Treasure Island, the artificial landmass off of Yerba Buena Island (not to be confused with Angel Island in Marin County) has been full of promise since its construction in 1936-1937. The island’s name comes from the notion that its soil contained precious metals, a reminder of the area’s history during the Gold Rush. Originally built for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and 1940, the island has since been used as San Francisco’s first airport, as well as a naval base. Now, Treasure Island is home to approximately 1,800 residents, twenty one percent of whom are between the ages of 20 and 24. An ambitious redevelopment plan for the 486-acre community has been in the works since the Navy shut down its base in 1997. However, before developers can revamp the island into its new iteration, they must resolve myriad issues concerning public health.
Construction of the renovations, though approved in 2011, has yet to begin. Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski said in The Bay Citizen this is due to “political uncertainty about a bid for loans from the Chinese government, a pending environmental lawsuit, and residents’ worries about the U.S. Navy’s cleanup of toxic and radioactive waste at the former military base.”
Originally, the Navy conducted tests in 2006 and concluded that the island has negligible levels of radiation. Further investigations in April 2011 revealed that the contamination from the old naval station was worse than originally perceived. The Treasure Island Development Authority, as well as the Navy, requested that additional surveys be taken to ensure the safety of current and future residents.
These state-conducted surveys took place at 24 locations on the island. Again, the radiation levels detected were deemed negligible, meaning that they did not threaten the public’s health. However, the Navy still has further cleanup to complete before new construction can begin.
As for how radiation became such an issue for Treasure Island, the contamination is most likely left over from the Navy’s use of the area as training ground for radioactive material cleanup. In December 2010, disturbing levels of radiation were found in soil uncovered from sites around the island. Currently, the Navy is conducting additional radiological surveys in order to accompany tests performed by the California Department of Public Health in April of this year. These surveys began on September 3 of this year, lasting about 10 weeks, supposedly to be completed by the end of October.
If you visit the island today, you will find a number of inconspicuous fenced-off areas explained by yellow laminated signs proclaiming “RADIOLOGICALLY CONTROLLED AREA” and large posters blaring “CAUTION AREA UNDER ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION FOR HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS KEEP OUT!” Yet just around the corner from such areas, kids play Little League baseball, families stroll the quiet suburban lanes and tourists snap photos of the panoramic views offered of San Francisco on Treasure Island. Old navy barracks serve as low-income housing. Slowly deteriorating abandoned buildings line the streets, along with remnants of caution-tape that ominously remind visitors of the island’s military past and uncertain future.
The Treasure Island Development Authority has big dreams for this San Francisco neighborhood in the middle of the Bay. There are plans for 8,000 residences, 140,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 100,000 square feet of office space, 300 acres of parks & public open space, three hotels, community facilities, a town center, street renovation, reclamation of historical buildings on adjoining Yerba Buena Island as well as other improvements.
Thirty percent of the new residences will be affordable housing (for sale as well as for rent), appealing to a wider range of buyers and creating more of an economic spectrum. “Residents who lived on the Islands before July 2011 will be given the opportunity to buy or rent a new unit once the redevelopment is completed,” said Director of Island Operations Mirian Saez. The new neighborhood is a daunting task, involving twenty years of construction and strongly focusing on being as eco-friendly as possible and, in the words of Miss Saez, “as diverse as San Francisco.”