Taxpayer Funded Bird Condos in SF

As many of you locals know, back in 1989 we had a really big earthquake here in San Francisco. The temblor was so bad it caused the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco and Oakland, to structurally fail (just as the original designers intended it to do in the event of a major quake). The section of the bridge that snapped was soon repaired with engineers assuring the public that she’d be as sturdy as ever for the long haul.

Enter the politicians who demanded the bridge be torn down and new one built instead. The original estimate was just under $1 billion.

Some background. The 7-mile long, double-decker bridge (originally opened in 1936) actually consists of two spans separated by Yerba Buena Island (YBI). From San Francisco to YBI, the bridge is a dramatic suspension structure. From YBI to Oakland the bridge was an unattractive, yet highly functional, cantilever span. The latter was the section that gave way during the quake.

Long story made short, in 2013 a new bridge running from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland was opened. The cost? Including interest on the bonds that were necessary to finance the project, over $12 billion.

Now that you’ve picked your jaw up from the floor, here’s just one small, ridiculous reason why this bridge cost so much: bird condos.

The old cantilever section of the Bay Bridge had become home to a bird known as the double-crested cormorant. Over the decades the cormorants had built nests in every nook and cranny in the bridge they could find. Environmentalists demanded that the new bridge be built complete with new homes for the birds. So, 2½-foot-wide, stainless-steel nesting platforms—which cost $709,000—were constructed along the bottom of the bridge. These costly bird condos were intended to become domiciles for the estimated 1,600 cormorants—a protected species.

But wait, there’s more.

Last year the state finally began deconstructing the old bridge. The cormorants’ special status meant special treatment with government officials scheduling the demolition of the old Bay Bridge around the birds’ annual nesting season, which runs from April to August. The demo delay cost Californians $12.8 million (certain union construction workers continued to be paid despite the work stoppage).

At the same time, California’s transportation agencies spent about $1 million to try to lure the birds off the old span. They attempted everything from daffy cormorant decoys hanging from strings, to recorded birdcalls played over outdoor speakers. Some of the new condos were even furnished with recycled Christmas wreaths to create instant nests. Nothing worked. Clearly not finding the new digs appealing, the cormorants flew elsewhere.

“We really thought when the old span was removed, [the cormorants] would choose to move over to the new span,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler told the San Francisco Chronicle.

And, like a tried and true government bureaucrat, Rentschler blames the birds. “We did our best, but they didn’t,” he said.

Where did the bird go? Local commuters are pretty sure they flew 20-miles south to the Dumbarton Bridge. Meantime government officials are conducting their own investigation regarding the whereabouts of the cormorants, meaning more taxpayer money is going to the birds.

Brian Sussman

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