Two experts in air quality testified before U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in the latest round of litigation over the city of Sausalito’s attempt to close the homeless encampment at Dunphy Park and move the campers to Marinship Park.

Dunphy Park contains 160,000 square feet of recreational space adjoining Richardson Bay in Sausalito. The encampment is located primarily on Humboldt Avenue, east of the park, just north of 300 Locust St.

Marinship Park is located about a half a mile away, close to the water but not on the shoreline. A “boat crushing” operation — where derelict boats are destroyed — is located adjacent to the area where the homeless would be camping.

On March 1, after a homeless advocacy organization and others sued the city, the judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the city from relocating the unhoused campers to Marinship Park, in part because of concern about air contamination from the boat crushing operation.

However, when the injunction was entered the judge said the city could come back to court if it were able to show the Marinship Park destination was safe.

The city took the court up on that invitation, and on April 9 filed a motion to modify the injunction.

At the hearing, Monte Deignan, an environmental consultant engaged by the city, testified concerning air quality tests he conducted at the park on March 11.

Deignan performed the testing over a couple hour period while a fiberglass boat was being crushed in the boatyard. He placed sensors at two locations within the park to collect and measure any fibers released into the air.

According to Deignan, his testing showed concentrations of airborne fiberglass well below levels considered dangerous.

Air quality test disputed

Anthony Prince, counsel for the plaintiffs, challenged the reliability of the testing on grounds that it was done under conditions not fairly representative of conditions in the park at other times.

Among the key issues was the humidity in the air during the time of measurement. Humid air arguably limits dispersal of airborne fibers.

Prince brought out that there had been a passing storm earlier that day and there was standing water in the park before the testing.

Prince’s expert, Robin Ray, criticized Deignan’s testing protocol. She thought the direction and height of the sensors used to collect fibers was inadequate. Most important, in her opinion, was the fact that there were damp conditions at the site and that made testing at that time inappropriate.

Alex Merritt, counsel for the city, challenged Ray’s credentials, pointing out that her primary work experience is in a lab not in the field. He also pointed out that Ray’s testimony was only criticism of Deignan’s work. She did not herself perform any testing at the site.

Judge Chen actively participated in questioning of the witnesses and at the close of the hearing took the matter under advisement.

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at [email protected].