County stops, and then allows, filling and grading at Big Wave


Posted by on Fri, June 23, 2006

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UPDATED: The original photos for this story were lost. These photos from the same June 2006 series were substituted in February 8, 2009.

Two days after halting filling and grading on the southeast portion of the property [Google map]  to be used by the proposed Big Wave project, the San Mateo County Planning and Building Division has sent a letter to the owners allowing the activity to proceed.

On Friday afternoon, Jim Eggemeyer, the county’s Development Review Services Manager, sent a letter to the property’s owner and his attorney, as well as the farmer who would be planting the property, saying the property was exempt from coastal district and grading regulations:

Preliminary research indicates that this issue was the subject of litigation in 1988, and a Superior Court judgment was rendered finding that routine agricultural activity on the property was exempt from both Coastal District Regulations and County Grading Regulations.

The county has asked that the farmer maintain a 100-foot buffer zone around wetlands on the property.

Based on our site inspection, none of the new soil deposited and spread so far is anywhere close to the wetland’s 100’ buffer.  At our site inspection, we asked Mr. Iacopi to delineate the 100’ buffer boundary along the wetland’s entire length on both sides of Denniston Creek.  We understand there are orange cones demarcating the boundary.  Please maintain these cones during your growing season.

The wetland buffer was marked with orange cones on Thursday morning.

Alarms were raised Monday evening when a bulldozer was seen spreading truckloads of dirt on the property. The property is directly adjacent to the Pillar Point marsh.  Vegetation had been removed in late 2004 or early 2005 with harrowing or deep discing.

Work continued Tuesday.  Wednesday morning, at least seven large dump trucks brought in loads of soil about every ten minutes. The area being filled was lower than much of the rest of the Big Wave property.  The fill dirt raised the level substantially. 

The California Coastal Commission’s enforcement division began looking into the matter on Tuesday, and made contact with Gary Warren of San Mateo County’s Code Enforcement office.

Wednesday morning,  Sheriff’s deputies requested that the bulldozer operator and a farmer who was on-site halt their activities until code enforcement arrived.  Mr. Warren arrived at the site and issued a stop work order.  The bulldozer was loaded onto a truck and removed from the site Wednesday afternoon. The farmer reportedly told officers that he was trucking in the soil to mix with the existing soil to grow pumpkins for Pumpkin Festival season.

Click the link to see copy of the county’s letter.

Messrs. Byers, Barber, and Iacopi:

San Mateo County Planning and Building Division issued a stop work notice Wednesday, 6/21/06, regarding the activities occurring out on APNs O47-312-040 and 047-311-060 (a.k.a. the "Big Wave" property) near the Half Moon Bay Airport in response to an allegation that there was grading occurring without a grading permit.  During the last two days we have investigated this situation, made a site inspection and determined the following:

1.  Historically this property has been farmed, and this farming may continue as a legal non-conforming use.  Preliminary research indicates that this issue was the subject of litigation in 1988, and a Superior Court judgment was rendered finding that routine agricultural activity on the property was exempt from both Coastal District Regulations and County Grading Regulations.

2.  The new soil that has been brought onto the site is for spreading, soil blending & enrichment purposes for the upcoming pea/bean planting. It is not associated with the pending Big Wave project.  This activity is exempt under Section 8603.12 of the County Ordinance Code regarding routine agricultural activities.  In addition as stated above, it appears that a Superior Court judgment made the same determination on similar facts in 1988.

3.  Coastal Development Permit or Exemption for this activity - Once again, it appears that a Superior Court judgment rendered routine agricultural activities on the property as exempt from Coastal District Regulations.

4.  Sensitive Habitat/Wetland Buffers - Based on our discussions and site inspection (Thursday morning, 6/22/06) we understand it has been Mr. Iacopi’s (farmer) intent to spread and enrich the soil throughout the extent of the arable lands.  Based on our site inspection, none of the new soil deposited and spread so far is anywhere close to the wetland’s 100’ buffer.  At our site inspection, we asked Mr. Iacopi to delineate the 100’ buffer boundary along the wetland’s entire length on both sides of Denniston Creek.  We understand there are orange cones demarcating the boundary.  Please maintain these cones during your growing season.

