Del Rio: On fourth-and-two, he called for a Derek Carr-to-Michael Crabtree fade route — which they executed flawlessly for a 21-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion to Cooper, the Raiders took a 27-24 lead into the fourth.

Carr was careless out the gate, throwing a pick on the first drive of the day and nearly a second on the next possession. He also nearly threw one in the second half while threatening to score. The third-year QB experienced a more robust pass rush than in the previous four games, and his spirals lacked accuracy perhaps because of this. His quarterback rating was the lowest so far this year, at 50.7

While Cooper's afternoon was huge — it could've been bigger. He experienced end-zone issues, twice unable to drag his toes on touchdown grabs.

The backfield platoon struggled without Latavius Murray, as well, notching just more than three yards a carry and just 76 yards.

Yet, it's another win for the team, which is now tied in first with the Denver Broncos, who lost to the same squad the Raiders fell to in week two, the Atlanta Falcons.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Privacy Commissioners Question Oakland Police About Capabilities of Cell Phone Surveillance Device

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 6:56 AM

Oakland's privacy commissioners continue to raise questions about the capabilities of a powerful cell phone surveillance device the police hope to begin using before the end of the year.

The device is called a Hailstorm, and according to user manuals and other materials recently leaked to the media and civil liberties groups, its capable of imitating a cell phone tower to sweep up everything from a phone's unique identifying information and location, to the content of text messages and phone conversations. Privacy advocates worry it could be used by the police in a dragnet fashion during protests or sporting events to identify and track large groups, or that the police might use it to spy on people's communications without a wiretap order.

The Oakland police say they only want to use the device to identify the locations of specific cell phones, and only while pursuing a fugitive or during a "mass casualty" incident like an earthquake or terrorist attack. Oakland police officials also say they will always get a warrant to use the Hailstorm.

Deputy Chief Darren Allison and Tim Birch, OPD's head of research and policy, told the commissioners at a previous meeting the Hailstorm the Oakland police will be using doesn't have the ability to do anything other than locate specific phones and determine their signal strength and approximate location. According to Allison, the device was pre-set by the manufacturer, Harris Corporation, to only have limited capabilities.

But members of the city's newly formed Privacy Advisory Commission expressed concerns at last night's meeting that the device is capable of intercepting the contents of communications and other more sensitive information.

"When I hear the device can't do this, or it can't do that, I'm skeptical," said commissioner Robert Oliver during the meeting. "What I know from my own research is that the device could tell you the temperature of my behind in this chair, so when you say it can't do something, that doesn't sit well with me."

Privacy commission chair Brian Hofer noted that recently leaked documents written by Harris Corporation, the manufacturer of the Hailstorm, show that the ability to intercept the content of communications is built into the device. All that could be missing from the model acquired by the District Attorney and OPD is a software license to turn on the feature.

"These manuals made for law enforcement talk about interception," said Hofer. "I'm not confident that content interception wasn't disabled."

"We have no interest in using it for those purposes," Birch said in response to the possibility the Hailstorm OPD will have access to might be capable of intercepting content.

But when asked what software the Hailstorm will run on, Allison was unable to answer. And OPD staff didn't respond when asked by commissioner Said Karamooz as to whether the commissioners could be shown a demonstration of the Hailstorm to verify whether it is capable of spying on communications. 

Mike Katz-Lacabe, a surveillance technology researcher, told the commissioners that the Hailstorm's hardware is capable of intercepting the contents of communications.

"It's the software that matters," said Katz-Lacabe, adding that the DA has also purchased amplifiers to extend the device's range. "It will be operational before the end of October," he said about the DA's plans.

The commission ended up asking OPD to change wording in the privacy policy being drafted for the Hailstorm so it doesn't imply the device isn't capable of intercepting communications, only that OPD won't use it for this purpose. The commissioners asked that the word "cannot" be changed to "shall not" throughout the document.

The use policy for the Hailstorm is expected to return to the Privacy Commission at a special meeting in two weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Town Business: Late Grand Jury Response; Oak Knoll

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 8:40 AM

Late Grand Jury Response: Coun
Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
  • Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney.
cilmember Desley Brooks' disruptive "filibuster" at last Thursday's Rules and Legislation Committee meeting ruffled some feathers but she raised a couple good points. One of them — made as an aside — was about the city council's need to respond to the Alameda County Grand Jury investigation of Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney's use of her office for personal gain.

In June, the Grand Jury reported that Gibson McElhaney had her city-paid staff work on an appeal to stop a developer from building a townhouse project on land next to her personal residence. Furthermore, McElhaney recruited Oakland's top planning and building official, Rachel Flynn, to intervene in the process. Flynn tried to get the developer and his architect to substantially change their building's design, which they did. But McElhaney's interference ultimately caused the developer to abandon the project.

According to Oakland's ethics rules, it is illegal for a councilmember to direct city staff like the planning and building director for any reason. The city's rules also state that city council staff and office resources cannot be used to do things that directly and personally benefit the councilmember. Gibson McElhaney violated these rules, according to the Grand Jury.

The Express first reported these ethics violations in February 2015. The Grand Jury's report largely confirmed our story.

But the Grand Jury also noted that the City of Oakland has yet to do anything to hold Gibson McElhaney accountable for breaking the law. Now, the city hasn't even responded to the Grand Jury's report on time.

State law requires that cities respond in writing to the presiding judge no later than 90 days after the Grand Jury issues its report. That would have been September 21, but Oakland has yet to issue a response to the court, or to even schedule a hearing at which a response could be publicly heard and approved by the city council.

