Brisbane: The City by the Bay(lands)

Daniel Fields next to Brisbane city offices sign

Prior to this internship with City Manager Clay Holstine of the City of Brisbane, I had volunteered and interned for several local election races, in Berkeley and elsewhere. After the campaigns were over, I would closely follow the new council members’ actions and votes, yet I was largely unaware of the responsibilities of the administrative side of local government. This all changed this past Spring semester, when an issue dear to my heart came before the Berkeley City Council – divestment from Wells Fargo. While the council deliberated on whether or not to divest, the City Manager raised concerns about the implications of such an action, citing a three-year extension which was already planned to go into effect. How strange, I thought, that an unelected city official could have such an influence on important city matters.

Following this realization, I did more research on the role of City Managers, which led me to apply for several internships within City Manager’s offices across the Bay Area. However, it was not until this past month that it has become overwhelmingly clear the integral role which administrative officials, particularly City Managers, play in local governance. I feel like this is especially the case within the context of Brisbane, California.

Brisbane is a small city of 4,200 located between San Francisco and South San Francisco. While a small town, it faces urban challenges considering its proximity to major urban centers. City Council members and the public ask a multitude of questions at City Council meetings, especially considering the contentious Baylands development which is set to be deliberated by the City Council this next month. The administrative officials answer these questions to the best of their ability at Council meetings, and when there are questions that require further research, they work diligently to provide unbiased and complete answers. In the case of City Manager Clay Holstine, he does this all while implementing and facilitating the extensive amount of policy already in place, or recently passed. It is a true balancing act.

This leads me to my position within the city. During my first month here with the City of Brisbane, I have worked on several research projects regarding one of the most ambitious and contentious issues that has ever been brought before the Brisbane City Council: development of the Brisbane Baylands. The Baylands is a 660-acre stretch of mostly undeveloped area which borders San Francisco City and County. The San Francisco County Landfill as well as a Southern Pacific railyard operated on the Baylands until the 1960’s; therefore, mitigation of hazardous materials is to be a large part of the development process if and when development occurs. Considering that there are over 4,000 residential units proposed in the Brisbane Baylands Specific Plan, there has been a large push by organizations outside of the City for the development project to be approved given the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Furthermore, this area has been designated a “Priority Development Area” by Plan Bay Area 2040. The owner of this land, Universal Paragon Corporation, has been in the process of trying to develop it since 2004. Now that the Final Environmental Impact Report has been approved, and all possible options have been laid out before the Council, they are set to begin deliberations this next month.

Considering this, it has been a busy time for the administrative officials in the City, including myself. So far, I have completed research projects on hazardous materials mitigation legislation, transportation analysis models, and residential developments built on closed landfills. This experience has been incredibly enlightening thus far, and I am excited to continue pushing forward as the Baylands process unfolds before the City Council.