Based on the results of our investigation, we are lifting our stop work notice.  While LCP Policy 7.19 allows agricultural uses in the wetland 100’ buffer zones, it assumes that such use produces no impacts on the adjacent wetlands.  No work is permitted in the wetland buffer zone until such time as you have consulted with Mr. Tim Frahm of the Resource Conservation District (RCD) for their recommendation and submitted your proposed intentions and any mitigation measures recommended by the RCD you propose to implement.  San Mateo County Planning and Building staff will then make a determination if your proposal complies with LCP Policy 7.19. and notify you of our decision before you may proceed.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I can be reached at 650/363-1930.

jke

cc:  Mr. Iacopi (by fax)


Having daily observed the activities on this property the last few years, I’d say it is hardly “routine agriculture”.  This isn’t about growing pumpkins—it’s pre-development by ag equipment.

I thought the goal of agriculture was to plant a crop and harvest it and hopefully make a profit.  The deep ripping of the soil a couple years ago was a surprise – you don’t hear of that practice much anymore.  Then late last summer a hasty ag well was put in and about one quarter of the prepared land actually planted with a variety of vegetables.  Most of those eventually went to seed and were recently plowed back in.

They keep the land worked up so no pesky native or wetland plants can grow there, and now they’ve got that whole low section in the southern parcel filled in with imported soil.  If it ever was a wetland, it sure isn’t now.  They’re well on their way to that 3 feet of fill they want for their development.  What’s to stop them from going all the way?

Kind of a curious how both David Cline (Boy’s and Girls Club) and the owners of the Big Wave property both decided to jump into the grading…er…pumpkin growing business in the same week.

We might want to keep an eye out for a bulldozer to show up on the Wavecrest property in the next few days.

So I suppose, even if a farmer has the proper permits, certain folks are still hoping to eliminate farming on the coast.

If the farmer involved is the one I know personally, he is in fact one of the few young full time farmers left on the coast.

I wonder if Ms Ketchem is experienced in farming or has a degree in agriculture? Or is her experience from daily observation? She is observant, since most likely it isn’t about growing pumpkins (too late in the season). I’d guess peas.

I said somewhere else on coastsider.com that the supposed support of agriculture by certain vocal groups is mere lip service to appeal to the urban voters.

I hear hysterical laughter coming from the spirit world, where farmers from the coastside’s past are appalled at what is becoming of their former home…

Hey Mary:  Get real!  Look at the photos, does that look like “farming” equipment to you?  Agriculture does not mean growing buildings.

In this case “the proper permits” means “no permits”.

If the land’s owners get what they are asking for, this plot of land will only be farmable for perhaps one more season.  Then it will be covered with concrete and asphalt.

This is not about the right to farm.  This is about whether farming is being used as a pretext to literally bury environmentally-sensitive land as a prelude to building. That’s paying lip service to agriculture.

Farmer Iacopi appears to be growing fig leaves.

The Big Wave people have shown their true colors with the fake farm.
Big Wave should get a big Bye Bye Wave.

Mary,
Please don’t characterize me as someone who wants to eliminate farming on the coast.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

To answer your question, I have a degree in agriculture (UC Davis), experience farming (5 years in Dixon), and a career in horticulture. 

I live next door to the Big Wave site and reported earlier on their dumping in the streambed last winter which caused flooding in our community.

To Steve Skinner: What would you classify as “farm equipment”? A horse and plow? As for the buildings in the picture (or did I misunderstand you…) I thought this was about filling and grading. I must pay closer attention. I didn’t realize that the buildings had sprouted overnight!  :)

Lisa—great to know you have that farming background. Sorry if I came off sounding…however it sounded. I hope you are doing well here on the coastside, though I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would move here to make a living farming! Not trying to be sarcastic with that remark, either. The old farming families have given up or moved away, which is sad.

