Saturday, March 9, 2013

Environmental Justice Tour of BayView Hunters Point with Tracy Zhu

Taking advantage of unusually warm winter weather, former LEJ EcoCenter Program Manager and lifelong
Bayview resident Tracy Zhu led a group of bicyclists on a Saturday tour of the neighborhood. About twenty people, perhaps half of whom are current CCSF students, joined the ride with the goal of learning a bit about the cultural and industrial history of the area.

The group gathered at the Eco Center at Heron's Head Park for a 360-degree orientation of the development centered around India Basin and Hunter's Point. The group began by sharing their own preconceptions about the
neighborhood. Generally, people expressed impressions of a 'ghetto', an environmentally neglected area or pleasant surprise at the sunny, lively neighborhood they found on the ground compared to what they'd heard.

Prospecting back through history, Tracy spoke about the Ohlone who inhabited the shores of the Bay; the role of the military and its associated heavy industry and mass, low-cost housing; and about the aggregation of industry that persists solely in this part of the City to this day. After taking in the distant ruins of the abandoned naval ship
yard, the substation remains of the demolished PG&E power plant and the mountainous debris piles at the Recology pier, the riders set off westward on Cargo Way. Our attention was directed to the abandoned grain silos on Pier 92, a repository for graffiti considered by some to be an eyesore, but soon to be home for a City-sponsored art project<>.  Any wealthy city is bound to have contrasts, and adjacent to the north of
the silos is the warehouse home of the Oracle America's Cup sailing team - expected to spend in excess of $150 million in pursuit of victory. By contrast, the art grant for Pier 92 is for $190 thousand.

The two sites are separated by the vestigial inlet that was once the outflow of Islais Creek. The group stopped at a small park on the south bank called Islais Landing. There, the City placed within a narrow green space, a few picnic tables and a ramp to a landing used for fishing or boating. Tracy noted that Islais Creek originally drained a watershed that begins several miles west and south beyond the southern border with Daly City. Now the only part of the watershed that is above ground is in Glen Canyon park. She went on to tell the group that Islais Landing sits in an area that was home to the City's slaughterhouses < title=Butchertown%27s_Beginnings>in the late 19th Century. The outflow into the Bay was said to run red with
animal blood and the streets were populated by roving packs of scavenging dogs<>.

Next stop was a street-side view of the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant -- long-time repository of San Francisco sewage. Fortunately, the wind blew at a cross direction so sight and sound dictated the limits of
the description. Woe to residents downwind.

From here the group headed a few blocks south to the wholesale produce district. Eerily quiet on a weekend, the warehouses host a hive of commerce and transport in the early morning hours each weekday. The trade in fresh
produce stands in contrast to the dearth of full-service supermarkets in the area. Apart from two marginal grocery stores and a couple small 'bodegas', the large extent of retail food sales in Bayview-Hunter's Point
consists shops selling only processed foods. Tracy said that her mother rides a bus an hour in each direction to China Town to buy food for her family.

To finish on an upbeat note, the group stopped first at the materials re-purposing and do-it-yourself Mecca, Scrap <>.  Most riders seemed unfamiliar with this pocket of creativity and walked out
bubbling with ideas.  A few blocks further south and east we rode up the cul-de-sac of Quesada Gardens <>, home to one of the City's most successful re-claimed green spaces. We listened to two of the core organizers talk about the many benefits the community has reaped from working together to make something not only beautiful and natural, but also self-directed. A very constructive model in
a neighborhood typically overlooked when money is spent on quality of life amenities.

Story and photos by CCSF Sustainability 91 Student, Darin Greyerbiehl
Check out this slideshow of the tour