Big Wave project gets its first public hearing

By on Tue, June 6, 2006

Darin Boville

Monday night, the Big Wave project, which links homes for developmentally disabled adults with commercial office space, took an important step in what looks like a long and difficult path.  The project aims to build on twenty acres of land next to the Half Moon Bay Airport, Pillar Point Marsh, and Pillar Ridge mobile home community [Google map].

Officially, this was a "Pre-application Workshop" that is required by ordinance for all "major developments" in San Mateo County. The intent of such workshops is to gather input from the public early on, before an application is actually submitted, to hear the public’s concerns, so that these concerns may be formally addressed later on during the project review by County staff. The County staff will publish a summary of the comments made at tonight’s meeting and will attempt to provide some sort of response to questions asked

It was billed by David Byers, land-use attorney for the Big Wave project, as the “first time in any sense this project has been unveiled to the community”.

Though this was the first such meeting dedicated to  showcasing Big Wave, the project has been presented before during public meetings of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and of the Half Moon Bay City Council, among others. Its proponents came out in force for the county’s hearings on its Local Coastal Program.

The Project

The proposed project would be located on two separate parcels located near the Pillar Ridge Manufactured Home Community, just north of Princeton, off Airport Road. The northern of the two parcels is zoned M-1 (Marine, Light Industrial) and M-1, AO  (Marine, Light Industrial in the Airport Overlay zone). The southern of the two parcels is zoned W (Waterfront Industrial).

Neither zoning designation provides for residential use. The project proposes to include 18 small single-story homes (1200 sq. ft., 2 bedroom, 2 bath) and 18 1-bedroom apartments. According to the applicant, the 18 small homes would be initially sold at cost to members of the developmentally-disabled community. From a planning perspective, the residential portion of the project constitutes a new housing subdivision.
The commercial portion of the project includes an office park consisting of four two-story office buildings, and associated parking lots, that were described by the applicant’s architect as having a "box-type, warehouse design."

The warehouse/office space would be sold as condos, where part of the ongoing condo association dues from the "for-profit" office park would help pay the operating expenses of the "non-profit" housing. The goal of the project is for the office park to provide space for businesses that would employ developmentally-disabled persons.

Finally, the project includes a self-storage facility along one side of the office park that would provide additional income.


Challenges to the project

The property appears to contain protected wetlands and sensitive habitat.  Some of these areas may have been degraded by recent agricultural and grading operations on the land.

Other issues that the project may need to address include Federal Aviation Administration setbacks in the airport zone, drainage impacts on the Pillar Ridge community, inconsistency of the residential use with the current zoning, and new housing in a tsunami zone.

The land is also in the middle of a boundary dispute between the Coastside County Water District and the Montara Water and Sanitary District.  MWSD says that the land is within its boundaries, but it has a moratorium on new water connections.  CCWD could provide it with water, but would need to establish jurisdiction.

These obstacles do nothing to deflate the motivation of developer Jeff Peck, one of the two owners of the property at the Big Wave site and its primary proponent. He purchased his tract in 1999 along with that of the Barber family which together make up the Big Wave land and has always had a vision of building upon it in such a way as to benefit the developmentally disabled. 

“This is the only piece of property zoned to get this done,” he said, dismissing suggestions that he move the project to a less controversial site. 

Jamie Barber, however, says that she purchased her property in tandem with Peck but never had any thoughts of developing homes for the handicapped on the land until Peck approached her with the idea some time later. Both admit that they didn’t consider any other sites for the project. 

Delays in building the condo units may jeopardize the business model upon which the project is based—commercial space subsidizing condos for the disabled—as costs escalate but Peck is undeterred. His own child among the potential residents of Big Wave he vows “I won’t give up until I’m dead.” 

He’ll need all of that determination and more judging by comments from audience members.