This might be a good place to discuss what are now considered “best practices” for farming. Any input?

It’d be really neat to hear from anyone who has been a long-time farmer here, but I won’t hold my breath…

In defense of Lisa, whom I’ve known for many years now, you can not critize her knowledge of agriculture and she is probably correct in her observations of the following week.  The LCP has designated significant portions of the coastside for agricultural development.  I don’t understand the county’s acceptance of this practice on land that has not been designated for this use.  It seems that the LCP is not worth the paper it’s written on.

From: Jose Tamez
From 1997 untill last Summer, 2005, my kids and I used to take ‘nature walks’ in the Big Wave area. We would often see rabbits, all types of frogs, an occaisional fox, lots of different birds, including the majestic ‘rodent killer’, the Red Tailed Hawk and, The San Francisco Garter Snake. We would always see these harmless, beautiful snakes sunning themselves all in that area which WAS a perfect habitat. I had hoped to see them again this Summer but alas, guess no one gives a damn about preserving that beautiful, natural area. Just some observations here, no politics.

Importation of soil and changing the grade of a site is not “routine agricultural activity”. 

Even if you are farming, this should require a grading permit.  It does in Solano County – why not here?  Why is the County letting Big Wave get away with this?

“guess no one gives a damn about preserving that beautiful, natural area. Just some observations here, no politics.”

hmmm…isn’t it privately-owned land?  Is that the area you were trespassing on?  Because you loved hiking on it means it should be preserved for you?

“Why is the County letting Big Wave get away with this?”

the letter seems to indicate (at least in my deranged mind) they did nothing wrong.  What exactly are they trying to “get away with” other than an allowable use on private property?

“...and this farming may continue as a legal non-conforming use.”

Perhaps Fourth of July will come just in time and folks will remember little things like liberty and freedom.

It really amazes me that the same small group of people relentlessly contrives to create “controversial issues”, around otherwise benign activities. They use any and every illogical rational to increase the focus of attention on perfectly innocent activities, and the “conspiracy” of those plotting the evil intent behind those activities. “Big Wave” is a perfect example of their creating a controversy over an essentially non-controversial activity.

Is it possible, just possible, that people (farmers) are all attempting to plant pumpkins at the same time because that’s what a farmer does? Is it possible that every year farmers plant their crops, regardless of what they may be, at the time most appropriate to maximize the harvest? Next, I expect, some will cry conspiracy because those same farmers are harvesting their crops at the same time as well (those pesky, shrewd buggers).

What’s wrong with trying to profit, through the gifts of Mother Nature, by growing something?

To Ms. Ketchum, based on the background you offered on yourself, I would think you’d be a little more sensitive, and able to differentiate between farming and building. To Mr. Lansing, I might suggest you go see, and talk to, a real farmer. You might learn something. To Mr. Skinner, I ask what buildings? I see trucks, soil, manure, and a tractor. What do you see? To Mr. Parr, fig leaves? I’ll leave that alone because this is your publication, but really! To Mr. Sutton, fake farm? To Mr. Tamez, do the words ‘property rights’ mean anything?

How do you suppose the food we buy ends up at Safeway? How do we sell so many pumpkins at Pumpkin Festival? Are our Christmas trees a conspiracy as well? This coastside was founded and populated by farmers and fishermen, primarily Portuguese and Italian. Sit with one of those families for dinner. Perhaps you’ll be more appreciative of what’s offered to you in the future. Both occupations are brutally hard, loaded with uncertainty, and very seldom profitable. Those same people who are screaming conspiracy should try to walk a mile in a farmer’s shoes. If they could keep up, and I doubt it, they might reach a new level of appreciation for life and what they have.

Mr. Iocopi is an endangered species. On a coastside that has a rich history of farming; how many family farms are left? Just about everyone says they support farmers, but talk is cheap. By placing a hasty and, as it turns out, inappropriate stop work order on Mr. Iocopi, he has lost time, productivity, public confidence, and money. Who’s going to give that back to him? His financial loss is somewhere between $5,000-$10,000. He did nothing wrong, yet he’s being vilified. Do any of the people persecuting him actually know him, or his family? The family has been on the coastside for many, many years (decades). I believe Mike is third generation. His Father was/is a farmer as well. There aren’t many farmers left around here. Wonder why.

