Google Barge on the move: Next stop, Stockton?

Richmond, Calif., is itching to have the now famous barge but it may face competition from nearby Stockton, a city left teetering on the edge by the nation's housing crisis.

Google's mystery barge in the San Francisco Bay. A Bay Area legislator thinks Google plans to move the project to Stockton, Calif. Josh Miller/CNET

Could the Google Barge be moving to ground zero of the recent national housing crisis?

Last week, CNET found out that Google planned to move its famous barge, which now sits unfinished alongside Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, to a still-unidentified location.

But Richmond, Calif., city council member Tom Butt told CNET on Tuesday that he's heard the technology giant has decided to move the Google Barge to Stockton, Calif., a city of about 300,000, that's located on the San Francisco Bay Delta. Stockton also was one of the hardest-hit cities in the country during the great recession.

"I've heard through the grapevine that [Google is planning on] moving it up to Stockton," Butt said in a telephone interview. He added that "somebody who supposedly knows what's going on told me that. It's not verified, but it's from a credible" source.

Others, too, have been hearing Stockton is a contender. Larry Goldzband, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the state agency that oversees permitting of maritime projects in the San Francisco Bay, told CNET today that "We've heard rumors that it could go to Stockton."

One chief advantage of Stockton is that it is outside BCDC's jurisdiction (PDF), meaning Google could avoid having to adhere to the state agency's permitting conditions.

Earlier this month, BCDC told Google that it either had to get a permit to finish construction of the barge project on Treasure Island, move it somewhere else, or start paying fines of up to $30,000. The agency gave Google a 35-day grace period to take action.

When completed, the barge is expected to be a showroom and demonstration space for Google Glass and other Google X products and concepts.

In the meantime, Butt wants to hold out the welcome mat to induce the company to come to Richmond. During Tuesday night's city council meeting, Butt will introduce a resolution asking the city of Richmond to invite Google to move the barge there to finish construction, according to San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX. "We'll ask our city manager to send a letter to Google," Butt told CNET, asking them to bring the project to Richmond, located about 17 miles northeast of San Francisco.

And Richmond is not the only city that would like to see the barge come to town. In addition to hearing rumors about Stockton, Goldzband said that "my understanding is that Vallejo [Calif.] has [also] contacted Google. There are also various people and organizations in the east bay and the north bay who've done so."

But Goldzband said that Google has not given BCDC any information about its plans, and that he doesn't really know what it will do. Regardless of what Google plans, Goldzband said he hopes the company keeps the barge -- and the jobs it will support -- nearby. "It's better that it stays in the Bay Area," he said, "where there are properly permitted and legal places for the construction to occur."

In October, CNET was first to reveal the connection between Google and the then-mysterious structure being built in the shadow of the brand-new eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Around the same time, Google stopped work on the project due to scrutiny from both BCDC and the U.S. Coast Guard, which was said to have taken issue with the interior design of the project.

If Google does move the barge project off of Treasure Island within the 35-day grace period offered by BCDC, it would avoid having to pay the financial penalties. The maximum $30,000 fee might be considered paltry for a company with pockets as deep as Google, but it most likely doesn't want to be known to be in violation of state laws meant to protect a crucial waterway like the San Francisco Bay. That would probably be a public relations disaster the company would surely want to avoid.

In the meantime, the fate of a second Google Barge in Maine is also unknown. That project has also been on hold for months, and Coast Guard officials there told CNET last fall that they expect Google to wait until it has completed work on the San Francisco project before moving forward with the work in Maine.

 

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