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This is the truth about Brisbane.

In the battle for local control, a cornerstone of our democracy, Brisbane CA, is a developing "case history" that demonstrates the fragility of our democracy.  It foretells of the consequences of state overreach and perils of the "build at any cost" short term thinking, fueled by moneyed special interests.  What happened and continues to unfold in Brisbane, could happen to towns and cities across California.


The small town of Brisbane, population 4,000+, became a symbolic root cause of the housing shortage in California. A developer spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a media and legislative lobbying campaign to vilify the people of Brisbane as one dimensional Nimbies and influenced politicians to clamor for doubling or tripling Brisbane's housing. The developer convinced a handful of state legislators, led by Jerry Hill, to threaten Brisbane with legislation that hijacked the City's review process of a development application. The Brisbane City Council surrendered to Senator Jerry Hill's demands that Brisbane change our General plan and allow 2200 houses to be built on the highly toxic Baylands.  Three of our 5 City Council members had promised voters, when they ran for office, "NO housing on the Baylands for safety reasons."

The Brisbane City Council put Measure JJ on the ballot for the November 2018 election. Most of the Brisbane City Council actively campaigned for Measure JJ with promises of protecting the safety, values, and character of the Brisbane community.  Measure JJ, passed by a narrow margin, will double or triple the population of Brisbane, bring over 17,000 workers and add 34,000 car trips per day, creating gridlock.  There is no additional public transit funding to help ease the car trips.  Caltrain is at capacity.  Building 10 million square feet will forever change Brisbane into another overcrowded Bay Area metropolis.  However, the real victims of this developing story will be the future community of Brisbane and their neighbors in Visitation Valley; people who will have the misfortune of living on or near the Baylands. 


It is critical to understand the significance of the land where this development will be built. Brisbane clearly spoke in 1994 when the people voted to ban housing on the Baylands for safety reasons. The truth about this land has been lost in the noise of the housing debate.  Brisbane is not against housing or growth.  In fact, in 2017, Brisbane  approved a 12%+ increase in new housing development. Here's the truth: while the Baylands should  be developed, the risks to health and human safety are too high to make it a place that families call home. Here's what the developer neglected to mention:

The complex area known as the Baylands was originally the San Francisco Bay. The railroad (now Caltrain) was built in 1905 through the bay.

A large portion of land west of the tracks was partially filled in when San Francisco dumped the rubble from the 1906 earthquake.  All of the fill east of the tracks to 101 freeway was an unregulated dump where San Francisco's garbage filled in the bay from the 1920s until 1967. See it here.

A major part of the Baylands was home to the Southern Pacific heavy rail maintenance yard, where the EPA found such high levels of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals that they insisted the site be fenced in to keep people out.

This land was also home to Stauffer Chemical, a third former Superfund site on the Baylands. Not one of these three former Superfund sites has been cleaned up. It's a liquefaction zone, more fragile than the SF Marina neighborhood, where many houses collapsed during the 1989 earthquake, and it's near the active San Andreas and Hayward faults.  That's just the start of what we know. 

Driving through this partially vacant land, you can't see what is underneath the hood.  If you looked,  you might be able to literally kick the tires! Unless you've done your research, you might wonder, "Why is Brisbane so uneasy about using this land to help solve the housing crisis?" You might believe the wrong story.


Stay tuned to blog post updates on what happens to this community.  Brisbane is the quintessential canary in the coal mine. 

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