State: Google must move 'mystery' barge

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Associated Press

Posted on February 3, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 3 at 9:36 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google must move a mystery barge from a construction site on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay because the permits are not in order, a state official said Monday.

The notice came after the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission investigated numerous complaints about construction of the floating, four-story building, commission executive director Larry Goldzband said.

The investigation found that neither the Treasure Island Development Authority nor the city of San Francisco had applied for required permits for the work to be done at the site and could face fines and enforcement proceedings.

Goldzband said Google can resolve the issue by moving the barge to one of the fully permitted construction facilities in the San Francisco Bay.

"It needs to move," he said.

Google Inc. said it is still reviewing a letter from Goldzband outlining the commission's concerns about the secretive project.

The Treasure Island Development is leasing the space to build the barge for $79,000 per month under a contract set to expire in August, according to agency records.

Mirian Saez, director of the Treasure Island Development Authority, said, "we did not intend to violate or circumvent the process."

The authority will try to apply for the correct permits with the commission, she said, noting her agency has not spoken to Google about the issue.

For now, though, Google's barge appears to be mired in regulatory limbo. Goldzband said Google representatives had told him construction had been halted on the barge late last year so the U.S. Coast Guard can ensure the vessel will meet its standards.

"My understanding is they are going to be in a holding pattern until the end of winter," Goldzband said. "What we are strongly suggesting is that this thing is moved in an expeditious manner so when they want to start building again, they can build it lawfully at a place where it is permitted."

Santa Clara University law professor Dorothy Glancy says it's highly unlikely that a permit would ever be issued for them to continue building at their current site.

"I was surprised anyone was building anything in the bay without a BCDC permit," she said, "and shipbuilding is not what they're supposed to be doing at Treasure Island, it's not in their development plans."

Google has been vague about the plans for the San Francisco barge or a similar vessel off the East Coast.

Preliminary planning documents submitted to the port last fall showed plans for Google to build an interactive space for people to learn about technology as it traveled from dock to dock.

The documents ended weeks of speculation that the barge would be a party boat, data storage center or a store for Google to sell its Internet-connected glasses.

In November, the company issued a statement that said, "Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

Goldzband said if the barge is eventually completed, it will need more even permits to be moored or docked.

Jason Flanders, program director at San Francisco Baykeeper, a nonprofit pollution watchdog, said the group was pleased the state agency is taking a strong stand.

"Obviously the bay is a valuable resource to everybody," he said. "Requiring people and companies large and small to pass all environmental regulations before using the bay is essential."

The regulatory questions being raised about the barge compounds the headaches that Google has been dealing with outside its main business of running the world's best-known search engine.

In recent months, Google also has been at the center of a San Francisco controversy over private buses that several large tech companies use to transport workers south from the city to Silicon Valley. Some community members say the buses are congesting city bus stops, so the city recently voted to charge the companies for each stop the buses make.

To help address the situation, Google recently launched pilot programs using private ferries to transport some workers to Redwood City, near its campus on the San Francisco Peninsula.

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