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Homes Bloom from Acres of Flowers

Miraflores, a new housing development in the city of Richmond has taken root.  It’s the end of an eyesore – a 14-acre pesticide-contaminated site that’s been a blight on the community for years.

This spring, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) started a year-long cleanup project to eventually turn this dilapidated property into a multimillion-dollar residential project. By partnering with several federal, state and local agencies DTSC hopes to help revitalize this economically-depressed neighborhood.

Ironically, this sprawling derelict site was once home to a thriving and colorful business. Owned by three Japanese-American families, the property was used to grow roses, carnations and other flowers for more than 60 years.  The families probably had no idea that the pesticides used to help the flowers bloom left a toxic legacy, as they also contaminated the soil with poisonous chemicals like lead, benzene and perchloroethylene (PCE).

Despite their internment during World War II, the three families managed to keep the business growing. But eventually, the flower business closed in 2006 and the Richmond Redevelopment Agency purchased the property, hoping to turn it into housing and open space. But it needed DTSC to help make the idea a reality.

“This is a prime example of how government is reinvigorating communities and breathing new life into neighborhoods while creating homes and local green jobs,” said Stewart Black, DTSC Acting Deputy Director, Brownfields and Environmental Restoration Program. “DTSC has worked with many other agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the California Pollution Control Financing Agency, to provide resources to remove toxic chemicals from the site and create affordable housing for local families.”

Following the groundbreaking in March 2011, DTSC began supervising the task of getting rid of the site contamination.  Bulldozers knocked down the old crumbling greenhouses and other structures and specially-trained workers began removing contaminated soil. Contaminated groundwater must be cleaned up, as well.

“We’re absolutely not going to let anyone move in here until it’s safe,” said Black. When the construction of the Miraflores Housing Development is complete in 2014, more than 300 energy-efficient new homes will have been built, some of them designated affordable senior apartments. Not only will these homes help fulfill the city’s housing need; they will create approximately 300 jobs in construction.

Funding for the Miraflores public/private partnership comes from many sources, including more than $4 million from state agencies to clean up the property and plant trees and restore the creek. The U.S. EPA also gave $600,000 in Brownfields Cleanup Grants.

“Working to improve urban growth practices benefits all Californians,” said Heather Fargo, the Strategic Growth Council’s Executive Policy Officer. “Urban greening plays an important role in creating sustainable communities and helps to improve air and water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote public health.”

The Miraflores project is another classic example of DTSC’s expertise in restoring acres of contaminated land and converting it into a functional place that will benefit the local community.

For more information visit the EPA’s website.


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