Google seems to have two slogans: 'don't be evil', and 'it's better to ask forgiveness than seek permission.'
The state of California has told Google it must remove its mystery barge from its current berth at Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay. Nobody knows exactly what's going on out there; Google's building something, and it floats, but Google's playing coy about what it does and why it's there. The thing's four storeys tall, hardly inconspicuous, but by building it on barges rather than on land it seems Google may have been trying to avoid filing city permits, which would have been public. The Coast Guard has signed NDAs, and city officials say they haven't the slightest idea what the building work actually is.
Google says it intends to use the barges - one in San Francisco, the other currently in Portland, Maine - as "an interactive space where people can learn about new technology," though with the proviso that "it's still early days and things may change." The Island, a man-made platform formerly home to a Navy base and site of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, has its own development authority. It's thought the Treasure Island Development Authority gave the go-ahead without alerting the city authorities. A TIDA representative has said "we did not intend to violate or circumvent the process."
Work on the Google barge has come to a halt. The Coast Guard wants to make sure the barge meets its standards, and in any case, TIDA never had the authority to allow ship construction on Treasure Island. Once built - if it ever is - it will need even more permits to be moored or docked.
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission strongly suggests "that this thing is moved in an expeditious manner so when they want to start building again, they can build it lawfully at a place where it is permitted," says commission executive director Larry Goldzband.
The East Coast barge was built in New London, Connecticut, and is currently docked at Portland, Maine. Nobody knows what it's supposed to do either, but plans seem to be afoot to send it on some kind of tour, starting in New York Harbor.