 

Ms Ketcham writes:

Importation of soil and changing the grade of a site is not “routine agricultural activity”. 

Well, I won’t argue, since you have the degree. However, I have seen “land planes” used in the Salinas Valley, leveling the fields to prepare for planting an irrigated crop. The following link is to an article titled Land Grading for Irrigation: Design and Construction http://muextension.missouri.edu/explore/agguides/agengin/g01641.htm (From University of Missouri, not California—sorry!)

Importation of soil? I thought adding soil amendments was a Good Thing, rather than using those pesky bags of chemical fertilizer.

So do we know whether the leveling was done to Build a Development or for ag purposes to improve the results of irrigation? Do we know what kind of stuff was in those trucks—just any old fill or topsoil and manure?

Before jumping to the conclusion that Big Wave is trying to get away with something, why not make an attempt to get all the facts? Or do you think we have all the facts already?

Even if you are farming, this should require a grading permit.  It does in Solano County – why not here?  Why is the County letting Big Wave get away with this?

“Should”—can you cite a county ordinance for that, or is it just that some people think it should require a permit? (I am not trying to be argumentative—I really do not know if it is against the law. Let’s find out.)

And, finally, this isn’t Solano County. Thanks goodness!  :)

For those who do not know them (or even if you do) here’s a link to an artilce about Iacopi Farms:

http://www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com/markets/farmers/farm_50.php

To George Muteff
fake (Definition)
adj.
Having a false or misleading appearance; fraudulent.

The issue here is not farming but development. I have nothing against Mr. Iocopi and I would be happy to see him farm that property for many years in the future. That’s more appeasing and productive than what is proposed by Big Wave for that property.  You call Mr. Iocopi an endangered species and in the same breath defend the very developers that will gobble up what little land that is left for farming. Once Big Wave is developed Mr Iocopi tractor will not fit in too well with 18 houses, 18 apartments, 4 two story office buildings, a self storage facility , and about 75 additional vehicles clogging up Princeton and the surrounding area. I’ll take the farm any day.

Farming is indeed a hard and risky way to make a living, but this is not the family farm.  Let’s not forget the field belongs to a developer who is hot to pave it over. 

For the last 2-3 years we have seen much prep work on the land and precious little grown and even less harvested.  It looks like a lot of money being spent there, with very little, if any agricultural income.

In regard to this latest filling and grading, it doesn’t make much farming sense to invest in such extensive land preparation for a dry-land crop of one or two years.  Or to spread tons of pale imported soil (wonder where it came from?) deeply over the rich black native soil on the site. 

How the county can call that “spreading, soil blending & enrichment” and “routine agricultural practice” and not require a grading permit is beyond me.  Just eye-balling the change in grade from Airport St., I’m guessing at least a couple feet of fill in the formerly low area. 

Let’s all look at the land in one years time and see what is really going on here, building or farming.

I have lived next to this property for nearly 20 years.  Some years it was tilled and some years it was left to the weeds.  Not until Big Wave developers wanted to put up self-storage units on the property and were denied, was it suddenly prime agricultural land.  Land that needed to be filled with top soil, even though it certainly hadn’t been over-farmed in the past.  I did see a small patch of fava beans go to seed once, however.  And if there is a 100 foot buffer between wetlands and tilled soil, why do I have photos of tilled soil within 15 feet or so of water covered wet lands at this site?  And now we are told the site will include housing for the disabled (and self-stoarge and warehouses and offices and parking lots etc).  Why is it Big Wave developers cannot just say the truth - they want to develop their land with buildings and asphalt?  And then make the proper applications to the proper authorities and let the cards fall where they may?  Why the attempts at deceit and the falsehoods?  Where is the honesty?  How can they look in the mirror and not look away in shame?