On November 19, bankrupt financial entity Lehman Bros. agreed to spend $3.7 million to clean up a former naval hospital in Oakland. This is in addition to more than half a million pledged to hire security for the property, fence it, and buy or rent goats to eat the fields of overgrown weeds. Lehman has promised to start the project within 14 days.
The hospital, formerly called Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, and now known as Oakland Naval Hospital, is located in Oakland Hills, and for years has been allowed to languish into a state of disrepair.
Opened during World War II, and finally closed in 1996, the 167-acre property contains about 90 run-down buildings and a great deal of debris, some of it asbestos and much of it likely released during the March 29 fire that burned for 19 hours.
After that, the city of Alameda, under the auspices of its redevelopment agency, dedicated more than $1 million to cleaning up the remains of the burnt building. Even so, the site remains a popular hangout for teens and vagrants, with the former Oak Knoll hospital being used regularly by squatters who light up the windows at night with candles, flashlights and even small fires, according to one source.
In October, Oakland Hills residents, concerned about the sites being used by vagrants, and the potential for serious risks to health, asked Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to start criminal proceedings against those acting on behalf of SunCal, the property’s proposed developer, and its financing agent, the now bankrupt Lehman Bros., for leaving behind piles of toxic asbestos and nearly a dozen inoperable fire hydrants as a result of early renovation efforts.
Some residents are part of the Oak Knoll Coalition, a group derived from the various homeowners’ associations in the vicinity, whose spokeswoman, Pamela Clark, says promises have been made (re cleaning up the site) since 2005 and never kept.
That was the year that Lehman and real estate developer SunCal bought the hospital and grounds for $100 million in preparation for building 960 homes. After the crash of 2008, and Lehman’s bankruptcy, the property sat as a major fire and health hazard for an entire year.
Asbestos, which is relatively safe when unbroken or undamaged, releases minute particles when subjected to impact or fire (or even as a result of age). These particles, inhaled from the air or ingested merely by swallowing saliva in a contaminated area, tend to get lodged in the mesothelial linings of the lungs, heart and abdomen.
The result is mesothelioma, particularly malignant pleural mesothelioma, which can remain hidden for up to five decades before blossoming into the type of tumor which has eaten into, and through, vital tissues, including internal organs.
Mesothelioma of long-standing usually receives a prognosis of less than 18 months to live, though newer diagnostic techniques, like pleural fluid sampling, promise earlier diagnoses and potential cures. Still, diagnosis requires that a victim consult a doctor, and the early symptoms of mesothelioma are so nondescript that few do.
SunCal reportedly still hopes to develop the site with another financial partner, and a Nov. 19 press conference, called by the City of Oakland and held at the site, confirms that renovation will move forward. Unfortunately, the $3.7 million Lehman has pledged doesn’t begin to cover the estimated $6.7 million needed for complete cleanup, according to the city’s Oct. 8 estimate.
Additionally, the $550,000 pledged won’t go to any form of cleanup, but instead to insure Lehman, SunCal and the bankruptcy trustee from future liability for any cleanup that does take place. Hopefully, if the duo makes a real mess of things, some of that will go toward medical care for the exposed.
Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, ActionAlameda.org