Although the sale of tidelands into private ownership is prohibited by the Constitution and statute, that was not always true. In the 1800’s the Legislature authorized the sale of tidelands, with the majority of such sales taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Below are details relating to the sales in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Beach & Water Lots
In 1847, prior to statehood, Brigadier General S. W. Kearney, granted to the town of San Francisco the certain beach and water lots on the east front of the town of San Francisco, and provided for the sale of the lots by public auction.
In 1851, the Legislature enacted Chapter 41, Statutes of 1851, which was known as the San Francisco Beach and Water Lots Act. The act granted to what had become the city of San Francisco certain tide and submerged lands in the city of San Francisco for use and occupation for a term of ninety-nine years. Supplemental acts included Chapter 44, Statutes 1851 and Chapter 75, Statutes 1851.
In 1853, the Legislature created the five person state Board of California Land Commissioners. The Commissioners were appointed by the Governor and were subject to the consent of the state Senate. Although the sales of the beach and water lots had been authorized in 1851, it wasn’t until the five-member board was created that the sales occurred. These sales were carried out pursuant to a plan for the development of the San Francisco waterfront within an area known as the “Beach and Water Lots.” This area covered the entire waterfront of San Francisco as it existed as that time. These sales were not limited to tidelands, but also extended into the submerged area of San Francisco Bay.
In 1863, the Legislature enacted Chapter 306, Statutes of 1863, establishing the state Board of Harbor Commissioners. The Harbor Commissioners were authorized to take possession of and hold all that portion of the San Francisco Bay lying along the waterfront of San Francisco, and adjacent thereto, to the distance of six hundred feet into the waters of the bay, together with all the improvements, rights, privileges, franchises, easements and appurtenances connected therewith, excepting such portions of said waterfront as may be held by parties under valid lease.
State Board of Tide Land Commissioners (BTLC)
In 1868, the Legislature broadened the development plan and extended it throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. This was done through the creation of the state Board of Tide Land Commissioners (BTLC) was created pursuant to Chapter 543, Statutes of 1868. The Board was authorized to take possession of and to survey and subdivide all of the remaining tide and submerged lands still owned by the state out to a depth of 24 feet of water at low tide along the bay. By extending the pattern of the subdivision for the upland streets and blocks into the bay and creating channels and basins and by selling the lots and blocks, the state created a new waterfront.
In 1870, pursuant to Chapter 388, Statutes of 1870, the Board’s authority was extended to salt marsh and tidelands in San Francisco Bay out to a depth of nine feet at low tide, and located within five statute miles of the exterior boundaries of the City and County of San Francisco, as fixed and established in Section one of Chapter 190, Statutes 1857.
It is worth noting that the common boundary between San Francisco and Marin in the bay of San Francisco in 1857 was located in a different location then it was in 1870. The original Marin County boundary followed the low tide line in San Francisco Bay.
The Board’s authority to convey “salt marsh and tidelands” under this statute excluded lands granted to the city of Oakland. As in the previous legislation, the Board was directed to take possession, survey, subdivide and to sell into private ownership all areas of “salt marsh and tidelands” within their jurisdiction not previously sold, but only after setting aside areas for canals and basins to accommodate the needs of commerce and navigation.
Surveys for the State Board of Tide Land Commissioners were made under the direction of George F. Allardt, Chief Engineer of the Tide Land Survey. It is common to see references to “Allardt’s Line” on old maps that depict the waterfront in the San Francisco Bay Area.
All lands sold as BTLC lots are privately held and are no longer considered sovereign land. However, any BTLC lots that had not been filled or developed as of January 1980, are impressed with the Public Trust Easement. This easement limits the type of development that could occur on the privately owned BTLC lots.
The Board of Tide Land Commissioners was abolished by Chapter 49, Statutes of 1876.
1879 Constitution Convention
During the 1879 Constitutional Convention, both access to and the sale of the tide and submerged lands in the San Francisco Bay Area was a source of major discussion. The debate over whether to create a constitutional prohibition on the sale of tide and submerged lands took place over two days. Of note is that at least one delegate was the owner of tidelands. By a narrow vote, the “ayes” prevailed and the 1879 Constitution included what became known as Article XV (Harbor Frontage, etc.), below.
- SECTION 1. The right of eminent domain is hereby declared to exist in the State to all frontages on the navigable waters of this State.
- Sec. 2. No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose, nor to destroy or obstruct the free navigation of such water; and the Legislature shall enact such laws as will give the most liberal construction to this provision, so that access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable, and that the people shall not be shut out from the same.
- Sec. 3. All tide lands within two miles of any incorporated city or town in this State, and fronting on the waters of any harbor, estuary, bay, or inlet, used for the purposes of navigation, shall be withheld from grant or sale to private persons, partnerships, or corporations.
