Tiburon Salmon Institute, San Francisco State reach delayed-relocation deal

After months of negotiations, San Francisco State University has given the Tiburon Salmon Institute nearly a year to find a new home, but the required move from the bayside biology station has sparked harsh comments from supporters.

The institute has been at Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies (www.rtc.sfsu.edu), located at 3150 Paradise Dr., for 42 years, and negotiations stemmed from an eviction notice the institute received from the university early last summer. The two sides just reached a deal that requires the institute to move by Sept. 5, 2016.

“Both parties tried in good faith to reach agreement,” said Robert Nava, San Francisco State vice president for advancement. “We’ve given them adequate time to find a new location.”

The eviction first came under fire from institute backers last summer. The organization received an eviction letter in early June from Romberg center director Karina Nielsen to leave by July 1. The university cited safety and liability concerns about and not being informed when large groups of students visited the facility.

Tiburon Salmon Institute (415-435-2397, tiburonsalmoninstitute.org) is an educational facility, with activities for children including caring and managing tens of thousands of fingerling salmon in floating pens, and then releasing them.

The institute has been occupying a building on the university campus without a lease, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration allows the institute to operate out of its warehouse at the center’s 36-acre site for free.

The university’s reconsideration of the July date came after pressure from supporters of the institute, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, who both serve as state university regents, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and state Sen. Mike McGuire.

Over the summer, university officials held a series of meetings with the institute Executive Director Brooke Halsey and a representative from Huffman’s office to address ongoing issues with safety and compliance.

During the negotiations, hosted by Huffman’s staff, the university continued to cite health and safety issues, lack of permits for community activities, and liability. The institute also wanted a rent-free lease.

Nava said the negotiations were made in “good faith efforts from both parties” (university’s take: http://bit.ly/1lz5kJM)

“The university made every effort to come to an agreement with Mr. Halsey,” Nava said. “We met seven times with Mr. Halsey as well as Jenny Callaway, the district director for Congressman Huffman, including at Congressman Huffman’s office, to address the longstanding issues stemming from TSI’s use of the Romberg Tiburon Center property. Unfortunately, despite good faith efforts by all parties, we were not able to reach agreement.”

According to Halsey and Huffman, however, the university carried on negotiations only long enough for public outcry to calm down, and never intended to come to an agreement.

Nava’s statement “is not an honest characterization of what drove this,” Huffman said. “TSI agreed to do anything and everything to address the ongoing issues, and no new safety or permit issues arose. They were negotiating for a long-term lease, and all of a sudden the permit issue became lethal. The negotiations were just an attempt to let public scrutiny die down.”

Halsey said it was Catch-22. The university said the institute needed permits, but the permitting agency said it needed a lease before it could issue them. Halsey also said he attempted address the repairs the university asked for, but was not allowed by the university to bring anyone in to do the repairs. He called the situation “very frustrating.”

Nava said safety issues are just one of many concerns the university has had about the institutes’s use of Romberg. Other concerns are a lack of compliance with state and federal regulations and the lack of any formal agreement with the university to use the property.

“We have attempted since 2008 to work with TSI to develop a license agreement that would address these concerns and allow Mr. Halsey to continue his operations,” Nava said.

The institute has been able to operate for more than four decades without permits, as it outdates the agency that issues them. Halsey said he has a long relationship with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and it is fully aware of his operations.

“It’s heartbreaking to see this program that’s been around so long,” Halsey said. “All these years it’s been a win-win situation, connecting with the community through our activities. It’s only in the last year, when they hired a new director, that everything went sideways.”

Huffman also suggested that the university has intentions of developing the property for commercial use.

The university denied any plans to sell the property.

Meanwhile, the institute has been talking to several organizations about a possible new home, but nothing is concrete yet.

“We’re hopeful,” Halsey said. “We’ll go where they want us and see the value in what we do.”

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