Terrace stoplight: Recipe for traffic disaster

Opinion

Posted by
Thu, May 11, 2006

Darin Boville

Coastsiders may have seen people out in front of Long’s or Safeway gathering signatures for a petition opposing a stoplight at Terrace.  Hundreds have signed up, because a Terrace stoplight makes no sense.  As the Coastal Commission wrote, “it would interrupt the flow of through traffic on Highway 1.  The distance between the current signalized North Main Street/Highway 1 intersection and Terrace is approximately 1,000 feet.  Spacing signalized intersections on Highway 1 this close could increase congestion on the highway because of insufficient ‘stacking’ space.”

The interesting question is how such a bad idea ever grew legs.  For the answer, we need to briefly touch upon the history of the Ailanto/Pacific Ridge project.  In 2001, the Coastal Commission approved a 126-house subdivision with some special conditions, like a lot retirement program and only temporary use of Terrace as access for 40 homes. The developer didn’t accept these conditions, so he sued.  By the end of 2002, the Commission was getting nervous and offered to cave in on the lot retirement and Terrace access issues.  HMB Council members were irate.  Mike Ferreira stated (Review, 11/20/02): “This is a complete surrender, and it is so gratuitous to the developer that it sickens me.  That flies right in the face of traffic analysis for the area.  Highway 1 is already at an unsafe level of usage.  This will be a huge mess.”  Toni Taylor added: “I can’t even imagine how we’re going to police that intersection [Terrace].  That would be a disaster for the area.”

Ironically, a week after the Commission offered to capitulate on the main points, it won a complete victory on those same points in court.  Ailanto then appealed, having learned that the Commission didn’t believe in its own case.  In 2004, the Commission and City signed a three-way settlement agreement that further capitulates to the developer, especially on the use of Terrace as sole permanent access.

The Commission’s 2001 approval of the project required: “Permanent access to the site shall be provided by the construction of either Bayview Drive or Foothill Boulevard.  Until such time that a permanent access road is constructed, Terrace Avenue may be used for construction and to serve the first 40 homes that are constructed.  Following the construction of a permanent access road, all residential traffic shall be routed to the permanent access road.”

The settlement agreement erases those conditions, including all references to Foothill and Bayview, in return for a smaller number of houses (40 without, 63 with a stoplight) that can use Terrace as sole permanent access.  Although the lot size is similar, in the agreement the houses can be almost twice the average size previously approved (4,600 vs. 2,600 sq. ft, with 3-car instead of 2-car garages). There are no subdivisions in HMB, even Ocean Colony, with average house sizes that large.  Most important, the site plan has been rearranged such that if the houses are built, the possibility of Foothill, as a way around the 92/Main/1 checkpoint, is erased forever. 

There’s a big catch to the settlement agreement.  If the City and Commission don’t agree to a stoplight at Terrace, the agreement is nullified (p.12) and the parties resume litigating.  To prejudice the Terrace stoplight’s approval, the agreement (p. 9) actually requires the City and Commission’s planning staffs to recommend approval of the stoplight, even though both staffs have rightly recommended against it.  This unprincipled requirement, that professional staff argue a position they clearly disagree with, should red-flag the agreement in the public’s eyes.  The whole reason to have planning staff is to benefit from their unfettered, expert opinion.  Contractually compelling them to parrot a position is reprehensible.

Even the City Council is muzzled by the agreement from opposing it.  Page 16 prohibits the City from taking any action that could delay or defeat the exercise of Ailanto’s rights under the agreement, which of course public Council criticism would be most effective in doing.

The lot retirement program is no more principled than the rest of the agreement.  Ailanto is required to pay $45,000 per lot to the City, so that it can purchase and retire another buildable lot of similar size as a zero-sum traffic mitigation.  Problem is $45,000 only buys you a car, not a buildable lot in HMB, which can easily cost 10 times that amount.  As traffic mitigation, the agreement’s lot retirement program is a sham.

The citizens of HMB appear to have one surefire way to stop this train: a November ballot measure that prohibits a Terrace stoplight, thus dissolving the settlement agreement and reinstating Foothill and/or Bayview as Ailanto’s permanent access.  Midcoasters can consider an advisory measure with a similar message, since they’re equally affected by the traffic. 


Who would set up such an ill-advised, either/or choice?  Looks like it’s either “approve a bad stoplight” or “approve a bad bypass”.

And this is the infrastructure improvement that’s supposed to benefit everyone?

Given our current state of affairs, it’s beyond me that anyone would view the above “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” choice as the best possible use of their time and resources.

If that’s the best that CCF can do on ‘Infrastructure’, I can’t wait to see what they unveil in the ‘Education’, ‘Social Justice’, and ‘Environmental Preservation’ areas of their site!

I must say that Don Bacon’s summary of the past events sounds credible and balanced, and from what he says, the agreement seems very strange.  But to respond with a ballot measure like that is in-credible.  Wow!

