San Francisco's housing shortage is so bad that an $9.8 billion development is rising on a former nuclear test site -- here's what it's like

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The San Francisco Naval Shipyard was once home to a nuclear testing site where scientists ran tests on ships exposed to atomic weapons. Now, many San Franciscans call it home.

Developer Five Point, a spinoff of Lennar (the nation’s largest housing builder), has set out to transform the abandoned San Francisco Naval Shipyard into a vibrant live-work community with 12,000 new homes and roughly 5 million square feet of office and commercial space.

But its future is uncertain amid new allegations of a botched cleanup.

The US Navy has learned that Tetra Tech, a government contractor tasked with the cleanup and testing of radioactive contamination at the shipyard, faked more soil tests than previously thought, to speed along the city’s largest redevelopment project. Workers swapped samples from areas known to be highly contaminated with dirt from areas known to be clean.

According to investigations by Curbed SF and NBC Bay Area, almost half of the toxic waste-site cleanup was “suspect” or has “evidence of potential data manipulation or falsification.”

Five Point has sold about 300 townhouses and condominiums and plans to build 11,000 more units at the (rebranded) San Francisco Shipyard. The Navy has said that residents who already live there are “100 per cent safe.” The existing housing is located on land that was used for military housing and non-industrial activities, a representative with Five Point confirmed.

Business Insider recently explored the ruins at the San Francisco Shipyard. Take a look.


After the shipyard closed, in 1994, the site was left abandoned for 19 years.

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Buildings that once contained barracks, schools, a cafeteria, and other non-industrial facilities were emptied and left to rot. Paint now chips away like fingernail polish.

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Source: US Environmental Protection Agency


There are few reminders of what was there before, save for some signage and furniture.

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Most doors have been chained closed.

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Sunlight streams through broken windows.

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Hunters Point was a private commercial shipyard from 1869 until the start of World War II, when the Navy bought the property. The military repaired ships and submarines there.

Wikimedia CommonsSailors aboard the USS President Hayes at Hunters Point in 1945.

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency


From 1948 to 1969, it hosted a then-secret laboratory that ran tests on ships exposed to nuclear weapons and researched the effects of radiation on animals.

Wikimedia CommonsBattleship USS Iowa docks at Hunters Point in 1945.

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency,

SF Weekly


James Delgado, an archaeologist who led expeditions around Hunters Point, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was all part of the Navy learning how to deal with the bomb.”

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“They would train sailors in going through the ship, simulating going through their own ship after a radioactive attack to detect radiation or to practice cleaning it,” Delgado said in 2015.


At its peak, the secretive Naval Radiation Defence Laboratory employed about 100 military and 600 civilian personnel. Some of the workers didn’t know what the lab did.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle


Janice M. Gale worked in the lab’s library in 1948. “I had no idea there were any hazards that had anything to do with bombs. ‘Radiological’ to me when I was 22 seemed to have a lot more to do with radio than radiation,” Gale told the Chronicle in 2015.

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Gale, now in her 70s, continued: “They’d say, ‘Oh, we had a spill today.’ I didn’t know what a spill was. Had we had health and safety measures, that would have clued me in.”


At least one ship that was used as a toxic-waste dump and a test lab for decontamination studies was weighed down and sunk off the coast of San Francisco in the 1950s.

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Source: SF Weekly


Other military equipment that was contaminated by atomic bomb explosions was left at Hunters Point. Petroleum fuels, pesticides, and heavy metals seeped into the soil.

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Source: US Environmental Protection Agency


After the shipyard closed, it was declared a “superfund” site — a toxic-waste site designation that allows the US Environmental Protection Agency to force parties responsible to perform cleanups or reimburse the government to do the work.

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Source: US Environmental Protection Agency


That burden fell on the Navy, which outsourced the work of decontamination and testing to Tetra Tech. Several investigations into the nature of those efforts have led to scandals.

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A 2000 investigation by SF Weekly found “troubling evidence” that the Navy mishandled radioactive waste. Huge amounts of contaminated sand were reportedly dumped into the Bay. The Navy also allegedly sprinkled radioactive material on the base to practice cleanup.

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Source: SF Weekly


In 2017, several former employees of Tetra Tech admitted to faking soil tests by swapping samples from areas known to be highly contaminated with dirt from cleaner spots.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle


Last fall, the Navy hired third-party contractors to conduct a review of Tetra Tech’s data. They found that the cleanup was more questionable than previously thought.

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A series of draft reports that those contractors presented to the Navy (and which Curbed SF reviewed via a public records request) showed that 853 “units” of land at the shipyard were tested. Of them, 414 were identified as falsified or suspect, representing 48% of total units.

The reports, which have not been publicly released, recommend retesting those 414 units. It could delay the project by many years.


But Five Point isn’t waiting for the cleanup to finish before building in the area. Construction is underway on the parcels that have passed inspection, and about 300 homes have sold.

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About 90 acres of the 500 total acres at Hunters Point have been cleaned up by the Navy, passed inspections by the EPA, and sold from the Navy to the developer, Five Point.


The shipyard is one of the most ambitious real-estate developments that San Francisco has ever seen. The project is expected to cost $A9.88 billion, and it will finish in the early 2030s.

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The project, which includes the shipyard and the neighbouring Candlestick area, will eventually cover nearly 800 acres and span about two miles at its widest points.

Lennar Corp. and Five PointAn artistic rendering shows the possible future of the San Francisco Shipyard.

Five Point wants to squeeze an entire shopping district into the plan. The retail corridor will have a movie theatre, a supermarket, and nearly 1 million square feet of retail space.


The area where the condos are was never used for industrial purposes by the Navy.

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The dock is the future site of a waterfront promenade, where residents will someday enjoy live music, catch a water taxi to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, or just take in the views.

Lennar Corp. and Five PointAn artistic rendering shows the possible future of the San Francisco Shipyard.

The development plan gives a nod to the trendy “agrihood” — or agricultural neighbourhood. Its 350 acres of green space will include a grasslands ecology park, trails, and sports fields.

Lennar Corp. and Five PointAn artistic rendering shows the possible future of the San Francisco Shipyard.

Learn more about how rich millennials are shunning the golf communities of their parents for elite new “agrihoods.”


Some buildings will be scrapped, while others will be restored to their industrial glory.

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At Building 411, welders and boilermakers once sweat the day away in a machine shop.


Today, crows have laid claim to the building’s interiors.

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Architect David Adjaye, who oversees the redesign of the shipyard, has said he wants to leave the ironwork exposed behind glass. The building will become office space.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle


“This isn’t about the Disney-fication of industry,” Adjaye told the Chronicle. “Buildings should look the way they do because of how they are structured and how they perform.”

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle


But any reminders of nuclear war and its dark aftermath will be erased.

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