Exclusive video:  HMB City Council prepares to kill Pilarcitos Creek park site


Posted by on Sat, June 2, 2007

City of Half Moon Bay
The city council discussed 27 different sites on Wednesday night, all of which are shown of the full-size version of this map. Click to download a pdf of this map. CLICK HERE to download the matrix of park sites which includes the key to the numbers on this map.

At a meeting called on 24 hours notice Wednesday, the Half Moon Bay City Council majority telegraphed its intention to kill the park site on Pilarcitos Creek that the city bought in October 2004 for a community park. Coastsider had the only camera at this city council meeting, so you can only see the video here.

The meeting was described as a "workshop" to discuss a matrix of park sites, both developed and potential, owned by the city. However, the elephant in the room was the fate of the 21 acres Half Moon Bay purchased from Nurserymen’s Exchange in 2004. At the time current City Council members Marina Fraser and Naomi Patridge spoke out against the plan. (Fraser was on the council in 2004, Patridge was not.) During Wednesday’s meeting, council member McClung made it clear she had misgivings about the site.

Full Disclosure: When Fraser and Patridge came out against the purchase in 2005 with the support of the Review, I editorialized in favor of the purchase. I also wrote a series of articles correcting some of the Review’s coverage of the decisive meeting.

What is bizarre is that in the nearly three years that the city has owned the site, after months of community planning workshops and after a peculiar unitemized estimate from the city’s park consultant, the city has never produced an itemized budget or a plan for developing the parcel. Meanwhile, the site is clearly reverting to a state of nature—which could limit the city’s ability to use or sell it.

And the clock is ticking. The city bought the park site with an interest-free loan from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). It was estimated at the meeting that the city had saved $750,000 in interest so far, and POST has indicated its willingness to extend the loan if the city agrees to develop it as a park. The loan expires in October, but POST is asking the city to declare its intentions in June. Nurserymen’s has the $3.1 million, the city has the land, and POST is holding the city’s IOU. So, it’s not clear what "walking away" would mean.

Retreating from the site could cost the city a great deal of money.  It is using part of the site as a corporation yard (which it would have to replace), the city could wind up owing interest to POST with nothing to show for it, and the site may not be developable by anyone else.

And there are reasons for the city to use the site for a park. The city could save money now by developing the site in stages, as it grows and its needs become more clear. And there is still no other site for a park within walking distance of downtown, the high school, and the middle school. Everyone at the meeting bemoaned the shortsightedness of a long-ago city council that failed to buy an earlier park site when it became available. Future Half Moon Bay City Councils may regret the loss of this unique site.

Regardless of your feelings about the park, you should watch the discussion of the site, the oral communications from the public, and the city council discussion. There is plenty of good information about the city’s parks in the rest of the video as well. Be sure to download the map and matrix of park sites so you can follow the discussion.

The city council will next take up the parks budget at its meeting on Tuesday, June 5.

NOTE: I’m going to be offline between about noon and midnight.  Please post your comments in the meantime, and I will release them from moderation as soon as I can.

 width= Terrace Park, Arnold Way Park, Magnolia Park, Coastside Community Park (Sewer Plant Road), Smith Field [24 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= Half Moon Bay Community Park (Pilarcitos Creek, formerly Nurserymen’s Exchange) [32 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= Carter Park, Fernandez Park, Frenchmans’ Creek Park, Kehoe Park, Mac Dutra Park, Oak Avenue Park, Ocean View Park, Poplar Park [8 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= CUSD Facilities (Cunha, Hatch, High School) and Johnston House [8 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= Trails [11 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= Oral communications [26 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

 width= Council discussion [12 min]  | Quicktime | Flash  |

A few years ago, I spent some time on a friend’s 300-acre ranch, five miles outside of Cloverdale, in northern Sonoma County.

Cloverdale is a town of similar size and age as Half Moon Bay; the population is a bit over 10,000, some tracts of homes have been added in recent decades, and pressure exists to increase this, just as it does here.

One major difference exists, though: Cloverdale has parks, ball fields, a first-run four-screen movie theater, and a Boys and Girls Club - all the things that we are told locally that “we cannot afford.”

Half Moon Bay was incorporated in 1959.  Where is the planning from earlier eras, and where are the parks and ball fields?  On election night last November, I had coffee with the publisher of the HMB Review, and when she repeated the oft-told canard that we don’t have such things because of “obstructionists”, I pointed back to all those decades before the rise of local preservationist and environmentalist movements, and asked why the decades of leadership by Dolores Mullins and then by Naomi Patridge did not produce parks.  Heck, if Dolores Mullins had wanted skyscrapers in HMB, from what I hear, we would have skyscrapers here today!

This town cannot depend on the largesse of the school district and the tolerance of private landowners who allow ballfields on their properties temporarily (as is the case with the now-expired leases for Smith Field, whose owner wants to build houses there).

It may take many years to complete, but land must be acquired, funds must be raised and carefully spent, and the errors of the distant past must be repaired.

