The saga of the Alviso Boat Ramp

The opening of the Alviso boat ramp looked pretty cool. Kayakers and dragon boats gave free rides to whoever showed up, and they had a big party. Chris Pereira-Ponce has a great photo of the ramp.

Go, Alviso! Very cool!!! A long fight that led to free public access to this place that might actually see some use. It could lead to other nice, small scale development that gives people access to the water and shoreline.

The Inflatable Kayak blogger wrote up the launch, with photos. The slough is peaceful, calm, and full of birds, and looks like a great place to kayak.

I found a government record of the project: Alviso Marina County Park Boat Launching Facility Project Blog. There was a meeting in 2005 talking about potential Requests for Proposals. They thought the ramp would be finished by 2006. Ha! After 2 years of entries that read “Status remains unchanged”, here’s how far along things had progressed:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Per Santa Clara County: due to construction calendar constraints as dictated by permits, and the award of the needed grant funding for the project in September 2008, the first foreseeable construction window is considered to be starting June 2009.

Updated: Friday, January 18, 2008

Permit issues, funding issues, land control issues, and environmental concerns have led to unforeseeable delays to this project.

I’d love to know the story behind that, and what the permits, land control, environmental concerns, etc. really were! Yikes!

This summer the ramp opened. It cost 2 million dollars to build. It goes into a narrow slough that’s about the same depth as Redwood Creek in the area where I live — with a low tide channel depth of 4 feet.

There’s a local politician proposing a port, with restaurants, an IMAX theater, and a tiny ferry. That scale of port seems quite unlikely! Get real! How about some decent public bathrooms, boat rental, and an ice cream shop?

I wonder why my town doesn’t do more with the waterfront it has. Here we have a great creek, we already dredge the channel every few years, there’s at least two officially public boat launch ramps into the creek, and yet our waterfront is barely used. Not that I want an IMAX next door. It does seem like there could be more small businesses and it could be much more of a nice destination for local people.

Anyway, I’d like to take my kayaks to Alviso Slough to take a look at what’s there!

alviso-slough-map

You can see from the map that the area of the boat ramp is marked “South Bay Asbestos Area”. Mmmm! Asbestos! I think also a lot of mercury comes down the Guadalupe River from the hills. But seriously, that doesn’t bother me. IMHO if it’s polluted, stick a park on it, put up some warning signs, and start to work on reclamation. I’m going to kayak through the marsh, not roll around it or lick it, and if I fall in I’ll take a shower afterwards. I’m sure whatever pollution there is about a million times less horrible than one afternoon working in a dry cleaners. Anyway, people live there, on that worthless neglected marsh that then gets sold off in chunks to Cisco for umpty-gazillion dollars so they can build some giant parking lots on it.

So, 2 million dollars! Could you build a decent boat ramp meant for kayaks for less than 2 million dollars? I could.

Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.