The parcel is public land managed by the State Lands Commission. The agency put up fencing around the perimeter in 1998 in an attempt to curb illegal dumping. Tiffany Camhi/KQED
The parcel is public land managed by the State Lands Commission. The agency put up fencing around the perimeter in 1998 in an attempt to curb illegal dumping. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

Long-Forgotten Burlingame Bayfront Land Caught in Bidding War

Long-Forgotten Burlingame Bayfront Land Caught in Bidding War

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A small, nine-acre plot of public land in San Mateo County has been abandoned for almost 60 years. It's safe to say the fenced-in area, which sits along the San Francisco Bay in Burlingame, is neglected. Overgrown with weeds and invasive plants, the plot is used as an illegal dumping ground for trash.

"One day we came to work and there was a tow truck pulling a car out," said Greg Boro, Director of Business Operations at the nonprofit policy firm SPHERE, which has offices across from the parcel. "At times we've seen the police get people out that were kind of setting up a little camp there."

Despite the illegal dumping, and the use of the space by people who may be homeless, the plot is still prime bayfront real estate and is now at the center of a bidding war between hotel developers and open space advocates.

The California State Lands Commission (SLC), the agency that manages the state's waterways and some public lands, is tasked with deciding what happens to it.

The area came under its jurisdiction in the early 1970s after the state found a now-defunct company had illegally filled that part of the bay for development. Since then, the small parcel has been mostly forgotten.

The city of Burlingame did not begin officially exploring development options for the space until 2013.

Besides a few fishermen who try to catch striped bass and halibut, this area has been largely forgotten by the public. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

Because the land is held in public trust by the SLC, whatever development is done on it must be publicly accessible. That rules out any kind of residential housing, office parks, schools or hospitals. But both a public park and a hotel fit that bill since hotels are deemed publicly accessible at cost.

Burlingame Vice-Mayor Emily Beach said the city's general fund would benefit from taxes from another hotel, but balance is needed. Currently, there are three parks and 14 hotels in the surrounding areas of the contested land.

"We have a lot of other hotels and we just don't have very many opportunities to create a new, large park," said Beach. "That is almost unheard of in the San Francisco Bay area."


A recent public needs assessment conducted by the SLC found that over 95 percent of respondents from the area want a park or open space.

The SLC has received three proposals for the area and is currently reviewing them. Two proposals are for hotels and one is for a public park.

The Burlingame Shoreline Park proposal would be a public-private partnership between the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District and SPHERE.

It includes plans to clean up and reconnect the parts of the San Francisco Bay Trail that run through the plot and add picnic areas, kayak and kite surfing launches and a wetland area that will act as a sponge against sea level rise.

Park proposal map has a boardwalk space, a trail, and a central lawn.
SPHERE’s park proposal envisions several opportunities for water activities like kayaking and kite surfing. (Courtesy of SPHERE)

Boro said SPHERE saw an opening to do something more with the land.

"We thought the best use of the land was to preserve it as open space and create a park that would best serve both local residents and visitors to the area," he explained.

The two proposals for hotels from Burlingame Bay Park Hotel, LLC and Zibasara, LLC, also include public park areas in addition to hotel lodging.

The SLC could make a decision on who gets to lease the property at the agency's next meeting in October.

KQED News previously reported that the parcel could be voted on at the SLC's August 23rd meeting. The item has been moved to the agency's next full meeting in October.