SF State evicts environmental program from Tiburon property

After five months of negotiations, SF State finalized its decision to evict the Tiburon Salmon Institute from its property at the Romberg Tiburon Center Monday.

SF State officials had been in negotiations with the Tiburon Salmon Institute since June, after thousands signed a petition protesting the abrupt eviction of the project from the Romberg Tiburon Center, according to the Marin Independent JournalRun by the San Francisco Tyee Club, the Tiburon Salmon Institute seeks to educate children about how salmons thrive and what they need to survive, according to the project’s website.

As of Monday, the institute has until Sept. 5, 2016 to vacate the site, ending a program that was started in 1973, according to Brooke Halsey, the Tiburon Salmon Institute’s executive director.

“We didn’t have any problems until Karina Nielsen came on as director (of the Romberg Tiburon Center),” Halsey said. “She didn’t like our program; that led to the discord we have now.”

Karina Nielsen was appointed director of the center in June 2014, according to the SF State website, and is a professor in the coastal ecosystems lab there. She was unavailable for comment.

“They said we weren’t compatible with their outreach and education, but we were squarely within their mission,” Halsey said.

The Tiburon Salmon Institute’s failure to comply with the center’s safety policies requiring the use of personal flotation devices by children working close to the seawall was a major part of the center’s concerns, according to the SF State website. Beyond that, recent inspections deemed the facilities housing the institute’s activities unsafe, the website said.

After the Tiburon Salmon Institute addressed SF State’s safety concerns by offering to pay to correct them, the program was still not allowed to use the classrooms or facilities that they deemed safe and were not allowed to correct those concerns, according to Halsey.

The Tiburon Salmon Institute is a federally owned property that existed before SF State did, according to Congressman Jared Huffman, whose staff hosted negotiations between the University and the Tiburon Salmon Institute.

“The Salmon Institute is not part of SF State,” Huffman said. “Congress gave it to the University for free, but it had to always be used for education of marine science.”

Huffman said he believes a lot of the concerns SF State put forth during the negotiations, such as safety permitting issues and personality conflicts, were unfounded. SF State has been trying to sell the site for a long time, Huffman said.

“I’m concerned, because a little community group is being jerked around by a big institution that ought to behave better,” Huffman said. “People in the community that I represent stand to lose this treasured environmental program.”

Halsey said she hopes to continue the program elsewhere.

“We’re looking to other organizations trying to find a home that wants us, where we can continue educating people about salmon migration,” Halsey said. “If we can’t find a home, we’re going to have to pull the plug.”