—Dan

Thanks for posting this history - now I understand why a vote against this light is so critical and I’m appalled. What I fail to understand is why “in 2004, the Commission and City signed a three-way settlement agreement that further capitulates to the developer.”  The terms, including gag order and forced recommendation of a light that would be a determinent to the whole coast, make no sense.  Why would they agree to this? What were they so worried about? Seems so idiotic that it’s still hard to understand.

Who signed this Agreement with Ailanto? Mr. Bacon raises more than a few very interesting points regarding the Settlement Agreement between the City, Coastal Commission, and Ailonto. The 2001 Coastal Commission ‘approval of 126 house subdivision with some special conditions …’, spoke to lot retirement, temporary and permanent access for the project, and more. The signed Agreement (2004), is an about face on several key issues.

According to the Agreement (pg 3), ‘The applicant shall pay to the City the total sum of $2,835,000 as a cumulative traffic mitigation contribution fee (“the in-lieu CTMC fee”). The in-lieu CTMC fee represents the payment of $45,000 per lot, for each of the sixty-three parcels on which homes will be built. The in-lieu CTMC fee shall be used by the City for the purpose of acquiring and retiring development rights on existing legal parcels in the City.’ A good argument could be made that the above requirement is nothing more than a transparent attempt of extortion. To build a lot, one must first pay for a like lot somewhere else, so it can be ‘retired’? If there are buildable lots in HMB for $45,000, please let us know, as the demand would be high.

It is clear, through all negotiations just prior to the Agreement, that a ‘permanent access road’ (Foothill/Bayview) was not only considered, but required by the Coastal Commission, with good cause. The idea that a staffer at the Commission says that Foothill ‘couldn’t be permitted’ flies in the face of the Commission he works for.

Mr. Bacon is also correct regarding the requirement of the City staff to support the Terrace light (pg9); ‘The staff of the City shall recommend that the City approve this Terrace coastal development permit.’ Further (pg16), the Agreement states ‘Neither the Commission nor the City, including the individual members of its current City Council, will take any action directly or indirectly to delay or defeat Ailanto’s rights thereunder.’ Then, to cement this approach, 18.5 of the Agreement demonstrates the ‘Binding Effect On Successors’.

It is also important to note that, as a result of this Agreement, the entire buildable portion of the newly configured project was picked up and moved south, so that it sits directly on top of Foothill. This is an interesting point. It means that once the first pad is poured, light or no light, Foothill is dead forever. Why would anyone go to such an extreme to kill an option for our City (and coastside) that would significantly improve traffic circulation, and that was the required permanent access road of the developer and Commission?

Another interesting question raised regarding Foothill is the cost. The individual who’s signature is on the Settlement Agreement publicly stated, at the May 2nd City Council meeting, figures ranging from $100 Million to $300 Million to build Foothill. Are we to believe that the cost of building a two lane road, little less than one mile in length will rival the cost of boring two holes through a mountain at Devil’s Slide ($270 Million projected)?

This development has been in the works for over two decades. It started in 1985, with tentative approval for 228 homes (Review, 08/12/04). Why, after over 20 years of discussion, do the residents of HMB come in dead last in terms of benefit?

To get the answers, we need to ask the members of the Council in 2004 (Ferreira/ McCausland/ Grady/ Frasier/ Taylor), and specifically those members that participated in the negotiations. We can start with Mr. Ferreira, who was the Mayor at the time, and whose signature is on the Agreement (pg18).

 

Mr. Muteff is perhaps unaware of the scope of the actual 4 lane Foothill Boulevard in the City’s Circulation Element that runs all the way from Young Avenue in the North to Stonepine in the south.  My 5/02 comments to the council about costs were directed at that very version, the official version, and not the latest resurrected Bayview/Foothill flim-flam because the flim-flam hadn’t even been announced by CCF as of 5/02.

There’s some twisteroos in Mr. Muteff’s comments above, some subtle, some not.  One is that he substitutes “buildable” lot for “legal” lot.  There’s a big difference, especially when you consider that North Wavecrest alone has at least 1200 lots which would be candidates for “legal” lots if they would pass the Gardner Decision test.  Check the newspaper’s records of lot sales in North Wavecrest.  $45,000 might get you three lots.

He argues for the word “extortion” to describe the lot retirement condition and does so in a context as to imply that it’s a City negotiation position.  In that way you, the reader, might not realize that it’s a Coastal Commission Condition of Approval upheld by Judge Foiles in a very clearly written decision. It’s now an established Coastal Commission regional traffic mitigation policy for new subdisions

  And his insinuation that councilmembers designed the roads to preclude his precious Foothill is a lulu.  The applicant and City/Coastal staff worked it out.  Just that.  Nothing more. 

    There’s lots more I could rebut but I have to ask myself whether i really need to chase Mr. Muteff’s Foothill fantasies.  Foothill would only mess up traffic if it were built, and it can’t be legally built anyway, notwithstanding Mr. Muteff’s declaration of superior knowledge over Coastal Commission staff.

Mike Ferreira

Don, thanks for doing the research for an excellent critique of the ill conceived proposal for a signal light at Terrace avenue and Highway 1.

In 1954 I graduated from High School and was fortunate to be the graduation class speaker.  Being a first generation American my parents had instilled in me the importance of democracy and education.
So my lead sentence was,  “Education is the bulwark of democracy and the prelude to good living.”

