The city of Mountain View held several events last weekend honoring the 1983 opening of one of its most significant undertakings: over 500 acres of lake, rolling hills, trails and golf links known as Shoreline Park.
City staff envisioned the park in the 1960s, back when the area had mostly "undesirable uses" -- a large pig farm, two auto wrecking yards and an old city landfill. John O'Halloran, city manager from 1958 to 1973, said local residents were skeptical that Mountain View, a small city at the time, could afford such a large park. But city staff "knew something should be done out there," O'Halloran said recently, and the keys to the park's success lay in two places: San Francisco's garbage and federal park money.
In a series of moves that current City Council member Jac Siegel calls "ingenious," the city saved millions in the building of the park by taking garbage from San Francisco to fill the area, much of which was below sea level. In 1969, assistant city manager Albert St. Cyr told the press that 7.5 million cubic yards of landfill was needed to create the park's contours. But the city would get more than just landfill: San Francisco would pay Mountain View several dollars for every ton of garbage.
The garbage was hauled down the old Bayshore Freeway in trucks that made 90 trips per day throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
"That was a courageous thing to do on the part of our City Council," O'Halloran said. "To have all those trucks coming into town -- that's not something most people wanted."
When the park plan moved forward, environmental groups decried the loss of wildlife habitat. The Army Corps of Engineers held a meeting on the park plan, and invited every environmental group around. O'Halloran presented the plan, and remembers someone rallying the audience by asking, "Who is more important, people or birds?" The audience of 1960s environmentalists shouted, "Birds!"
The memory makes O'Halloran chuckle, especially since there are more birds at Shoreline now than there were before the park was built.
His biggest concern at the time was how to deal with the enormous quantities of garbage. He said he joked with his staff, in private, that Mountain View's official's bird would be the fly. He admits this now only because it's a concern of the past -- the garbage is safely under clay caps and methane gas systems.
"Fortunately they did a good job in managing the technical aspects of it," said Kevin Duggan, the current city manager, who had his first internship with O'Halloran in the 1970s. "Now it's almost an international example of how you could take a landfill and turn it into something special. We're just happy to continue building on the vision that started all those years ago. I have so much respect for the folks that got it going."
"It's an important anniversary and I'm glad we're going to recognize it."
Plans for the park were approved by the state and federal government in 1966, allowing $1.2 million in federal funding to be added to $600,000 from the city and $600,000 from the county to build the park. It was seen as a benefit not just for Mountain View, but for the whole Peninsula, according the Shoreline Park Historical Outline, written by local historians.
The park officially opened on July 17, 1983.
In 1985 the park's sailing lake opened, and became so popular the city had to lay down restrictions on who could use it for windsurfing and boating.
That was also the year the city struck a deal with Bill Graham to build the Shoreline Amphitheatre. The amphitheater was built just outside the park, also on garbage landfill, and the 22,000-seat venue held its first show in June 29, 1986, when Julio Iglesias performed.
Shoreline came close to being something else entirely -- a major auto raceway. It was a serious proposal, but the City Council voted it down, O'Halloran remembers. There was also a small chance it would become high-density housing. During negotiations to buy 200 acres of the park, former owner Leslie Salt Co. told the city it wanted to develop housing there.
According to several local newspaper reports, Shoreline Golf Links personnel used to shoot the small, duck-like coots which, to this day, inhabit the course in huge numbers, destroying the greens by eating the grass. In 1985, 374 of the birds were shot in a three-day effort to rid the course of the birds, raising the ire of animal rights groups.
During a Santana concert on Aug. 17, 1986, the first of several legendary "great balls of fire" incidents was reported when a Berkeley man reportedly dropped a match and flames burst out of the ground. People in the audience scattered, with some trying to put the fire out with blankets. The fire marshal eventually determined that methane gas, escaping from the landfill below, could catch fire if a flame was held less than three inches off the ground. The landfill's clay cap was repaired in places and a new system to catch the methane gas was eventually installed before the 1987 concert season.