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In The News

Brisbane Baylands plans moving forward

By John Horgan

San Mateo County Times, 4/1/10

For those who recall its previous incarnation as Visitacion City, essentially a small adjunct to the southern edge of San Francisco, Brisbane has come a long way.

The North County village, tucked between San Bruno Mountain and a lagoon fed by San Francisco Bay, now embraces nearly 4,000 souls and will turn 50 next year.

Brisbane was incorporated as an official San Mateo County town in 1961. The origins of its name remain murky. Does it refer to noted journalist Arthur Brisbane or the bustling Australian city? The answer is not at all clear.

No matter. The Peninsula's own Brisbane stands on its own. As the town approaches its half-century milestone, Brisbane's officials and citizenry are facing the challenge of dealing with hundreds of acres of former Southern Pacific Railroad freight yards and unpleasant landfill. There have been plenty of visionary proposals for developing the vacant Baylands. The city has been considering options for the 660 acres that lie to the east of the present hamlet. Universal Paragon Corporation is in the process of negotiating with Brisbane officials on details.

There are preliminary plans to create a mixed bag of commercial and residential development that could include a sports arena (perhaps), hotel, athletic fields, office buildings and other amenities. How much of the land would remain as open space is in question.

The property, in some ways, is an enticing North County version of the Cargill Saltworks acreage in Redwood City. One significant difference, though, is the size factor. The Baylands are about half as big as the salt flats. The history and geography of the Baylands, west of Highway 101, make it harder to argue that it ought to be returned to some sort of natural state. Cargill and advocates of development there are faced with fierce resistance on that score.

Both huge parcels have a long history of industrial use, no matter how one cares to parse the past. That's a big deal in the Redwood City case.
Opponents of the Cargill plan assert that the Saltworks location is really an artificial, diked concoction that is wrongly designated as an industrial site. They believe the acreage should be described as wetlands. That dispute is ongoing and quite contentious.

If you asked us to place a bet on which vacant Peninsula site will wind up being built upon first, we'd lean toward Brisbane. Things are much further along there.

And once that occurs, it's entirely likely that, sometime in the future, there could be far more people in "Brisbane II" than in the original on any given day. That, of course, gives many in Brisbane considerable pause.

Cleanup ahead

As you might imagine, there are problems associated with anything that might change this bleak landscape. Not the least of these are looming pollution cleanup requirements. So are other environmental and open space concerns. But they don't seem to be nearly as tough as those facing Redwood City and Cargill right now. As it stands, the Baylands area is far from attractive. But it has the potential to become a financial boon for Brisbane, assuming any development is done carefully and well.

Not so pacific

We've always felt that here in San Mateo County, the vast ocean on our western border is misnamed. The Pacific is far from pacific. In fact, the surf in these coastal parts is usually anything but.

Recent watery deaths bear out that contention. The geology along our shores and out to sea, combined with the weather, tend to create dangerous conditions for the inexperienced.

It's no wonder that an international big-wave surfing contest is held at Mavericks off Pillar Point. There, 40-foot waves are not uncommon. So be wary along the shore, friends.


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