Community testimony

Former Half Moon Bay City Council member Mike Ferreira pointed out that past projects aimed at the Coastside have languished for twenty years “before they failed” and that two more projects—"both drier than this one”—were currently “on that same path.” He stressed the need to perform environmental studies early in the process in order to understand the nature of the land under consideration “rather than just assuming that all is well” and to contact the Coastal Commission earlier rather than later in order to discover “show-stoppers” and explore work-arounds.

Peck says that he has already commissioned an ecological study from a “private biologist” and that fears about environmental studies, often the bane of Coastside developers, don’t worry him.

Other speakers mentioned a variety of issues that suggested that the backers of Big Wave would benefit from a less insular approach.

One speaker noted that the metal roof of the large, warehouse-like buildings were contrary to local design codes while another speaker suggested that the plans may encroach on the El Grenada Sanitary District easement. A professional in the disability field wondered aloud at the lack of contact between the Big Wave developers and the regional community of experts on meeting the needs of the developmentally challenged. 

One resident, citing the restrictions placed upon coastal building in Marin County, raised the issue of natural disaster. Ironically for a project named “Big Wave” little thought seems to been given to the danger of tsunamis although this low-lying flat land near the ocean would be inundated if one ever struck the midcoast. 

Whatever the future holds for Big Wave it seems certain that residents of the Coastside, long politically polarized over the issue of development, will be discussing these issues and more in the years to come.

The upcoming formal steps to approval are: the developer formally submits the project to the county,  the county determines if the application is complete, the county starts the environmental review process probably including the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and formal presentation of proposal before the planning commission.  The project may need to be reviewed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission.

I also attended the meeting. The applicants used the first part of the workshop as an opportunity to put on a marketing presentation that touted on the merits of the project to the community as a whole and to those it specifically intends to serve.

Three separate presentations were made by: (1) the applicants’ architect, (2) applicant Jeff Peck, of the two owners of the land parcels, and (3) the applicants’ attorney David Byers. These presentations lasted close to 45 minutes, well in excess of the 15 minutes that County planning staffer Lisa Grote told the audience would be allocated at the start of the meeting.

After the above presentations, there were 22 members of the public who offered their comments. I would categorize the breakdown as follows:

- 8 speakers representing the views of the developmentally-disabled community. They spoke in favor of the project.

- 3 speakers from the adjacent Pillar Ridge community who raised concerns about the impact of the project on their homes and the surrounding area (Pillar Ridge was apparently the only community to have received any official notice of the meeting).

- 3 elected officials from the Coastside speaking as individuals who supported the project (2 elected CCWD board members and 1 elected CUSD board member).

- 3 elected officials from the Coastside speaking as individuals who raised concerns about environmental issues surrounding the project (2 elected GSD board members and 1 elected MCC member).

- 1 property-rights activist who spoke in favor of the project.

- 2 former elected officials from the Coastside who raised concerns about environmental issues and issues involving design, transporation, and other services needed for the project.

- 1 speaker who an has a direct ownership interest in the project.

- 1 speaker with professional experience who raised concerns about how the project would interface with existing programs for the disabled, as well as environmental issues surrounding the project.

The Big Wave Project sounds wonderful. Has anyone considered having Hope Services located there. They are an annex of the large non-profitthat has been very successful in both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Hope Services of the coast is now located in a small office in Downtown HMB.

David Byers, the attorney for Big Wave, made reference to the county’s zoning map showing that the project was in an area long zoned for commercial development (M-1 and AO), and that with a use permit for residential construction, there were no other concerns. However, he omitted reference to the environmental map set next to the zoning map that clearly showed much of the area encompassing the land is designated a wetland.

The architect presenting the residential and commercial layouts continually referred to “riparian” habitat along the border of the project. Turning “wetlands” into “riparian” habitat is a bit of a semantic dodge. Even with the blessing of the county planning department, nothing less than a full EIR is necessary for this project to withstand scrutiny by the Coastal Commission.

