About Us

Oceanview Neighborhood Action was formed to bring together neighborhood residents, local business owners and workers, and an array of concerned supporters seeking to solve the chronic longstanding environmental problems in West Berkeley’s historic Oceanview District. 

 

Like many other urban land use areas historically zoned for “mixed use”, the Oceanview District of West Berkeley has always been a mix of family homes and residential apartments interspersed with light industry, retail and other commercial uses.  The result of this organic mix of uses has been a vibrant and colorful working class community with a unique identity that sets it apart from the more upscale university and business interests in the downtown area several miles away.  In the early part of the last century as railroad lines and paved roads replaced ferry-boat docks and stage coach stops, a number of huge industrial companies moved into the Oceanview area and began to throw a dark shadow over surrounding homes and shops. 

 

In the northern part of Oceanview two large industrial sites in particular have impacted residents, workers and visitors for over fifty years.  Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix, now owned and operated by the huge multi-national Lehigh Hanson Corporation, occupies a full city block along 3rd Street between Cedar & Virginia Streets and is easily located by the cloud of fumes spewing from it’s towering burner assembly where gravel and rock are mixed with the oily sulfuric residues of crude oil refining to create asphalt paving products.  Unlike most all other local businesses which operate in close proximity to nearby homes, the City of Berkeley gives Lehigh Hanson a Use Permit that allows them to operate around the clock seven days a week with no apparent regard the impacts of foul smelling fumes, dangerous dust and constant noise may have on the surrounding community.

 

A few blocks to the north another industrial giant, Pacific Steel Casting, operates three huge steel casting plants on an eight acre site at the foot of Gilman Street.  Though it sits slightly farther from surrounding residential areas, the toxic fallout it spews out affects thousands of families and workers in the surrounding communities of Berkeley, Albany, Kensington and El Cerrito.  Quite possibly the largest source of toxic air pollution in the city since it began operation in 1934, Pacific Steel Casting has been sued numerous times both by residents and regulators attempting to force some reduction of the many known toxic pollutants it produces.   With deep financial pockets, an army of lawyers, and well-placed friends in government, the company has for the most part successfully withstood these legal challenges, and continues operating today much as it always has. 

 

Although these toxic monsters remain an obvious blemish to Berkeley’s cherished “green” patina, Berkeley city officials routinely excuse their terrible impacts by emphasizing the union jobs these companies supposedly provide, though seldom mentioning the huge tax revenues derived by the city from letting the problems continue.  Although they could easily take action and impose needed conditions the Use Permits these companies must have to operate, or take legal action to declare them “public nuisances”, Berkeley’s politicians and planning staff deflect all criticism with the absurd claim that they must defer enforcement to the impotent Bay Area Air Quality Resources Board and thus are “helpless” to stop the poisoning of the city’s residents.   


 

Oceanview Neighborhood Action is organizing to at last bring this folly to an end.  At the center of this effort is the Oceanview Neighborhood Association (ONA), a small group of residents living along 5th and Virginia Streets who have been battling Lehigh Hanson and the City of Berkeley for over twenty-five years.  Virtually all of these families invested their life savings twenty years ago to purchase homes from Berkeley’s Redevelopment Agency in a program for low-income first time homebuyers .  The extent of the area’s environmental problems were never disclosed to potential buyers, and throughout years of public meetings attended by residents for the West Berkeley Plan rezoning effort, city staff stated time and again that the Redevelopment Agency was creating strict “performance standards” that would make the area a clean, safe place to live.  Since that time over two decades have passed and ONA families still have only broken promises from the city.  Now Berkeley’s Redevelopment Agency is closed and gone and the strict “performance standards”  that were to stop the pollution and noise were never created or implemented.  Locked into 30 year purchase contracts with the city that impose huge financial penalties should the homebuyers attempt to sell their homes and leave, ONA families find themselves effectively trapped and unable to move away from the toxic problems that destroy their quality of life and perhaps their health as well.  

 

This website is just the latest effort in the continuing struggle by ONA and other West Berkeley residents to force Berkeley city government and BAAQMD regulators to take some action.  In 1999, after years of broken promises and failed negotiations, Oceanview Neighborhood Association together with a coalition of forty families and numerous local businesses, filed a lawsuit attempting to stop the city from allowing the Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix plant to yet again expand operations and increase it’s output of toxic pollution. With the aid of Communities for a Better Environment, a lawsuit was filed charging the plant to be a public nuisance and that Berkeley city officials had failed to properly evaluate environmental impacts of the expansion as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

 

This 1999 lawsuit was settled with a negotiated legal “Settlement Agreement” between ONA, City of Berkeley, Communities for Better Environment and the company, Berkeley Asphalt & Ready Mix.  Although the proposed expansion was allowed to go forward, the company agreed to a list of mitigations and required improvements that would reduce the negative impacts its operations were having on nearby families and businesses.  Sadly, the Settlement Agreement did not turn out to be the long-lasting solution ONA had hoped for, and while some issues did improve for a few years following agreement, the situation over the past five years has again deteriorated to intolerable levels.  A review of that original 1999 Settlement Agreement today finds that some critical mitigation measures required of the company appear to never have been implemented, and that obligations by the City of Berkeley to revise and properly enforce noise and other standards have likewise been ignored. 

 

So ONA is once again taking up this struggle.  Under the umbrella of Oceanview Neighborhood Action we are building a coalition of affected residents, workers, local businesses and concerned supporters to demand that Berkeley city officials and state regulators finally take meaningful actions to reduce the intolerable levels of industrial pollution coming from these sites.  We are again working with Communities for a Better Environment and Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington to bring about long needed changes.  The health, well being and quality of life of thousands of West Berkeley residents and workers can no longer be sacrificed to protect city tax revenues or the jobs of a few hundred workers most of whom live elsewhere.  Please join us in this struggle!

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