By Tobin Jones
Plans to relocate the Aircraft Maintenance Technology (AMT) Program from the City College of San Francisco’s Airport campus to the college’s Evans Center have continued to face opposition from some faculty and community members, despite the postponement of the move.
College administration officials had hoped last month’s announcement that the plan was to be put on hold, coupled with a series of town hall meetings held by Interim Chancellor Vurdien to solicit faculty and community input on the project, would help to defuse tension around the issue. However, opponents of the relocation have remained steadfast in their resistance to the relocation proposal, citing concerns that included: pollution and environmental degradation, the displacement of existing Evans Center programs, the possibility that the move could jeopardize the maintenance program’s accreditation, and potential noise issues. The town halls, which have been held every Wednesday since the beginning of November, have seen City College officials take a diplomatic and sometimes defensive tone in addressing criticism, which ranged from merely concerned to upset and angry.
Interim Chancellor Vurdien, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Tom Boegel and Evans Center Dean Torrance Bynum have insisted that they did everything possible to obtain another site at the Airport Campus after City College’s decades-long, a dollar-a-year lease expires at the end of December. But critics charge that City College has been insufficiently proactive in lobbying San Francisco International Airport officials to that end. At a time when COVID-19 has decimated the air travel industry worldwide, SFO, they believe, would likely be amenable to leasing space to City College.
Frustrated with what they saw as City College’s reluctance to fully consider this possibility, a group of faculty attended the public comment segment of the San Francisco Airport Commission’s weekly meeting to inquire about the possibility of leasing a site on airport property. The fact that teachers and activists felt the need to appeal to an outside body showcases the lack of confidence in City College’s handling of the process felt by some teachers and community members.
“(The Chancellor’s town hall meetings) have been a lot of people saying the same thing: Why are you not asking the airport? Why have you stopped asking for space? It’s like you’ve given up on it,” said Stephen Brady, who heads the motorcycle repair program at Evans Campus. “If you’re not going to ask then what chance do you have?”
Neighbors Weigh In
At the very first Evans Campus town hall meeting on Nov. 4, criticisms were made concerning insufficient outreach to ensure the inclusion of Bayview residents in the decision-making process.
“Are there going to be more ongoing discussions with the community? Because having one random discussion, without any notice given to the public is not going to be sufficient,” said Alyssa Jones-Garner, a Bayview resident and City College alum who previously served as a member of the Associated Student Council. “What is going to be your level of engagement with the Bayview community going forward? Because this is not enough coming in and saying what you’re going to do to directly impact my community is not enough. And it’s quite disrespectful.”
In that same meeting, Dean Bynum and Interim Chancellor Vurdien assured meeting attendees that the college planned on including community members in all future discussions about plans to move the program.
The Guardsman spoke to residents of the blocks immediately surrounding the Evans Center campus on Dec. 5, 2020. Of these roughly dozen neighbors we asked, none had any knowledge of the proposed relocation, or Chancellor Vurdien’s town hall meetings.
“I find it interesting that I don’t know anything about it, because I try to actually know what’s going on in the neighborhood … I try to stay up on what’s happening,” said Jennifer Lake, who lives near the campus. “It would be easy enough to just put up fliers saying, ‘Hey, this is happening.’”
Lara P.A., who has lived in the area since she was a child, was also unaware of the possible arrival of the program. She described her mother, Vera, as being heavily involved in neighborhood issues, and said that if even she had not been informed about the move, that the college “needed to do a better job.” She said she approved of the idea of town hall meetings to discuss the issue but was skeptical that the college would change course, regardless of community input. “I think that it’s great that they’re taking input from the neighborhood, but if they’re not actually investigating or considering any other alternatives for where to put this, then I feel like it’s just a bit of ethics-washing to say that they listen to the neighborhood but then not actually change any of the decisions that they’ve pre-made,” she said.
Concern Over Toxins, Pollution
The Evans Campus is situated in the city’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. A traditionally Black and working-class community, it has a long history of being used as a dumping ground for the city’s most toxic industries, such as coal and oil-fired power plants, San Francisco’s largest wastewater facility, and most famously the Hunter’s Point Shipyard. As a result, the area suffers from some of the highest rates of environmentally-related ailments, such as asthma and cancer, in the city.
A petition circulated by City College Faculty Union AFT 2121 claims that the presence of the AMT program in a partially residential area would bring “noise, air, and potential water pollution” and cause “adverse noise, environmental, and health effects.”
City College has not yet released a list of chemicals that will be used in AMT courses. Toby Lee, the college’s Lead Project Manager for Evans, said on Nov. 4 that he was in the process of compiling one to be sent to the Department of Public Health, which would also be posted publicly on the Evans Center website. As of publication, the college had not yet responded to a Guardsman request for any records relating to the program’s potential environmental impact, nor has any information been posted online.
Neighbors who spoke to The Guardsman expressed trepidation that the Aircraft Maintenance Technology Program, which allegedly involves the use of leaded fuel as well as other toxic chemicals, could be yet another example of an undesirable health hazard imposed on a neighborhood with little political or economic clout.
“I’m not that surprised that they would put it in this neighborhood,” said P.A. She called the discussion around the move, which has so far come with little input from community members, “part of a pattern of blatant disrespect from both the city and private business,” toward the area.
One longtime resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardsman that decades of mistreatment and environmental racism have left many in the community inured to it. “They been contaminating this area forever,” he said. “So, whoever it is who’s complaining about it is some new people, not the people who have already been here. They’re immune to it.”