Cassie Barner of the Alameda County Criminal & Civil Grand Jury told the Express in an email that Oakland officials asked for an extension in order to prepare their response regarding McElhaney's ethics violations. Oakland has been granted until mid-October to respond, she wrote, adding that such extensions are "not unusual."

Perhaps the city asked for more time in order to wrap up the Public Ethics Commission investigation into McElhaney? According to PEC director Whitney Barazoto, the commission opened an investigation into McElhaney's role in the demise of the townhouse project on February 18, 2015, seven days after the Express ran its first story about the matter.

In June, Barazoto told the Express that the case was still pending, due in part to the PEC's lack of staff and resources needed to clear its backlog of cases. She wrote in an email that she expects McElhaney's case to be resolved "by the end of this year."

It'll be interesting to see what the PEC investigation finds, and how and when Oakland responds to the Grand Jury.

Oak Knoll: One of the biggest development projects in the city is coming before the Planning Commission on Wednesday. Formerly a naval hospital, the Oak Knoll project will add almost 935 townhouses and single family homes to Oakland's housing stock. The developer, Suncal, tried to launch the project once before in 2006, but the Financial Crisis derailed it.

Affordable housing wouldn't be part of Oak Knoll's mix because Oakland doesn't have an inclusionary housing ordinance. However, the city's recently adopted impact fees will likely raise millions from the project because it falls in the city's "Zone 2" area where fees ranging from $2,600 to $16,500 apply to new townhomes and single family homes.

Suncal's plan calls for preserving 85 acres of the old naval hospital land as permanent open space, and for restoring Rifle Range Creek. The historic Club Knoll building will also be moved and refurbished as a community center.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Company Illegally Dumps Toxic Dirt Piles in Richmond, Riles Residents

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Point Richmond neighbors are up in arms over piles of contaminated dirt being stored next to their homes and an elementary school.

The dirt was trucked to an empty lot on Canal Boulevard near the Port of Richmond and covered with plastic tarps about a week ago by Wareham Development, a real-estate company that owns the nearby Point Richmond Tech Center.

Signs warning of PCBs, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer and other health problems, were posted around the mounds.

Neighbors say no one warned them in advance. "About a week ago, my husband started noticing these trucks, and then they started putting fences," said Edie Alderette-Sellers, who lives nearby.
She posted questions to her neighborhood's Nextdoor group to see if anyone knew where the dirt was coming from, but no one could tell her. When her husband returned a few days later with photos of signs warning of PCBs in the dirt she became alarmed.

  • Courtesy of Tom Butt.
"I have a background in science. I knew this was bad," Alderette-Sellers said.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt also lives nearby. Yesterday, he sent out an email newsletter calling the dirt piles a form of toxic dumping.

Butt told the Express that Wareham did not get the necessary grading permits from the city to truck in the dirt and dump it, and that no one in the city, including the planning department, was told about the dirt until it already arrived.

Butt added that state toxic substances authorities also did not notify Richmond about the dirt.

"We've got a big problem in Richmond," the mayor said. "We're seen as a place where you don't need a permit to do anything. You just do it."

Andrew Neilly, a spokesman for Wareham Development, admitted the company didn't get the necessary city permits. He said it was a mistake, and that Wareham thought they didn't need city approval.

"They only found out about the permit requirement yesterday," Neilly told the Express. "As soon as [Wareham] found out, they sent one of their partners to City of Richmond and explained what happened and applied for the permit."

According to Neilly, the dirt was excavated from a Wareham construction site in Emeryville that used to be a Westinghouse factory. The soil under the factory was heavily contaminated with PCBs and other chemicals, but it underwent an environmental clean up in 2002. The old Westinghouse location is now being redeveloped into an office, tech, and retail center.

A 2009 environmental planning document for the Emeryville construction site states that any excavated soils removed for permanent disposal still have to be sent to "appropriately permitted" landfills because of remaining PCB contamination.
However, Neilly said the dirt isn't contaminated, and that Wareham eventually intends to truck it back to the construction site in Emeryville, where it was excavated from.

"It's clean commercial fill," he said, adding that it was tested twice, and that any levels of toxins in the soil fall below "actionable levels" considered dangerous by government authorities.

Russ Edmondson, a spokesman for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, said that DTSC visited the site today and is looking into the situation. The agency has yet to say if the materials pose any kind of danger.

But Maureen Decombe, another neighbor who lives blocks away from the lot, said she's worried about toxic contaminants that might leak or blow out of the piles.

"It’s on a spot where people walk their dogs a lot," said Decombe. "It's one of the last wild places around where you can let a dog run. People call it Frog Town, because it fills up with water in the winter and you can hear the frogs."

The land was once supposed to be developed into an expanded part of the existing Tech Center owned by Wareham. In 1998, the City of Richmond approved the Tech Center expansion on the condition that Wareham also rehabilitate wetlands on adjacent land owned by the city, but the deal fell through.

Pixar, which used to be headquartered in the Tech Center, then moved to Emeryville. The undeveloped land and nearby wetlands instead became an informal park used by locals to walk their dogs.

Decombe said that many Richmond residents feel like their community is perceived by companies as a dumping ground, not a place to build tech offices or beautiful parks. She pointed to the coal port nearby, and the oil trains that park in the rail yard as examples.

"Emeryville took Pixar out of Richmond and literally shipped back to us toxic soil," said Alderette-Sellers. "That’s how it feels. It's a real kick in the teeth."

Editor's note: this story has been updated with a comment from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Most Popular Stories

© 2016 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation