Building Homes at Sea: From Dubai to San Francisco Bay to the Deep Blue Sea
Marine natural resources like other natural resources have multiple uses. Coastlines and offshore lands can be left alone, or can be developed for housing, fishing, recreation and other uses. Offshore lands can be improved for marine ecosystems by adding new artificial reefs (offshore Alabama, for example), or by restoring offshore marine habitats with oyster beds (Think Oyster Reefs for Protecting Coastlines).
Consider the image below around San Jose Airport. Over time rivers and streams have silted the bay to a shallow area now drying saltwater to salt and other uses with slim if any environmental or economic benefits.
Below from my airplane window is Newark and Fremont, just north of San Jose on the east side of the bay. Again, many square miles of coastal lands used for little, and all near the heart of Silicon Valley, where housing prices and office rents have skyrocketed. Private property in the area is sandwiched between the government-managed bay and the hills and mountains on either side of south San Francisco Bay.
Just a fifteen or twenty miles north along the west side of San Francisco Bay is Foster City, an area full of homes, waterways, marinas, and businesses. All this area once looked much like the offshore “wetlands” in the pictures above. [Revised 5/12/2014: I’d earlier written Daly City. Says sometimes reliable Wikipedia: Foster City was founded in the 1960s on engineered landfill in the marshes of the San Francisco Bay, on the east edge of San Mateo.]
Below is another picture north of Foster City along the bay, and you can see land developed, partially developed (a golf course), and undeveloped (the gray area at bottom right).
It is not for me to say which is a better use of wet and dry lands around San Francisco Bay. But for people who live and work in the area, more land for housing and recreation is likely to be preferred to land currently drying salt from seawater, and many square miles of land mandated to stay “natural.”
A system of property owned by individuals and firms has been the tradition in the U.S., western Europe and much of the world for centuries. This system of private property ownership and development could be restored to marine natural resources in and around San Francisco Bay. The current system has local, state, and federal government agencies managing lands, but often managing them poorly.
Consider the “San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.” Created in 1974, the refuge is described by US Fish & Wildlife Service:
In the heart of California’s high-tech industry lies a 30,000-acre oasis for millions of migratory birds and endangered species. The nation’s first urban national wildlife refuge sits on the southern end of San Francisco Bay. The refuge, created in 1974, was largely the result of grassroots efforts by the local community to protect the San Francisco Bay ecosystem.
Well, you can see a picture of this “oasis” from an airplane window in the first picture at the top of this post. Does this really look like a thriving wildlife refuge? About one-third, 9,000 acres, of the refuge are salt ponds run by Cargill. Basically, environmental groups oppose new housing and block efforts by landowners like Cargill to use their land for housing. Cargill tries to play ball by being “environmentally responsible” and gifting some land to state and federal agencies in return for permission to build houses on their nearby 1,500 acres of undeveloped land.
Environmental groups and government agencies say thanks for the land and we’ll consider your development requests. And later with that they’ve considered requests, and the answer is “no.” A bazillion environmental groups are on-board to block housing development. Maybe they first considered naming their anti-development group: Don’t Build Affordable Housing on Our Empty Mudflats and Unused Salt Ponds but then decided on: Don’t Pave My Bay. Details on the Save the Bay (from housing) blog.
In the video below I discuss developing housing and industry along coastal areas and offshore. State and Federal regulations have limited coastal and offshore development in the U.S. over the last fifty years. Much of the environmental movement began in California and in the Bay Area when wealthy coastal landowners (and their wives) organized politically to stop further development in and along the shallow waters of San Francisco Bay.
The video begins with a discussion of free-enterprise Dubai where offshore housing developments have had both success and failure. From there the video reviews the history of development restrictions in San Francisco Bay. Then the discussion drifts off the open sea where economic freedom may be the most valuable marine natural resource.