The amendment adopted in 1879 is similar to what exists today. The key difference is that a street created by the Board of Tideland Commissioners may be sold if the Legislature makes specific findings.
BTLC Field Notes & Maps
In 1876, the Board was abolished pursuant to Chapter 49, Statutes of 1876. Most of the subdivided area by the Board had been transferred by sales to occupants or by public auction. Under the statute the records and maps belonging to the archives of the Board were to be deposited with and kept and preserved by the state Surveyor General, this office’s predecessor.
Unfortunately, the 1904 Report of the Surveyor General indicates the records which were delivered by the Board were in a deplorable condition. Many were probably never delivered and many more have drifted away since being filed.
Commission staff has digitally reproduced the Board’s maps and George Allardt’s accompanying field notes. These materials are available for general informational or educational use, but should not be relied upon for determination of land titles.
- Sale Map Number 1 – LRT 0001_A, LRT 0001_B
- Sale Map Number 2 – LRT 0002
- Sale Map Number 3 – LRT 0003_A, LRT 0003_B
- Sale Map Number 4 – LRT 0004_A, LRT 0004_B
- Sale Map Number 10 – LRT 0057_B
- Sale Map Number 11 – LRT 0057_C
- Swamp and Overflowed, Salt Marsh and TideLands – LRT 0007_A
- Alameda – LRT 0133
- Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville – LRB 0326
- Tideland Surveys – LRB 0343
- Sold Map – LRB 2071
- Oakland – LRA 0278
- Oakland – LRT 0002_C_2
- Oakland and San Leandro – LRB 0229
- Sale Map Number 1 – LRT 0016_A, LRT 0016_E
- Sale Map Number 2 – LRT 0017_A, LRT 0017_B
- Sale Map Number 3 – LRT 0018_A, LRT 0018_B, LRT 0018_E
- Sale Map Number 7 – LRT 0057_A_1, LRT 0057_A_2, LRT 0057_A_3
- LRB 0556
- Belvedere – LRB 2040
- Greenbrae and San Quentin – LRB 2312
- San Rafael and Greenbrae – LRA 0276
- San Rafael – LRB 0070_1
- San Rafael – LRB 0070_2
- San Rafael – LRB 0070_3
- San Rafael – LRB 0070_4
- San Rafael – LRB 0324
- San Rafael – LRB 2051
- San Rafael – LRB 2082
- Sausalito – LRA 0265_1
- Sausalito – LRA 0265_2
- Sausalito – LRA 0265_3
- Sausalito – LRB 0624
- Pueblo Map – LRT 0006_A
- General Map 1892 – LRB 0201
- Section Map of San Francisco County – LRB 2055
- Sale Map Number 1 – LRB 0079
- Sale Map Number 3 – LRB 0072_2, LRB 0072_3
- Sale Map Number 4 – LRB 0073
- Sale Map Number 5 – LRB 0071_2
- Sale Map Number 6 – LRB 0075_1, LRB 0075_2
- Sale Map Number 9 – LRB 0475
- Sale Map Number 12 – LRB 0074
- Sale Map – LRB 0243
- Sold Lots – LRB 0076
- Sold Lots – LRB 2032
- Block Map Number 2 – LRB 0557
- Block Map Number 3 – LRB 0558
- Block Map Number 4 – LRB 0560
- Block Map Number 5 – LRB 0561
- Block Map Number 6 – LRB 0562
- Block Map Number 7 – LRB 0597
- Block Map Number 8 – LRT 0107
- Block Map Number 9 – LRB 0617
- Block Map Number 15 – LRB 0088
- Block Map Number 16 – LRB 2027
- Block Map Number 17 – LRB 0089
- Block Map Number 18 – LRB 2028
- Block Map Number – LRB 0618
- Block 388 – LRB 2026
- Block 389 – LRB 2025
- Blocks 422 and Block 423 – LRB 0090
- Supplementary Map Number 2 – LRT 0106_B
- LRA 0061
- LRA 0293
- LRA 0328
- LRA 0329
- LRA 0343
- LRA 0344
- LRA 0345
- LRB 0001
- LRB 0028_1
- LRB 0028_2
- LRB 0080
- LRB 0081
- LRB 0085
- LRB 0087
- LRB 0091
- LRB 0092
- LRB 0103
- LRB 0619
- LRB 0620
- LRB 0621
- LRB 0622
- LRB 0623
- LRB 2029
- LRB 2030
- LRB 2031
- LRB 2052
- LRB 2054
- LRT 0031
- LRT 0032_A
- LRT 0033_A
- LRT 0034_A
- LRT 0042
- LRT 0044_B
- LRT 0044_E
- LRT 0044_F
- LRT 0313