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Treasure Island: San Franciscos answer to Atlantis
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San Francisco - some pessimists contend - is a city waiting to die.
They base that on the hard-to-ignore fact that roughly a third of San Francisco Bay has been filled in to create more space for development since the heady days of the 1849 Gold Rush.
Much of this landfill is susceptible to violent movements during severe earthquakes.
One would think The City would employ some caution when considering building on more fill land today especially following Japan’s 8.9 quakes this year that was roughly 30 times more powerful than the Great Quake of 1906.
That, however, is not the case.
San Francisco is seriously considering allowing a $1.5 billion development on Treasure Island that was filled in for the 1939 World’s Fair in the middle of the Bay and attached to Yerba Buena Island. Most of its 403 acres is essentially sand placed there in 1937 on top of rock formations. Some seismologists have warned that the sand could turn to jelly in a major quake and cause massive damages and loss of life.
The plan calls for numerous highrises to house 19,000 people plus a 450-foot-high transit and retail center.
California is a young state from a geologic perspective given we have two active volcanoes, underground volcanic activity in the Mammoth Lakes region and plenty of plate movements.
Quakes are a way of life in California. Dozens occur each week that we don’t even feel.
Backers of the project have argued it is a classic infill development. Nothing is farther from the truth. Treasure Island is not undeveloped land surrounded by urbanization. It is surrounded by water.
It also has another little tricky problem - two exits and two access points to a community of 19,000 people off one of the world’s busiest crossings - the Bay Bridge.
Anywhere else in California Caltrans would put its foot down and say “no way” out of the gate. Caltrans controls Interstate 80 and not the City of San Francisco. If Lathrop wanted to develop an 8,000-home community with plans for only one two on-ramps and two off-ramps to serve all residents right on top of a major freeway, there would have been hell to pay.
The developers had to come up with alternative ways to move traffic which they did by committing themselves to build an expressway through River Islands at Lathrop.
Flooding was a big issue in Lathrop for River Islands. It couldn’t proceed until it was taken out of the 100-year-flood zone.
Cambay Group - River Islands at Lathrop’s developers - did just that.
One might argue that Treasure Island isn’t in a flood zone but it really is. The 1906 quake triggered a tsunami within San Francisco Bay that damaged development near the water’s edge in Berkeley. How destructive would a quake 30 times more powerful be on Treasure Island development?
Massive damage on Treasure Island would require federal and state financial assistance.
This is why developing Treasure Island with the capability of housing 19,000 people is not a local issue for San Francisco.
The California Legislature was correct when they prohibited urbanization in 100-year floodplains without significant re-enforcement of levees - or the creation of levees - to protect against flooding.
It is what prompted the developers of River Islands at Lathrop to invest well over $70 million to create what has been called “super levees” to raise their 10,800-home project out of the 200-year flood plain.
The state needs to make it clear now through legislation as they have already done with flood plains that they will not foot the bill for infrastructure and other repairs should a calamity strike Treasure Island.
It is also interesting that the state goes nutso in protecting the California coast, Lake Tahoe, and the Delta with strict oversight bodies but hasn’t done the same for the San Francisco Bay.
A true regional state-formed San Francisco Bay board would have required so many permits that nothing would happen on Treasure Island.
Whether that would be right or wrong is beside the point. The real issue is why does San Francisco get special treatment and exemption from basic environmental concerns when it has a history of foisting its strict environmental values on the rest of the state.
It might be apropos if Treasure Island gets a casino in the mix. Atlantis would be the perfect casino for what one can argue is a star-crossed endeavor given what Treasure Island is built on.