The jurisdictional issue over water for the project, mentioned above by Darin, should concern HMB residents worried about CCWD’s recent steep price hikes. They are, and likely will continue, running double the rate of inflation because of the State’s over-stretched supplies and aging infrastructure repairs. Is it realistic to say there will be plenty of water for a primarily commercial project beyond CCWD’s boundaries? And what kind of precedent would that set for more development beyond the current boundaries?

ken king


Much emphasis is made on the urgent needs of the group of very appealing young people, as though the proposed project, rushed through, is their only hope to live independently on the Coastside with their friends.  My comments at the hearing invited people to consider the affordable homes available right now in Pillar Ridge.  We have non-profit ownership and permanent space rent control.  We have a sense of community, having fought for and achieved these things ourselves.  They would be welcome here.  It was discouraging that no one seemed to hear this.

My other comment related to encroachment and damage to the fresh water marsh from the Big Wave property.  Last winter in clearing an access road, they dumped mud and debris right into the stream bed, totally blocking the culvert outfall that drains all the runoff from our community, the hillside above and the fields to the north.  Several blocks of our community were flooded.  We notified the County, Big Wave, and the Coastal Commission at the time, with pictures – never heard a thing. 

Lisa Ketcham, President
Pillar Ridge Homeowners Association

Lisa Ketcham wrote:
“Last winter in clearing an access road, they dumped mud and debris right into the stream bed, totally blocking the culvert outfall that drains all the runoff from our community, the hillside above and the fields to the north.  Several blocks of our community were flooded.  We notified the County, Big Wave, and the Coastal Commission at the time, with pictures – never heard a thing.”

What I want to know is, what local agency gave them the legal right to clear that access road?

Clearing an access road is “development” and you need a Coastal Development Permit before you can legally do something like that. Except, of course, if you happen to be CalTrans, which does not recognize any local authority, but I digress.


In answer to Kevin’s question, the road is the access easement to El Granada Sanitary District property to the west of the marsh.  The road hadn’t been used in many years and was completely overgrown.  It looked like they just came through with a bobcat, pushed it all into the creek and packed it down.  When notified of the flooding, they moved it out of the creek and into the wetland area along the road.

This project sounds great.  Have they considered adding a ferris wheel and perhaps a miniture golf course?  Kids would love those amenities, and if they were built on raised caisons above the wetlands, youngsters could peer down into the muck while recreating in order to be able to experience what wetlands in the California coastal zone used to look like.

I took a walk around the perimeter of the Big Wave property yesterday (Thursday), camera in hand.  I was impressed with the sheer size of the two Big Wave properties and tried to imagine it in a developed state.  I can not imagine how any ‘light industrial’ two story development with huge parking lots would fit into the protected wetlands to the west of the property.

I noticed how Big Wave has been disking as close to the wetlands as possible, right up to the tree line in all instances.  In one area they have disked what has to be a good 12 to 15 foot swath of actual wetlands, as it is still too soggy to walk on today, disking having taken place sometime before the wet season.  This must be one of the areas Big Wave intends to fill if allowed to develop.  On the western perimeter of the property Big Wave has disked outside their own “No Trespassing” signs by an estimated 20 feet, leading me to wonder where the actual property lines are located.  I could find no “official” markers on the property.  But it does look as if disking has been taking small bites of what may be wetlands over a long period of time.

Tractor access to the smaller, and most southern, parcel is via a tractor cut directly across the creek that bisects the two properties.  Big Wave has called this creek a drainage ditch, but looks like a creek to me, with water running through it and vegetated banks surrounding it.

The casual reader should note the rather snide comments above from Mark Massara and consider this.  Mr. Massara is an employee of The Sierra Club.

I truly doubt The Sierra Club has a policy of going around and publically disparaging projects involving developmentally disabled children.  Have you donated to them?  Did you expect them to be running around with this kind of attitude?  Forget for a moment that “developer” types are involved (although Mr. Massara will not).  Would you not rather have people trying to find solutions rather than making these kind of remarks?

