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The Canary in the Coal Mine

Updated: Mar 5, 2018

For the first time in our state’s history, state legislators are threatening to pass targeted legislation to strip a single city of its authority over its own land. This is not just a threat to the City of Brisbane. It’s a threat to every city in California. Brisbane is the canary in the coal mine.


State legislators hijacked the public review process for a proposed mixed-use development on the Brisbane Baylands. Their highly questionable rationale for taking this drastic action is the contention even little cities are responsible for the crisis in affordable housing. In fact, corporate job creations, State policies, income inequality, and builders focused on the high end of housing construction are more responsible. Small communities like Brisbane have not been responsible for any of these phenomena. In fact, Brisbane has supported a high rate of housing development. Its reluctance to move rapidly on development in the Baylands has to do with the land itself - its status as an unregulated, unremediated contaminated landfill.

However, when the Taiwanese landowner/developer decided that Brisbane wasn't moving fast enough or might not approve all the planned housing (triple the amount of the total housing units currently in Brisbane), it orchestrated a media campaign that falsely claimed that Brisbane was planning to build a huge commercial development without any housing. Legislators trying to enhance their reputations on the housing issue used the fabricated Brisbane story and crafted targeted legislation that was used to threaten the Brisbane City Council to change its General Plan, before the deliberations were complete, or be forced by this legislation to rubber stamp the developer’s project with minimal oversight.

The 660-acre “Baylands” was originally part of San Francisco Bay. Southern Pacific and San Francisco filled it in for their needs, railroad equipment maintenance and garbage dumping. Consequently, the landfill has 3 former Superfund sites that, to date, have not been remediated. Some of the many adverse environmental impacts called out in the EIR include serious health and safety risks from the highly toxic landfill, the unstable land that is a liquefaction zone between two major earthquake faults, no contracted water resources, severe traffic congestion from a lack of funding for roads or public transportation, the lack of sufficient resources to provide required public services such as fire, police and public works infrastructure and ongoing maintenance, and more.


Our neighborhoods look and feel the way they do because local leaders are empowered to make decisions that serve the best interests of the people who live there. When our right to determine our future is taken away, a core part of our democracy goes with it. Yet, there’s something more insidious at play here.

Remove all local planning controls and you open up historically low-income neighborhoods to gentrifying development at market rates. Entire communities are displaced. State legislators, beneficiaries of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers, are all too eager to repay their donors in kind.

The proposed legislation that eviscerates Brisbane’s right to self-governance is the logical endpoint of a state government committed to development at all costs. California law requires local jurisdictions to have General Plans that focus on sustainability, healthy communities, and quality of life. The proposed legislation disregards all three. Never have we seen a land grab this blatant or this bold.

What happens in Brisbane will be repeated in cities across the state. Strip our local government of its power and you’ve taken away our voice. Take the canary out of the coal mine and there’s no warning for what comes next.



Read the proposed legislation here.




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