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If you use the interactive map linked in our story this week to find out where contaminated properties are in your neighborhood, you might notice something unusual.
As noted in the story, contaminated properties, or brownfields, show up in regulatory agencies’ records once they’ve been assessed for cleanup. And that most often happens when someone is interested in developing a property and is researching what cleanup is required.
That’s a main reason you’ll notice a huge difference in the number of contaminated sites if you’re comparing downtown San Diego to southeastern San Diego, the focus of my story.
The rush to redevelop downtown during the last decade uncovered parcel after parcel of contaminated land stemming from downtown’s industrial past. Developers had to report that contamination to local and state regulatory agencies, and then clean it up before they could move forward with construction.
By contrast, areas like southeastern San Diego’s Diamond neighborhoods have had a hard time attracting investors to redevelop there. The neighborhoods tend to be lower income, making developers more reluctant to invest in projects because they fear they might not succeed.
Residents of those formerly industrial neighborhoods can point to one parcel after another and remember what used to be there — a trucking company, a factory for airplane parts, an auto repair yard, a gas station — all businesses that could have left pollution behind.
Yet many of those properties won’t show up on the brownfield maps maintained by the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control or Water Resources Control Board. There are fewer reported contamination sites because a lot of land has sat undisturbed ever since the industrial businesses once based there closed down or moved away.
That uncertainty — about which sites are actually contaminated and which ones aren’t — is a complicating factor in redevelopment. Brownfields aren’t necessarily contaminated properties. They can also be clean properties that developers just suspect are contaminated and are therefore hesitant to redevelop. In communities like parts of southeastern San Diego, where they’re already hesitant, that creates even higher barriers to redevelopment.
And it means residents of those communities have less information about which sites in their neighborhoods are polluted.