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Phil Matier: Google’s Plans To Park Mystery Barges Facing Red Tape

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KPIX 5 has obtained an artist's drawing of what a completed Google barge would look like. (CBS)

KPIX 5 has obtained an artist’s drawing of what a completed Google barge would look like. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISO (KCBS)—A state commission isn’t thrilled about the lack of information it’s getting from Google about the mysterious high-tech barge the company is constructing at Treasure Island.

The barge is just one of three floating structures the company plans to launch for the cost of about $35 million, according to a confidential budget that Andrew Ross and I obtained.

This could be a big wind-up to a huge unveiling of Google Glass, the company’s new wearable computer. Any publicity gets people talking and even a little controversy doesn’t hurt.

According to the report, Turner Construction Co. says the idea is to construct the vessels at Treasure Island, then dock them in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

So the idea is to have the barges float up to different docks like a traveling medicine show. It’s sort of high-tech hybrid between maritime and bricks-and-mortar retailing. Instead of leasing property like the Apple Store, buzz gets generated just by pulling up dockside.

The mindset of these entrepreneurial and innovative high-tech companies is just to do whatever it is they want to do, but in doing so they often end up wrapped in the old-fashioned red tape of government bureaucracy. And when it comes to the Bay Area, there is probably nowhere with more of that than here.

That’s especially true when it comes to maritime rules. The Bay Area docks are just riddled with union rules that stack up higher than the Transamerica Pyramid. So of course, Google is getting some resistance.

Technically, to put anything up on a pier, it’s supposed to have to some kind of maritime use. So Google is trying to convince the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission that it’s more than just retail—it’s a high-tech visitation center to interact with the Bay. It’s a store that can be used for more—that’s the pitch.

Coincidentally, it’s a similar pitch that the Warriors are making for its proposed arena: yes, it’s a sports arena but you can dock a ship there and go out and look at the Bay as well.

Everyone is now looking at this prime real estate along the waterfront; it attracts a lot of people and we’re not using it for shipping like we used to—that’s gone to other places like Oakland, Richmond and Vallejo.

So there are those that are saying, “This is the 21st Century, so let’s get into the 21st-Century ideas of what we can do here.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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