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updated: 2/4/2014 9:17 AM

Google told to move San Francisco 'mystery' barge

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  • Two men fish in the water in front of a Google barge on Treasure Island in San Francisco. A state agency says Google must move its mystery barge from a construction site on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay because the permits are not in order.

      Two men fish in the water in front of a Google barge on Treasure Island in San Francisco. A state agency says Google must move its mystery barge from a construction site on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay because the permits are not in order.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google does not have the proper permits for a mystery barge at a construction site on an island in San Francisco Bay, a state official said, and must move the floating, four-story building that drew wide attention and fueled weeks of speculation when it was erected last fall.

"It needs to move," Larry Goldzband, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, said Monday.

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The commission investigated numerous complaints and 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.

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

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

Google has been vague about plans for the barge or a similar vessel off the East Coast and says they may change, but preliminary planning documents and a subsequent statement from the company said the barge would be 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.

But now it has apparently become another headache for the search giant in its dealings with San Francisco, 40 miles north of its corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Google also has been at the center of a city controversy over private buses that several large tech companies use to transport workers south 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.

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

Mirian Saez, director of the 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."

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."

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