Sears Point: Visionary projects rooted in geomorphology


If you exclude the raceway, the earliest history of Sears Point is not hard to see or imagine today. It is the southernmost point of a large fault ridge that is an extension of the Rodger’s Creek Fault and the Hayward Fault across the Bay. It is the former home of the 19th century hamlet of Fairville. There was a boat landing where local farmers moved goods and materials. That landing connected with many others along the wide tidal slough that once passed by. Vast tidal marshes extended to the east and west, but the serpentine sloughs provided mobility throughout on small shallow draft boats. This was also likely a Native American site, given the historic presence of two large shell mounds. Adding to this place as a confluence, Tulay Creek once flowed into the estuary here with a drainage that extended to the west to historic Tulay Lake, likely a Native American site for gatherings.

To the north on the ridge are many lands under protection from different land trusts as well as ranch land and vineyards. Today related and key modern interventions have changed this place – Highway 37 connecting Vallejo to Novato through the great marshes on an earthen causeway that reduces water exchange mainly to a series of culverts. Along with this barrier, numerous marshes were diked off for agriculture over time reducing the network of tidal sloughs to a trickle. The faucet of tidal / fresh water exchange was to a large degree shut. 

As tidal waters have risen Highway 37 sees annual flooding, threatening its performance as a major commuter thoroughfare. Studies are underway to replace the highway beginning in 2088 with completion by 2100 at a cost $1.5 billion. This seems far too late and not a good use public money if there were another solution relying on ferries. Some significant areas of diked farmlands are also being recovered by simply opening the levees. The resilient path forward seems clear.

We should push forward with wetland recovery, create incentives for this work and along with that, recover the sloughs that still exist albeit without normal flows currently. We propose to eliminate Highway 37 in its current location, at least and phase in a greatly expanded ferry network between commute locations. These are regional scale moves that will take courage but serve key regional needs if we take the challenge.

But what about little Sears Point? Here also we think recovering things that were lost is the key. With a healthy slough, we can reinstate the Fairville Landing as place for San Pablo Bay residents to visit by boats small enough to find an equilibrium between their small wakes and the job of restoring marshes. Ideally revenues from the boat operations could help fund ecological work and create a partnership. We see Sears Point as a node of cultural and ecological education, employing a network of way stations and interpretive installations famous for their originality, including found places like old farm sheds, shell deposits, abandoned gas stations, sluice gates. Different ways to unfold a past and future story of bay edge adaptations. 
We don’t propose opening the uplands to commercial development and roads, but we do propose trails to recreational, cultural, and ecological development on behalf of San Pablo Bay residents. It needs a better means of access to what is already there to people for example, in Richmond, who would love to see learn about the place but had no real means to access before.

Concept board

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Sears Point

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Common Ground

TLS Landscape Architecture | Exploratorium | Guy Nordenson & Assoc | Michael Maltzan Arch| HR&A Advisors | Sitelab Urban Studio | Lotus Water | Rana Creek | Dr. John Oliver | Richard Hindle, UC Berkeley

TLS Landscape Architecture is a critical landscape architecture and urban design practice rooted in the craft of material, respect for communities, and the spirit of collaboration. At the same time, we are rooted in the Bay Area– we know the land and the culture. Collectively our team deftly bridges global awareness and Bay Area expertise. This is a team of exceptional leaders in their...

TLS Landscape Architecture | Exploratorium | Guy Nordenson & Assoc | Michael Maltzan Arch| HR&A Advisors | Sitelab Urban Studio | Lotus Water | Rana Creek | Dr. John Oliver | Richard Hindle, UC Berkeley

TLS Landscape Architecture is a critical landscape architecture and urban design practice rooted in the craft of material, respect for communities, and the spirit of collaboration. At the same time, we are rooted in the Bay Area– we know the land and the culture. Collectively our team deftly bridges global awareness and Bay Area expertise. This is a team of exceptional leaders in their individual disciplines that share a common commitment to working together on this critical issue.

Our team has a foundational understanding of the Bay Estuary environmental gradients, expertise in urban infrastructure strategies for climate change and coastal adaption, on building socially responsive architecture engendered with authentic community development, economic strategies that engage open space, and a unique scientific and artistic understanding for incrementally making landscapes more legible. It is a collective ethos of practical futurism.  Our approach explores the Pacific-Specific, dual dynamic of flooding through incremental sea level rise and the instantaneous seismic risk of these same lands.  Titled Common Ground, we investigate the incremental and instantaneous dynamics of the Bay Area Shoreline through both a top-down and bottom-up perspective.

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