We should not simply hold a fire-sale of the few properties that the City has acquired so far, which is what I heard being suggested by the three ladies of the current City Council, pocket (or spend) the money, and then start from square one all over again.  Good questions and points raised by Messrs. Muller and Grady seemed to be largely glossed over, such as when Mr. Muller raised the issue of the Smith Field lease having expired, or when Mr. Grady called for specific information about the acreage under discussion above.

Hal M. Bogner
Half Moon Bay

The current Council majority is thinking narrowly and short-term.  Citizens will need to provide strong voices and active participation to correct things.

“The current Council majority is thinking narrowly and short-term.”

As opposed to the former Council majority?

POST and Nurseryman’s sale was effective June 2004.  Ferreira was in office until December 2005.

What financing and/or park development plans were formulated during that time frame?  Were any in place at the time of the purchase?

Does Barry have a copy of the extension agreement between POST and the City?  If so, can he post it?

“...the city could wind up owing interest to POST…”

Other than litigation, how is POST going to force the city to pay the whole amount?  Do you honestly think POST is going to want to sue the City?  The City has the upper hand here, folks.  They need to force the issue.

Why doesn’t the City have enough money to complete the 22-acre park project? One big reason is the exploding budget for the City’s Police Department.

The link below will take you the 2006-07 budget summary. Go to page 7 of the document and then take a look at the graph. What’s wrong with the picture?   

Link to 2006-07 City Budget Summary (see page 7)

The City budgeted about $4.4 million on Public Safety (Police Services) for 2006-07, which constitutes 43 percent of the City’s entire spending budget. In contrast, the proposed budget for Administration (which includes legal services) amounts to about $1.9 million, or only 19 percent of the City’s spending budget.

The compound annual growth rate of spending on Police Services over the past four budget cycles ending in 2006-07 is 12.6 percent—-around three times the rate of inflation over the same period. A 12.6 percent growth rate implies a doubling of spending about every 5-1/2 years.

Spending per employee in Police services increased from $119,866 in 2002-03 to $193,006 in 2006-07.

Over the past year, the City budgeted an increase in spending on Police Services of about $500,000—-by far the largest increase for any City Department. For the coming year (2007-08), the Half Moon Bay Review recently reported that the City is proposing to increase spending on Police Services by an additional $650,000.

Link to May 30 HMB Review story on City Budget Crisis

The City’s budget is currently operating on a negative cash flow basis. Recently, the City Council decided to place an increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) on the ballot in an effort to increase City revenues. But even if the TOT measure is passed, it appears that the City will still be operating on a negative cash flow basis.

It’s hard to see how the City of Half Moon Bay will ever be able to acquire and develop land for parks without taking some drastic steps to bring spending on salaries and benefits under control.

Thanks for bringing this meeting to the web, Barry. I think the Council majority needs to explain whey they decided to discuss a topic of such long-term importance to the City with minimal notice.

Although I have not watched the entire file, I was disappointed at the inconsistent and possibly manipulative inclusion of information from the staff report. For example, Arnold St. environmental concerns were discussed extensively, and were at least briefly mentioned in the discussion of the Magnolia Street site. But for the site in front of the Sewer Plant, the summary of the site was badly skewed to suggest expansive development is easy. An EIR was mentioned, but not that the EIR was unadoptable; it was so inadequate at acknowledging the impacts and providing mitigations that the EIR was shelved. And since that draft EIR was created, the City’s own environmental consultants mapped extensive ESHAs in the west half of and north of the park site that further constrain the use and maintenance methods at the site. 

Staff may wish to provide the City Council with copies the Open Space Element drafted by a committee led by Linda Poncini and adopted by the Planning Commission. It carefully documented the condition of the land at that time, and the subjective part of the document is clearly identified. This document should be a one of the City Council’s starting points for park planning.

If this information is unavailable to staff or the Council, I will be glad to provide it.

This does not means that the City must abandon active uses on this park site; I believe the park could have real value to Casa del Mar community, and could support lower-impact uses to a larger set of users. However, the site must be programmed within its capacity. Noise, circulation (parking, intersection LOS and conflict with CdM traffic), hours of operation next to a neighborhood,  (how far after artificial turf would lights be “a must”?), toxicity of adjacent land, drainage, policing, and other issues constrain the amount of land that can be used for active sports while increasing the cost and risk.

Even if we can’t afford to develop some of it in the forseeable future, City-owned park land is nearly always a precious legacy for which future Half Moon Bay residents will be grateful. Sidewalks, school buses and current Local Coastal Programs all expose the City to liability, but that shouldn’t stop us from having them. It shouldn’t stop us from having an inventory of park land to be developed in the long term, either.

Brian, the previous city council could have done more sooner on the park financing, but it’s important to remember that the city was in the middle of the park planning process and didn’t have an estimate of the cost before the election.

The current council has had nearly a year to get a real estimate out of their contractor, but haven’t bothered. They have also shut the citizens out of the process of deciding what to do about their parks.

