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Treasure Island Redevelopment


Island of Sand: The History of Treasure Island

The Redevelopment Plan

Criticism and Conclusion

References & Resources

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Ecotopia, or Sunken Treasure?

The city’s environmental, political, and media establishment has by and large lined up behind a vision of Treasure Island as a 21st century ecotopia. But critics say the Treasure Island redevelopment is doomed, mainly because government agencies have not accurately taken into account the potential costs of environmental risks. Below, some of the critics, and their views on the science and policy behind Treasure Island.

Tony Hall

Tony Hall has been the most vociferous opponent of the island plan. The former manager of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority, Hall was pushed out by mayor Gavin Newsom under uncertain circumstances. While Newsom said Hall had mismanaged Treasure Island, Hall claims it was because he had found evidence that the redevelopment plan was actually a sweetheart deal with local developers. In articles for neighborhood newspapers, Hall has laid out issues that he says causes the numbers in the plan to “not pencil out.” One of the principles issues is he says the Navy, which, according to the deal with the city, is on the hook for environmental remediation, will only clean up to federal standards, leaving government to pay for more strict state and local standards. Hall says this will add “hundreds of millions of costs to SF taxpayers.” Hall also writes that seismic stablization of the island fill will cost tens of millions more than currently projected. Hall writes, “What interest would the mayor’s office have in promoting this Treasure Island scheme? The answer is simple: smoke and mirrors. A quick-fix poster board attempt to polish his image. It looks good. That is, before actual analysis.” According to Hall, the redevelopment is a mere political ploy, and city officials are colluding with developers to create a development that will not work because science shows that it cannot pan out.

Eric Brooks

Another critic, Eric Brooks, of the local chapter of the Green Party, appeared on a local public affairs call-in show to critique the development plan, saying he is, “really worried that we’re foolishly allowing real estate profit motives to drive this process because we’re in such a bad economy.” In addition to echoing Hall’s accusation of corruption, he says the city has not done to address the two primary environmental risks, environmental contamination and sea-level rise. “Because these areas were owned by the Navy, they’ve all still got toxic and radiological materials in them,” Brooks says. You can never get rid of all that stuff.” Brooks finds the contamination especially disturbing given that there are plans to farm on the island. In addition, he says that the plan does not allow for enough mitigation of sea-level rise. He says that unprecedented amounts of sea-level rise are possible, and that the trend with climate models has been one of worsening warming, which will make other factors worse, such as seismic stability and environmental contamination. Using James Hansen's (whom he calls, “the climate scientist who gives us the best information about sea level rise.”) prediction of a 5-meter sea level rise , he argues that the development should not be built at all, and that Treasure Island should instead be entirely restored to wetlands. Brooks expresses doubt in the government’s view of science, and instead advances his own, more skeptical view, picking experts such as Hansen, and expressing doubt in the possibility of any environmental cleanup.


Despite the presence of an adaptive management plan, the fact that Treasure Island is just as low-lying as other vast tracts of the Bay Area which were also built atop fill, and notes about plans to mitigate against sea-level rise in the local media, a substantial portion of citizens in the media are doubtful that the project mitigates against sea-level rise enough. Although Treasure Island is just as flat as many other developments built on fill (see Figure 4a), it is so overtly man-made and flat that people sea-level rise provides a rationale for citizens who often reflexively oppose growth. All in all, Treasure Island serves as an example of how debates become  However, I believe Treasure Island is precisely the type of ambitious development societies must do to counteract climate change and sprawl. Without more developments like it around the world, much other land will also be underwater.



Figure 4a: This map from the Pacific Division of the AAAS shows that many low-lying areas of Northern California are at risk of submersion in the case of a 1.4 meter sea level rise.

Last updated:  5/7/2010


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