U.N. Green Think Tank in SF?

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 5:50 PM EDT

San Francisco's famously beleaguered Hunters Point neighborhood is set to become the new home for a $20 million U.N. green technology think tank, Mayor Gavin Newsom's office announced today:

The proposed center would be part of the United Nations "Global Compact" and would be focused on promoting sustainable and clean technologies. A UN Global Compact Center would likely include a clean tech business incubator, offices of the UN Global Compact, and a retreat / conference center to facilitate the exchange of sustainability best practices and other innovations related to combating global warming.

Besides the obvious global merits of a world-class green think tank, there are local advantages as well, namely, much needed jobs in a poor section of town. But some neighborhood advocates are worried that if the city rushes to finish this ambitious 80,000-square-foot project by its 2012 target date, the neighborhood, which has been designated a Superfund site and holds a third of San Francisco's toxic waste sites, won't get the clean-up it's been promised:

Malik Looper, executive director of the Hunters Point nonprofit Literacy for Environmental Justice that works with neighborhood youth, said the U.N. center sounds like a fine idea, but he's more concerned that the land it's built on be thoroughly cleaned first. The Navy has said it will cap some parts of the land rather than fully excavate the toxics, which Looper said may be insufficient.

"The big issue in my mind is resolving the matter around what standards will be adhered to in terms of the cleanup, and until that matter is resolved, it's hard for me to be excited about a press release about a potential partnership," he said.

Another hurdle is the $20 million price tag. According to the S.F. Chronicle, Lennar Corp., the developer that is currently working on the Hunters Point revitalization efforts, will provide infrastructure and land, but the city will have to come up with the rest of the money on its own. Commenters over at S.F. Gate are already skeptical. One says, "$20 mil. to get it started, how much more to keep it running? This venture has fraud, abuse, and "gettin' over" written all over it." Given the 49ers stadium mess, the eyebrow raising is understandable.

There's no doubt that this is an exciting and potentially really cool project. The question going forward: Will the city be able to spin this project right, garner public support, and secure funding, and keep its promise to clean up the toxic waste?

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