Mayor Gavin Newsom faced tough questions Tuesday night, March 12, at his townhall in the Frank Ogawa Rotunda in Oakland, CA.
-Newsom plugged healthcare almost to excess; his staff asked their interns to plant a softball question on universal healthcare so that he could talk about the access he’s expanded in S.F.
Edit: One of the interns clarified that they were asked to plant a question about healthcare in general, but not specifically a ‘softball.’
-In a brilliant PR-enhancing move, he promises young students a spot in college and loves education.
Photo courtesy of Kate Maeder, photojournalist.
His first question of the night was from a woman whose son had a nosebleed that morning that “filled up a garbage can.” She alleged it was because of particulate matter and toxic chemicals in her neighborhood, Hunter’s Point, and pointed out that children are suffering health consequences because of this government failure.
Gavin was extraordinarily knowledgeable on the subject, talking about the underground fire in Parcel E and recognizing the various community leaders with whom he’d worked to help this issue. He mentioned that only recently had the government paid S.F. $340 million that it owed for cleanup in the area, and that it took a while to put this money into action. The point remained, however, that he had been expediting measures to subsidize the Lennar corporation’s development of the Hunter’s Point Shipyard area.
-The Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard is a Superfund site, meaning that it’s a special toxic cleanup program as recognized by the EPA.
-The Lennar corporation acquired the rights to develop in Hunter’s Point, and is being blamed for much of the toxic waste. The Hunter’s Point Shipyard Community website, which is shiny and full of pictures of gentrified neighborhoods, is run by the Lennar Corporation itself (scroll to bottom)
-The EPA reports that the waste was left there by the U.S. Navy, which did repairs and used the port as an annex until 1976. Chemicals found in Parcels A and B included arsenic and metal zinc chromate. Local neighborhoods are saturated with asbestos.
-An underground fire even broke out, burning for weeks and spewing particulate matter into the air. The government failed to act, and the EPA fined the Navy $25,000. Local residents knew about it but were unable to take action themselves.
-Lennar has previously been responsible for respiratory problems in their housing developments.
The questioners then pledged to follow him to every town hall and ask him questions about Lennar to bring this issue to the forefront of his media exposure.
This puts him in a Catch-22:
–The people who attend his town halls are predominantly white or Latino. All but one African American individual who asked him a question yesterday asked about Lennar.
-Gavin was encircled by four seating sections, and most of the folks from Hunter’s point were sitting in one quadrant. By avoiding questions from that section, he appears racist and his body language becomes dismissive. In last night’s town hall, to answer a question from any one quadrant, he had to turn his back on the three others.
-Late in the game, his staff failed to continue to choose questions from the audience. Gavin was forced to choose himself, and he turned away from that section and walked to the opposite end of the rotunda to take questions from other people. This put the question-dodging (literally) on him, instead of his staff.
-If Hunter’s Point residents continue to show up to town halls, to avoid their questions Gavin would have to avoid calling on African Americans. Not good.
-This is demonstrative of a much wider gap in California politicians’ awareness of environmental issues: They distinguish between social justice issues, such as inequality of race, income, education, and healthcare access, and environmental issues, which are issues of recycling, water shortages, and wildlife changes.
Environmental justice is the merging of the two: where demographics who are traditionally disproportionately affected by social justice problems are further disadvantaged by environmental circumstances that affect their health, insurance, or lifestyle. More politicians should realize that environmental problems stretch beyond some college kids who need money to start gardening on public land.
Gavin should be answering these tough questions here, in his hometown. When he travels to the rest of California on campaigns, like Southern California and Orange County, he’ll be facing crowds who only know him for being a gay-loving hippie. But what’s equally important is how he’s dealt with local issues.