Wednesday, March 14, 2007 | For a vacant lot wedged on the border of two cities, the chunk of land tucked near the intersection of 69th Street and Imperial Avenue has had more than its share of controversy over the last several years. As federal prosecutors investigate the history of the lot, residents fight over its future — a 78-home development was approved for the site last fall.
The land-use debate consists of the usual ingredients, disgruntled neighbors fearing a traffic invasion included. But the land designated for a new housing development holds more questions than a typical neighborhood vacant lot. Controversy has swirled over the 16-acre lot for nearly a decade, with players ranging from neighborhood folks to federal prosecutors alleging that asbestos fibers leaked into the air when underground pipes were excavated nearly seven years ago. One of the region’s largest corporations’ subsidiary has been federally indicted twice over the hullabaloo, and the controversy once constituted a mayoral candidate’s opposition to the sitting mayor.
Despite state-regulated tests labeling the lot clean and safe for redevelopment in 2004, the dust still hasn’t settled in the fight over this tract. Many of the residents in the adjacent city of San Diego neighborhood of Encanto believe asbestos still lies in the ground and floats in the air. Construction, they say, would stir that up and expose them to even more harm. They’re certain their families and neighbors will contract the lung problems associated with exposure to asbestos, which some claim they’ve sustained.
But officials in Lemon Grove, the other city on whose border the lot sits, say the state’s given the site a clean bill of health. The city recognizes the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against San Diego Gas & Electric and the individuals responsible for cleaning out underground pipes. But the feds are talking about what may have happened on the site years ago, Lemon Grove officials say, not necessarily what the site should look like now or in years to come.
Still, neighbors believe the asbestos has not been entirely eradicated, and worry new construction would send more hazardous fibers into the lungs of their kids. They wonder if such a situation would happen in a neighborhood like La Jolla.
“They think we don’t matter,” said resident April Flake, whose home abuts the site.