Remind Me Why Big Corporations Are Bad for People…Part 1

Despite a virtual media “blackout” on the issue, it is no secret that corporate interests have for the past thirty years been like a cancer on the body politic, undermining families, communities, and ultimately, American democracy, all in the name of huge profits. However, if you still don’t understand exactly why, consider the case of Florida-based Lennar, Inc., and the City of San Francisco. During World War II and the Cold War that followed, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to numerous U.S. Naval Bases.

As those bases closed down following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those bases either stood deserted, or became homes for low-income renters in one of the most expensive areas in the country. Never one to pass up the opportunity for the quick profits at the expense of the community, Lennar began grabbing these abandoned bases right and left, starting in 1997. Today, thanks to greased palms and the help and support of former mayor Willie Brown and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, and against strong recommendations by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, Lennar, a corporation headquartered on the other side of the country, now controls nearly all the undeveloped property along the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Given the history of corporate behavior in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that exposure to toxic materials, including asbestos, should have occurred. Furthermore, it should not be surprising that “whistle-blowers” would suffer retaliation. To be fair, Lennar did invest $75 million in small business development, job training and community programs for Southeast San Francisco residents, which represented a minuscule fraction (less than 0.5%) of its corporate revenue in 2006 of $16.3 billion. To put this in perspective, imagine that you have $150 in your pocket, and give 69 cents of it to a homeless person. It comes out about the same. Nonetheless, in its ongoing focus on externalizing profits and internalized costs, Lennar was careless when hiring a subcontractor for its Hunters Point development project. The subcontractor, working on premises of the old Naval Shipyard next to a private school, did not take the trouble to monitor and control asbestos dust raised by construction activities. To be continued…