No welcome mat for S.F. concrete plant

Neighbors firmly oppose proposed new site for S.F. concrete plant

 

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer               Thursday, December 27, 2001

 

The view from the front window of Alex Lantsberg's India Basin home in the southeast corridor of San Francisco shows a neighborhood in transition.

 

Lantsberg sees an enclave heavy with blue-collar industry adding housing and neighborhood-serving businesses. The area soon will be served by a new Muni light rail line down Third Street, a long-awaited project that's expected to snap that part of the city out of relative isolation.

 

The changes, however, haven't been smooth. One look at the proposed relocation of a concrete plant shows that.

 

For the past five years, RMC, a concrete manufacturer, has been looking for a place to build a new plant.

 

The company has been making concrete at Third and Mariposa streets since the mid-1970s. But it must move because it sits in the Mission Bay development -- an ambitious new neighborhood that will include a new campus of the University of California at San Francisco, biotech businesses, housing, retail shops and parks. The plan doesn't call for a concrete plant.

 

According to Joe Sostaric, vice president and general manager of RMC, 10 years remain on the company's lease in Mission Bay, but the plant needs to move sooner because the development is building out.

 

He's been searching for a site, and thought he found one about a mile away at Pier 80. The location has water access, which would make it easier to get the raw material for concrete that's quarried in the East Bay. That would mean the traffic-congested Bay Bridge could be avoided. The site has rail access, and the land is ready for construction.

 

The location also is close to places in San Francisco where there's a lot of construction -- an essential element in the concrete trade. Makers have 1 1/2 hours to move the perishable concrete from the factory to where it will be used.

 

But there's a problem with Pier 80: wary neighbors. Lantsberg is among them.

 

"It's going to be one of the first things people see when they come into this part of town," said Lantsberg, who can look out his window and see Pier 80. "There's a lot of work happening in the area; it's transforming, and I don't think building a concrete plant there is sensitive to the community or the environment."

 

He and other neighborhood activists have rallied the support of San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents the area.

 

"I'm not saying no concrete plant," Maxwell said. "I'm just saying this is not the right place for it. The project doesn't fit in with what we're trying to do to revitalize the area -- the commercial development, the housing."

 

Her biggest concern relates to the potential health effects, particularly the dust the project could kick up and the diesel trucks coming and going. Maxwell said the pollution could make matters worse for the area, whose population already has higher-than-normal rates of asthma, breast cancer and other illnesses that may be linked to environmental hazards.

 

Sostaric says he is confident the new plant would be more environmentally friendly than the decades-old one in Mission Bay. His company has promised to contain the raw materials at Pier 80 so they don't blow in the air, and to use cleaner-burning fuel in the trucks. Creative landscaping could help keep the operation out of public view.

 

"We've tried our best to meet the needs of the community," said Sostaric, whose company runs 14 plants in the Bay Area.

 

Peter Dailey, maritime director for the Port of San Francisco, which owns Pier 80, agrees with Sostaric that RMC could be a good neighbor. He also understands the concerns.

 

"It's the classic issues of the economy and concerns of the community and the environment," Dailey said. "There are a lot of things to balance, but I'm confident we can come up with some sort of a compromise."

 

With the changing economy, the conflict has been played out in neighborhoods across the nation as new homes and offices push out heavy industry. Not many people want to live or work next door to trucks and smokestacks.

 

RMC provides about three dozen good-paying union jobs, and the port is under pressure from organized labor to be accommodating, Dailey said.

 

Pier 80 is the city's general cargo terminal. Used by more than a half- dozen shipping companies, everything from steel to coffee goes through there. The concrete plant would sit on about 3 acres at the west end of the pier, near the southeast corner of Illinois and Marin streets.

 

Lantsberg, Maxwell and other activists are pushing RMC to explore other port-owned property, such as Pier 92, which has two similar plants, or Pier 94.

 

Unlike Pier 80, the alternative sites are farther off the beaten path.

 

Sostaric said the Pier 92 site would need a lot of prep work -- costing millions of dollars -- and might not be economically feasible. The Pier 94 land is an old dump location and may be tainted with toxic waste.

 

"Our concern there is that it's a huge unknown," Sostaric said.

 

However, he said of Piers 92 and 94, "We haven't ruled them out yet." He suggests the port may give them a rent break if the costs to prepare the land run high.

 

A port advisory committee, which includes a mix of neighborhood residents and union and industry representatives, signed off on the Pier 80 location for RMC. Lantsberg serves on the panel but was outvoted. Meanwhile, Dailey says the port administrators and the Port Commission have not decided what to do.

 

"It's really a quandary," Dailey said.

 

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com.