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OP-ED: Oyster Point’s ‘perfect storm’
January 22, 2016, 05:00 AM By Sabrina Brennan

Sabrina Brennan

Sea level rise and this year’s “Godzilla” El Niño weather pattern are coming together in a “perfect storm” this week as King Tides flood the Bay Area for a third month in a row. South San Francisco’s marina at Oyster Point will experience flooding as a consequence of landfill subsidence.

Late last year, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board sent an enforcement letter to the city of South San Francisco regarding recurrent flooding overtopping an old clay cap that covers the Oyster Point landfill. Environmental reports indicate that the cap should be replaced; as floodwater seeps through the clay, contaminants could be migrating into the Bay through poorly constructed mud berms.

In a Daily Journal article published earlier this month, South San Francisco City Manager Mike Futrell said Oyster Point has proven to be valuable and is an admirable example of how to turn an old landfill into an asset that earns the San Mateo County Harbor District $1.5 million a year. The article neglects to mention that operating costs at Oyster Point are $3.5 million annually. A $2 million annual shortfall is subsidized by countywide property tax.

Let’s take a look at why a city-owned landfill is subsidized by countywide property tax. In 1957, the city of South San Francisco discontinued open air burning of trash and established a solid waste disposal site on Bay wetlands. Consistent with landfill practices at that time, an impermeable liner was never installed at the site. Instead, waste materials were placed directly onto Bay mud. A basic principle of landfill design is to keep water out and to prevent trash and contaminants from seeping into the Bay or groundwater.

In 1962, while poorly compacted municipal and industrial waste, prone to subsidence, was being dumped on Bay wetlands, “The Industrial City” simultaneously constructed a small craft harbor along the north shore of the Oyster Point Landfill.

Around 1976, the closure of the landfill prompted South City officials to make a sweetheart deal with the Harbor District to obtain a subsidy from county taxpayers for their marina. In 1977, South City and the Harbor District entered into a Joint Powers Agreement that terminates in 2026. The JPA resulted in countywide property tax funding South City marina operations and expansion projects.

Subsidizing operations at Oyster Point has resulted in deferred maintenance at Pillar Point Harbor. Pillar Point Harbor (PPH) is one of the few commercial fishing ports in California and it’s owned and operated by the Harbor District. The Harbor Patrol provide search and rescue emergency response, tenant occupancy rates are consistently high and it’s the only harbor of refuge from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. PPH provides ocean-dependent recreation and a local source for sustainable seafood. A strong case can be made for funding PPH emergency response, repairs and improvements with tax dollars.

Is South City better equipped to staff and operate their marina; why wait 10 years for the JPA to expire? On Jan. 13, the South San Francisco City Council approved spending $25,000 on a topographical study of landfill subsidence at Oyster Point. A similar proposal was on the Jan. 20 Harbor Commission agenda. In what appears to be a goodwill gesture, Harbor District general manager Steve McGrath recommended the commission approve $25,000 for a landfill subsidence topographical study. McGrath’s staff report specifies that the money would not set a cost-sharing precedent and is not a commitment to correct landfill subsidence resulting from a pre-existing condition. The scope of the study has not been determined, however, it appears to be a first step in addressing decades of landfill subsidence. The study will need to consider current King Tide conditions and future flood conditions based on projected sea level rise and additional subsidence.

Sabrina Brennan is a member of the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Harbor District board or its staff.



Tags: harbor, landfill, south, point, subsidence, oyster,

Other stories from today:

OP-ED: Oyster Point’s ‘perfect storm’
Letter: Millbrae Station Area Plan
Letter: Save the Bridgepointe ice rink

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