The History Behind Battle for the Bay: The 1980s

Battle for the Bay, our new online quiz, lets you Save The Bay by defeating 6 levels of ‘villains’, one for each decade of our history. Each week, we bring you the story behind the game. This week, Mobil Oil wants more than their MTV…

1980’s – Mobil Oil

Mobil Oil had big plans for Bair Island.

Today, the area of San Mateo County bay shoreline called Bair Island (map) is part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and is being restored back to pristine wetland habitat. But in the early-80’s, Mobil Oil, then its owner, had another plan for this site. They proposed to build 20,000 houses, a shopping center and corporate offices on this piece of the Bay. It was to be called “South Shores.”

Both Redwood City’s Planning Commission and the City Council liked the idea and voted to change the city’s zoning and approve the plan. Shocked by the actions of their Council, Ralph and Carolyn Nobles invited concerned members of the community to their home and decided to form an organization to protect their bayfront – Friends of Redwood City. In the first citizen-led referendum in the city’s history, the group gathered thousands of signatures to put the development of Bair Island up to a city-wide vote. In 1982, they beat Mobil Oil’s plan at the ballot box by 42 votes.

Had it not been for these committed activists, and the community that supported them – these 3,000 acres of marshland may have been lost forever to development.

Interested in learning more? Click here to read the full story of Bair Island from the SF Chronicle, and here to read some of behind the scenes of Friends of Redwood City’s founding. The newsletter of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge also has an excellent article on Bair Island  here.

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