Perhaps next time you open the mailbox and see yet another mailer from The Sierra Club looking for $$ to support Mr. Massara’s comedy routine, you’ll consider some alternatives that have far less administrative bloat and considerably more effectiveness.  Two of my favorites:

They fight the good fight, but they do it honestly and they don’t have to resort to this type of nonsense.

It seems to me you’re saying that because the project is for developmentally disabled adults (not children) that this project is above disparagement.

no, that would be trying to change my point.

I find it particularly disturbing that someone would poke fun at it by referring to “ferris wheels, etc” instead of simply dismissing it for its faults (and there may be many).  We both know that many of the “adults” never rise above the level of children, both mentally and physically.

I am just surprised he didn’t say anything about helmets.

You might take note of attorney Byers being a parter in the McCracken Law Firm.  And if you remember Mirada Surf, you will remember McCracken Byers.

I found nothing comedic or disparaging in Mr. Massara’s comment. He is simply making the point that this, like most large developments has been bulldozing ahead as far as possible without oversight and regard for the environment.

Housing for the developmentally disabled would be far better placed over the hill, near El Camino Real, where better services, shopping, and employment opportunities exist.

I submitted the following email on behalf of Committee for Green Foothills to Lisa Grote (San Mateo County Planning Department) on June 5.

Hi Lisa: Unfortunately, neither I nor Lennie Roberts will be able to attend tonight’s hearing. I did not receive a notice and only heard about it through a colleague in the past few days.

This is a brief summary of Committee for Green Foothills’ concerns about this project. We will submit a more detailed letter when Lennie returns at the end of June.

1. Any review of this proposal must take into account the inherent constraints of the property itself.
These include but are not limited to: the potential existence of as yet unmapped wetlands, the existence
of prime ag soils and the property’s location within the tsunami zone.

2. Consolidation of residential and commercial components of this project onto the northern parcel
should be considered.

3. Restrictions on the type of use along with legally enforceable limitations and compliance measures
must be part of any conditions of approval. These include but are not limited to: a specified time period and detailed definitions of those who would qualify for residence.

4. The specific LCP amendments that would be necessary to approve this proposal must be considered
independently of the current LCP Update that has been underway for over six years. The purpose of the
LCP Update process is to develop revisions on a policy level, not accommodate individual project

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Please place my name on the permanent referral list for this proposal.


April Vargas, Vice President
Committee for Green Foothills

Amplifying a bit on April’s point # 4 above:

The purpose of the Midcoast LCP update is to formulate general plans and policies to ensure that growth and development over the next several decades is consistent with the California Coastal Act—-The purpose is not to provide a means to insert special rule changes that will benefit somebody’s pet project, i.e., Big Wave.

The backers of Big Wave are seeking to exploit people’s natural compassion and concern for those with disabilities in an effort to push through LCP changes that will facilitate a major commercial/housing development project.

A similar strategy was employed by the Wavecrest developers. Their proposal for huge residential subdivision (to be constructed on wetlands) was linked to a promised new middle school and a promised new Boy’s & Girl’s club.

Anybody who raised objections to the Wavecrest subdivision because it violated the Coastal Act was automatically labeled “anti-school,” or “anti-kids,” or an “obstructionist.”

A similar PR campaign is now being used to push the Big Wave project. Be wary of projects with the word “wave” in the title. 

Disking up to the edge of “wetlands” is usually done in a calculated manner to create an edge effect. The edge of a wetland, in actuality, usually extends some feet outward from the larger, more obvious plants like rushes, cattails, and willows. The turned-over soil is subjected to drying at a greater rate, and more air than is natural circulates into the edge of the remaining stands of plants, changing physical conditions and drying them as well. As a consequence, the size of the wetland is reduced.

This is at least the second time a putative developer has cleared into the edge of wetlands on this property, the previous time of which I am aware being when it was done as part of an office park development J.L. Johnson was promoting. Ralph Osterling was his environmental consultant on the project at the time.

Damage to wetlands of this sort is reportable to the Coastal Commission.

Carl May