It’s over 50 years later, BS/MS from Berkeley, two well educated grown children and I can’t come up with a better sentence to describe your critique and proposal.

During the past few months I had attempted through letters to the editor and oral presentations at both the HMB city council and midcoast council meetings, to describe the environmental issues and illustrate the difficulties it would create for the entire coastside. 

Your proposal for the issue to be on the ballot in November is the way democracy works.  The entire coastside community should be involved in decisions so dramatically affecting them. 
     
Please “count me in”  helping io move your proposal forward.

Jerry Steinberg
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I find it disturbing, Mike, that every time you enter into the online debate about Pacific Ridge you conclude your responses with dismissive tones. When I tried to point out a few important points last year, you told me that there was “neither time nor space” to go into the details you would have liked to have gone into. This is cyberspace. There’s plenty of room. It’s up to you to MAKE the time. Now you’re telling Mr. Muteff that “there’s lots more I could rebut” but you’d rather dismiss him with an incomplete argument against his points.

While I agree that Foothill likely isn’t the best option, we shouldn’t yet abandon discussion of building Bayview as the ingress/egress to Pacific Ridge. Terrace Avenues currently serves this role for the entire Highland Park neighborhood. Common sense dictates that Pacific Ridge should not also pile onto Terrace. It’s wrong and everyone who looks at the situation understands that it’s wrong. We need to work together to come up with a solution that does not destroy Highland Park for Pacific Ridge’s sake.

The traffic light at Terrace makes no sense whatsoever. You insisted in our last discussion that Highway 1 would be widened to two lanes through that stretch and a traffic light would be a necessity when the highway is widened. I have seen no approved plans for this alleged widening. Why in the world would we put in a disruptive traffic light at such a sensitive intersection before it’s needed or even wanted? Highland Park doesn’t want the light. Fifteen thousand commuters on Highway 1 don’t want the traffic light. We were assured when we bought our house 11 years ago that Pacific Ridge could not be built and would not be built until the developers had put in their own access road—either Foothill, Bayview, or both.

Nonetheless, if for some reason Pacific Ridge simply MUST be built without its own access road, then I believe the best situation for Half Moon Bay would be to accept the 40-house, no-light limit (forget the ridiculous little pocket park the developer is supposed to give us on top of the sump) and build those 40 houses in such a position that either Bayview or Foothill could be developed at a later time. When the new road opens, shut off Terrace and we’re back where we were supposed to be all along. If that means Pacific Ridge can add another couple dozen houses after they close off Terrace, so be it.

You say Mr. Muteff should get over his Foothill fantasies. Perhaps he’ll be better able to give up his “fantasy” when you recover from your ridiculous traffic light fantasy! By the way, is there ANYONE else in the community (besides you, Mike) who thinks this traffic light is a good idea?

Janet, if you’ve been reading Mr. Muteff’s posts to Mike’s articles, you’d have noted he didn’t address a single one of Mike’s points despite claiming he was going to expose and rebut a number of errors Mike committed. Because he completely begged all of the questions, I imagine Mike only takes Mr. Muteff seriously to the degree that he imagines others might be misled by him.

I saw Mike’s post to you last fall and I thought that you were overly-sensitive and that he had been completely respectful. He was the only public official who deigned to spend any precious time writing posts on line when he might have better spent his time looking for another half dozen votes to put him over the line. As far as taking time to correspond with all posters one on one, I think he’s gone overboard as it is, and I laugh to see a number of his antagonists demanding he propose solutions to problems and not just hammer their recycled bad ideas.

You ask if anyone thinks the signal is a good idea. I live on Terrace and don’t like the idea of change myself—why can’t things remain as they are? If you go to city hall and ask for a draft copy of the Highway 1 plan from the planning department dated February 2004, you’ll see the city is planning the four-lane extension on Hwy 1 north past Terrace to Kehoe. As has been pointed out in these posts, there are no allocated funds for this, but it is a plan. The current EIR for Terrace concerns this Highway 1 plan, if I’m not mistaken.

Keeping all politics out of it for a moment, it is hard to imagine that if it is passed that you won’t need a light at Terrace for exiting from Highland Park, particularly for left hand turns against two oncoming lanes of northbound traffic. If you wonder why the four lanes pass Terrace, you’d have to ask the engineers who’ve conceptualized it as helping solve evening commute problems, but I think the argument is that it creates more stacking capacity and helps alleviate the downtown situation and reduces some stress on the northbound evening commute.

Lucy Lopez presented the petitions Tuesday night against the light and asked the council to agendize a discussion about the light before the EIR is done on the premise the city has to go along with it because of the wording in the settlement agreement. I think the council will have to accede to this and that it should make for an interesting evening to see how our new respectful council will respond to the politics of all of this. The one thing certain is they know the Foothill option is too expensive and too problematic to grasp, and Bayview is already dead on arrival, despite the coalition of developers, builders, engineers and property rights fanatics who want to saddle the City with more homes and traffic than poor old 92 can siphon away now.

ken king