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.
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."