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South S.F. plan to redevelop Oyster Point questioned

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Flooding at Oyster Point Marina during a king tide event in 2015. (Courtesy Sabrina Brennan)
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San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan recently fired a shot across South San Francisco’s bow in the form of an essay questioning the city’s plan to redevelop Oyster Point.

Posted on the “Everything South City” news blog, Brennan’s opinion piece warns of Oyster Point’s vulnerability to flooding and sea-level rise.

Because the 57-acre landfill site sits on waste disposed of during an era of lax containment regulations, Brennan claims potential environmental and safety hazards could make it an inappropriate location for the commercial development city officials envision.

“Where is the wisdom in developing such a risky site?” Brennan asks.

South San Francisco City Manager Mike Futrell called Brennan’s allegations “inflammatory,” noting the Oyster Point landfill site is subject to close monitoring and regulation by multiple agencies that have repeatedly given it a clean bill of health.

The harbor district’s own commissioners previously vetted and approved an agreement to develop the site, Futrell added.

Oyster Point is close to Genentech’s Gateway Boulevard campus and about six miles north of the San Francisco International Airport. The area is home to one of the two marinas under the San Mateo County Harbor District’s purview, and serves as a terminal for the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority commuter ferry.

Oyster Point also boasts a 30-room boutique hotel and restaurant, yacht club, office space, and public park.

The site is owned by South San Francisco, and has been managed by the harbor district since 1976, under a joint powers agreement expiring in 2026.

A county civil grand jury in 2014 recommended dissolving the harbor district, citing what it called institutional dysfunction. This year, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) seconded that recommendation.

Brennan has fought to bring greater transparency and efficiency to the district’s operations, and made some enemies along the way.

But the specter of possible closure has prompted discussions about whether South San Francisco should seek to end its management agreement with the district and assume direct control over Oyster Point’s operations.

The area was originally swampy marshlands. Now-obsolete waste management policies contributed to its current form. Beginning in 1956, a local scavenger company began burning municipal garbage on the site.

Tightening environmental laws soon ended the trash burning, and the submerged lands east of the original Oyster Point were used as garbage dumps until 1970.

The landfill’s growth eventually moved the shoreline 3,000 feet east of its original boundary. And while the trash was capped before land was built on top of it, Brennan said environmental standards of the day did not require barriers underneath the waste heaps or on their sides.

Although it would be illegal to build on the site without first removing the trash underneath a development’s future footprint, Brennan claims the possibility of lateral movement could enable buried waste to enter the Bay, and she believes pockets of methane gas could also pose a safety hazard.

Brennan noted parts of Oyster Point, including the marina, were flooded during a Nov. 25 king tide event, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has informed city officials they must provide short and long-term flood mitigation strategies.

Futrell rejected the idea Oyster Point poses a pollution or safety risk, noting its ground water and air quality are constantly monitored.

“If anything were leeching into the site, we would know it,” Futrell said.

“This is a beautiful 57-acre site, much of it green space that will remain green space even after any development,” the city manager added, “No one in their right mind could characterize it as any kind of a toxic hazard.”

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