Ginna quote: “The City has the upper hand here, folks.” It has the power to DEFAULT on its agreement and take the hit on its credit rating, which the majority obviously doesn’t think is a problem. Is anyone else naive enough to think that this won’t seriously impact the City’s ability to obtain cheap credit in the future?

Did you blink and miss it?
City council is meeting tonight, on the shortest notice possible.

1. Convene Special Meeting — 5:00 P.M.
• Discussion regarding sale of 325 San Mateo Road/880 Stone Pine Road, Half Moon Bay, California, and identification of City Manager and City Attorney as real property negotiators and the Peninsula Open Space Trust as a negotiating party.
2. Oral Communications
3. Recess to Closed Session
• Conference With Real Property Negotiators Property: 325 San Mateo Road/880 Stone Pine Road, Half Moon Bay, California
Agency negotiator: City Manager and City Attorney Negotiating parties: Peninsula Open Space Trust Under negotiation: Price and terms of payment

“could have” should have, would have.  They probably expected to remain “in control.”

“They have also shut the citizens out of the process of deciding what to do about their parks.”

The same could be said for the many people who spoke out against the original purchase of the property in question.  Those people far outnumbered those in favor of the purchase.

Mike Ferreira Apologists Unite!!

Brian, this has nothing to do with how you feel about any previous member of HMB city council.  The question is whether by calling two meeing with absolute minimum public notice, and apparently preparing to make a decision with zero financial analysis, the current city council is putting the lie to their talk of open government, as well as breaching their fiduciary duty to the city.

What we’re witnessing here is an avoidable debacle in the making, and at the end of the day the only conclusion we can draw is that it’s being done out of spite. Because the city council has done no analysis whatsoever. Zero. You can’t defend it Brian. You won’t even try. That’s why you keep changing the subject.

It’s not like they didn’t have time. Check out the following letters to the city council.  The first is from POST to the city after John Mueller and Jim Grady negotiated an extension of the loan in October:


The second is from POST in May, saying, in essence, “Why haven’t you bothered to follow up on this agreement we negotiated six months ago?”


“That’s why you keep changing the subject.”

I changed the subject?

1.  I suggested that the City at least try to get the $3.1MM knocked down here: 


That was ignored for a discussion on what other properties the city has.

“... avoidable debacle in the making.”

Like purchasing the land in the first place, but the former city council majority did not listen to many constituents.  Do not forget that Fraser voted against it.

Where is the full, unredacted due diligence report????  Can you post that?

As someone who attended and participated in some of the public tours and planning sessions for Pilarcitos Park, I recall considerable support and interest, contrary to the memories of some on the current City Council.

As a homeowner near the park, I have been looking forward to some small beginning of a park, rather than the countless gravel trucks, tree shredders, city maintenance vehicles and NO TRESPASSING signs that inhabit the place now.

A couple of years ago, citizens spent a great deal of time trying to accommodate the various desires expressed by the community for what the park would be. They finally agreed on a plan, but apparently realistic estimates were not available before the new Council took over. One wonders why the new Council didn’t follow up on the project.

At the the Council “workshop” last week, the Council stated that it wanted the environmental and other reports, especially the redacted parts, released to the public as much as possible so that the public and the Council could decide what to do with the park. Today’s last-minute, short-notice meeting doesn’t sound like democratic or transparent government to me.

Personally, I think the Nurseryman’s Exchange property is ideally situated for a city park, just in case anyone on the Council is interested in a citizen’s opinion.

I just posted this message on the Review’s blog as well.

Suzanne Black

While I disagree with Mike on some issues, I find it very grating how some people feel it necessary to continue to blame Mike for everything from the war in Iraq to global warming and they miss no opportunity to bash him, even when they have to do it as a non sequitur.  Give it a rest.  He’s been off the council for a year and half.  Anyway, weren’t there 5 council members at the time?  Why is the venom focused on only one of them?

It’s amazing (as in appalling) how the faction currently in power in HMB has no room for dissenting opinions.  And I’m not necessarily referring to the City Council.

And some still wonder why most of us who have lived a while in the distinct unincorporated communities to the north don’t want to be annexed to our southern neighbor, HMB, in spite of long-time- bad government by the county.

The fire is not an attractive alternative to the frying pan.

Carl May

Why reading Coastsider.com comments often leaves people scratching their heads….

One the one hand you have Leonard Woren write:
“It’s amazing (as in appalling) how the faction currently in power in HMB has no room for dissenting opinions.”

Yet in the article directly below, Joe Falcone writes:
“...faced with a room full of citizens largely opposed to the sale of the Community Park site, those members of the City Council who apparently had been pushing for this result backed down.”

So doesn’t it mean this City Council is listening to the people it serves?

Joel, please note the sentence I wrote following the one that you quoted.  To save you the trouble of scrolling up, here it is:  “And I’m not necessarily referring to the City Council.”  The City Council is certainly going to listen better to the citizens because they have to worry about getting re-elected.  You have misquoted me via selective editing.