Frequently Asked Questions about RTC and the Tiburon Salmon Institute

 

What is the Romberg Tiburon Center?

The Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies (RTC) is San Francisco State University's marine and coastal research laboratory and is San Francisco Bay's only marine laboratory. The center is home to 17 Ph.D. scientists and faculty affiliated with SF State. Each leads an independent research program that includes a combination of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, research staff and interns -- a total of more than 180 people who work at RTC on a regular basis. In addition, each semester approximately 50-75 students attend marine science classes taught at RTC by SF State faculty. Collaborations among the programs in research, education and outreach activities are common. Environmental research is conducted in San Francisco Bay, along the California Coast, in the Pacific Ocean and around the world. Recently, researchers at RTC have been featured prominently discussing the impact of toxic algae blooms on the edibility of Dungeness crabs. Their marine and coastal research projects are funded through competitively awarded state and federal grants and contracts, private foundations and individual donors, and help support the center's hands-on training of the next generation of scientists in a variety of disciplines. Scientists and students are supported by research technicians, administrative and facilities staff, and the Bay Conference Center, which is available for rental to educational and nonprofit groups. An active public outreach program shares important discoveries and concepts and brings leading marine scientists to the center to meet and talk with students, teachers and the general public, including RTC efforts to tackle some of the most pressing scientific and environmental problems confronting marine ecosystems. While RTC is not open for regular public visits, the annual Discovery Day Open House and public forums invite the community to see and experience our research and facilities in the spring. The most recent public forum was a sold out event attended by over 140 people and focused on the recent sudden die off of sea stars, including species endemic to the west coast of North America.

 

What is RTC's relationship with the Tiburon Salmon Institute?

The Tiburon Salmon Institute (TSI) has operated on the University's property without a license agreement and without paying rent, despite the University's efforts dating back to 2008 to facilitate a license agreement between TSI and SF State. TSI has operated its program with neither proper permits from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) nor approval from the University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) as required by federal regulations for all activities on SF State’s property or by SF State researchers and educators involving vertebrate animals (including fish).

SF State has the responsibility of ensuring that all state and federal laws as well as policies and regulations of the California State University system are followed on its property.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to come to an agreement on the terms the license agreement, which included at various times in the negotiations requests from TSI to expand operations and establish a five-year renewable lease at well below market rates or at no cost. TSI also has a history of inviting large groups onto the University's property without adequate notice and proof of insurance. As a result of TSI's failure to secure proper documentation or behave in a responsible fashion, the University issued a cease and decist letter to TSI on January 12, 2015. Upon further investigation of past and present activities, including a long history of non-compliance and safety concerns at the center, the University issued another letter on May 26, 2015 to cease all activities and remove TSI's personal property by July 1, 2015. TSI was granted multiple extensions while negotiations about their use of the University’s property were ongoing.

 

How has the University attempted to reach agreement on a license for TSI?

In response to the University's position and demand that TSI cease and desist from its activities, a number of elected officials and community members requested that the University and TSI meet to find common ground to reach resolution. In July and August of 2015, the University met a total of seven times both in person and in conference calls with TSI's director and a representative from Congressman Jared Huffman's office to negotiate a license agreement that would address the University's immediate concerns while allowing TSI to continue to use University property.

 

Why were SF State and TSI unable to reach an agreement?

Since 2008, the University has been working to facilitate a license agreement with TSI to address several ongoing safety and compliance concerns stemming from TSI's use of RTC facilities. During the course of recent negotiations, independent contractors inspected facilities at RTC used by TSI, which include a seawall along San Francisco Bay and a warehouse building known as "Building 86" that is already licensed to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for storage. The reports identify major safety concerns with the use of both facilities, and TSI's continued use of them despite their condition raises serious concerns about their ability to ensure the health and safety of the public.

We take the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors very seriously and are working to evaluate and update all of our facilities, including RTC, to ensure they meet or exceed all necessary standards and regulations. We are happy to partner with any organization that shares this goal. Unfortunately, our discussions with TSI and TSI's history of operations at RTC do not provide assurances that our concerns will be addressed. We have an obligation and responsibility to protect the safety of all individuals who come onto our campuses, and therefore cannot enter into an agreement with TSI regarding their continued use of our property.

Despite our best effort to negotiate in good faith, we have exhausted all reasonable attempts to come to a mutual understanding regarding TSI's use of RTC property.

More information about the condition of RTC facilities used by TSI without University authorization and the associated safety concerns can be found by clicking here to visit the the additional materials page.

 

When must TSI leave RTC?

We have informed TSI that they have until September 5, 2016 to relocate their operations, and we will work with them to assist their transition to a new location. We have been waiting to hear of TSI’s plans and have made multiple requests for a response.

 

Why are TSI's activities unsafe?

It is not safe for children to be working at the edge of a seawall or on floating docks by very deep water with strong currents wearing no life jackets (personal floatation devices or PFDs). At low tide, a fall from the seawall into the water is approximately 10 feet. RTC has a policy that anyone working at the edge of the seawall must wear a PFD. Requests to comply with SF State safety policies had not been acted upon.

In addition, recent independent inspections have indicated that both the seawall along San Francisco Bay and Building 86 are unsafe for the activities for which TSI has used these spaces. TSI's ongoing use of these facilities despite their condition has raised serious concerns about their commitment to ensuring the health and safety of the public and their ability to follow University regulations.

 

What are the compliance issues?

Anyone deploying structures in San Francisco Bay, working with fish, working with children, bringing in outside contractors with heavy equipment, renovating buildings or holding special events that involve the general public in SF State facilities requires various approvals and permissions from the University, and often permits from other State and/or Federal entities as well. We have asked that TSI show us that they have the appropriate approvals, permissions and/or permits in place. Prior to negotiations, we had not been shown that these have been sought or acquired. Furthermore, unannounced activities or insufficient notice have been the norm for TSI’s use of SF State facilities since at least 2008, including in recent months and during negotiations.

 

What are the University's policies and procedures regarding animals?

SF State receives federal funding for research and educational activities and must therefore comply with federal regulations for the humane and appropriate use and care of all animals in its facilities. Compliance requires review and approval of all projects that involve animals by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before they are initiated. Non-compliance is not only inconsistent with a center dedicated to environmental research but also jeopardizes all federally funded projects involving animals at the University.

 

Does SF State support educational outreach about salmon?

Yes! The Romberg Tiburon Center's mission is to deliver high quality scientific research and education on marine and coastal ecosystems. The center sponsors several community events, including the annual Discovery Day open house and numerous public lectures, and regularly contributes to the science of conservation and restoration of San Francisco Bay, the Delta and the outer California coast. We fully support the science of conservation and restoration of wild salmon and educational outreach that supports restoration of wild California salmon for future generations.

 

Are you closing TSI’s doors?

Absolutely not! TSI activities are diverse and are successfully occurring in many other locations. We wish TSI well, know that they are supported by the community and are ready to assist in their transition to a new location.

 

Who should I contact for more information?

Please contact:

Robert J. Nava,

Jonathan Morales