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The San Francisco Shipyard: Who gets the jobs?

Freddy Carter is working on block 51. This is one of the first buildings in the reinvention of the historic Hunters Point Shipyard that will come on the market.

"Right now we are putting all of the foundations, and all the columns, and all of the base foundations, and then we will begin to do the exterior walls of the perimeter of the building," Carter says.

Carter is overseeing construction.

"I’m hired by Roberts-Obayashi, and Roberts-Obayashi has been hired by Lennar," he says.

Lennar is the development company building 12,000 housing units in a multi-billion dollar project here in the Bayview. It's Carter's home district. And according to the Community Benefit Agreement signed by Lennar and the city, people who live in zip code 92124, like Carter, get first dibs on the redevelopment jobs. According to the CBA, 50% of the employees should be from San Francisco.

"So every one person from the company you hire, you hire one neighborhood resident," says Melinda Gelrosa, a carpenter who is also from the neighborhood. She says she's paid well. "I’m excited cause I’m working!" 

Lennar Urban executive vice president Danny Cooke says, "Everybody has to price the same labor rates through the union. And, obviously, there's the expectation of top quality construction as a consequence of using union labor,"

To help meet a contract with the city to hire local, unionized workers, Lennar is paying nearly nine million dollars to a workforce development fund. That’s very important in an economically depressed part of the city like Bayview Hunters Point.

A brief economic history of Bayview Hunters Point

"I think that for years this community was ignored, for a number of reasons,"  says Shaman Walter, executive director of Young Community Developers. "We ended up being isolated, disenfranchised, and missing out on the economic growth."

That's much different from how it used to be. Beginning in the 1940s, the Naval shipyard at Bayview Hunters Point was the destination of a huge migration. Many were African-Americans from the South who came for the plentiful work opportunities on the San Francisco waterfront.

But when the shipyard closed down in 1974, thousands lost their jobs. The crack epidemic followed, as did gang activity. The neighborhood became dangerous and depressed.

Today, Bayview Hunters Point has the highest level of unemployment of any district in San Francisco. Since 2000, the rate has mostly fluctuated between 14 and 22 percent. Walter says after the shipyard shut down, the community has suffered from lack of investment. Even in fundamentals like grocery stores and good schools.

"That plays a role into everything," Walter says.

And that’s why Lennar’s investment means so much to him. Young Community Developers and another construction job training program called CityBuild are both almost completely funded by the developer. Walter says it’s made some difference.

"We have placed in the past month about five individuals directly in the shipyard and actually paid their union dues, so that they can be into the union and get placed on the job site," he says.

That’s good for those five, but the numbers are a bit of a reality check. According to the city, the redevelopment project in the shipyard is predicted to create 2,000 construction jobs annually. However, records show since last July, when construction began in the shipyard, only 465 people have been working there. Less than a third of them, 155, come from San Francisco. And only 90 are from Bayview Hunters Point.

Who is the redevelopment serving?

"I’m surprised that there is even 90 jobs out there," says Saul Bloom, executive director of ARC Ecology, an economic and environmental NGO for Bayview Hunters Point. "And these jobs are temporary jobs, not full time jobs. They’re not ongoing jobs that would last for years or for decades. These are temporary construction jobs. You have them for a while and then you don’t have them."

The city controller actually has projections of what jobs will come into Bayview Hunters Point when the project is finished. There should be up to 12,000 permanent jobs across a range of incomes and occupations. More than two thirds will be “office” jobs or “R&D”. Bloom says that’s not a good fit for this community at this point.

"The problem is that there is a bunch of people that live here right now who don’t have those skills, won’t have those skills, and aren’t trainable in many respects given their age and their outlook in these areas," he says. "So are you creating the kinds of jobs that would lift the community out of poverty? Our concern is you are not."

Bloom says there’s an alternative to building housing and office parks at the old shipyard. It’s what happened in Philadelphia.

"The Philadelphia naval shipyard closed two years after the Hunters Point Naval shipyard," he says. "What they did was they found a large Scandinavian shipbuilding firm, they leased it out to the Scandinavian firm, and now they have too much work."

More than 11,000 people currently work at that former military property. As is projected in San Francisco, there are dozens of companies employing people in office and R&D work. But there is also industrial: people building tanker ships and working on maritime trades.

Bloom thinks the decisions being made at the reimagined San Francisco Shipyard suggest a much different solution.

"So the way we lift the Bayview out of poverty," he says, "is by replacing the population we have with other people."

Right now, though, it’s all speculation. There’s a lot of work left to do.

Working toward an uncertain future

Travis Black is working on a windy afternoon at the construction site where the first buildings are taking shape. He lives in Mariner’s Village – a housing project right next to the shipyard. He knows about the 50% local hire requirement, and says he thinks that’s being met. But when I ask him how many people from his community are working here he pauses.

"I don’t know," he says. "They’re not. I don’t know if they are or not. They’re using me. So I know they’re using one person."

It’s no surprise that Black’s unsure. It’s hard to tell what numbers are actually being met, even after asking the parties involved with the project. Black says his neighbors look upon all this work skeptically. They know what the community needs, he says, and they’re just hoping the final result provides it.

"I think they like it, but only if you give jobs, man," he says. "That’s all they want. They don’t want too much. They just want some jobs. They ain't got nowhere to work around here."

The city insists the shipyard will provide opportunities for everyone and that the numbers of local hires are going to increase over the next several years. Whether or not that happens, the more telling story may be who is employed there on a permanent basis.

This is the third story in a four part series exploring redevelopment in Bayview Hunter's Point. 

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