Letter: The real story of the parking permit appeal

Letter to the editor

By on Sat, September 16, 2006

I will be appealing the project to either the City Council or the Coastal Commission. ... I am writing you to clear the air before another issue blazes out of control

Jimmy Benjamin is a former Half Moon Bay planning commissioner. This story has been corrected with a more up-to-date description of the Review’s correction. Coastsider had accidentally published an older version of the story. Now, that’s ironic.

Last month the HMB Planning Commission approved an overnight permit parking program. I will be appealing the project to either the City Council or the Coastal Commission, and wrote a letter to the City Planning Director to explain my concerns. I provided the Review and Coastsider.com with copies of my letter, and was surprised to see an error-flled and polarizing  summary of my appeal on the Review’s web site.  Although the abbreviated report was replaced with a much improved version a few days later, and both it and the print version are more accurate, it was up for an several days, an eternity in cyberspace. I am writing you to clear the air before another issue blazes out of control.
What is the project?  In response to residents’ concerns that some of these overnight visitors constitute a public safety threat, the program requires cars parked between midnight and 4am on streets adjacent to the state beach, in certain neighborhoods, to display a permit (to be purchased for $20/year) [map, Initial Study, Findings and Evidence]. When residents just east of the proposed permit area expressed concern that this would simply move the problem visitor a block away from the beach, staff explained that these noxious visitors are lazy, and will leave the neighborhood in search of another street next to the beach with easy beach access.

Why am I appealing? First, because my street meets the criteria of these hazardous visitors, but is not covered by the project. The previously proposed version of this project allowed the project area to expand to follow migrating problem visitors, but this safety-valve provision was removed in response to concerns that coastal access (a pillar of the Coastal Act) might be hampered. The current version violates a policy in our LCP (Can be found in chapter 2 as adopted Coastal Act policy 30212.5 which states that

1. Wherever appropriate and feasible, public facilities, including parking areas or facilities, shall be distributed throughout an area so as to mitigate against the impacts, social and otherwise, of overcrowding or overuse by the public of any single area. [emphasis added] 

Second, I am appealing because the city staff report on this project stretched the limits of credibility beyond the breaking point by tacitly implying that plenty of other streets would be able to welcome this overnight traffic. The report included maps showing paper (i.e., unbuilt) subdivisions, subdivisions with on-street parking that is saturated by residents’ cars and long trails to the beach. But it omitted the one street that meets the visitor’s criteria, my street, and it didn’t admit the significant, unmitigated impacts that the program will have there. If they aren’t moving a block back, and we aren’t inhibiting coastal access, then by golly they are going somewhere, and if they constitute a hazard today, concentrating them creates a greater hazard. The City did not meet its obligations under CEQA which requires applicants to tell the truth about significant impacts.
Third, I am appealing because when the city dropped the provision to expand the area covered by the permit plan, it was making a significant enough change that they needed to either conduct an EIR, or more reasonably withdraw the project and resubmit the revised project to the public and planning agencies for comments. This ensures that other agencies, the press and the public aren’t surprised by project changes. That is what the law requires.
Fourth, I am appealing because the alternatives of opening and policing the Poplar and state beach lots were not considered as mitigations for the impacts, as the law requires.
 The Review’s  initial web coverage may have been timely, but it was flawed in the following ways: 

  • It ignored the LCP violation
  • It misstated the part of the CEQA violation that it reported
  • It suggested that I thought the planning commission made the mistake on purpose, when I stated the planning commission is new, and may not understand CEQA or the LCP sufficiently to detect the problem.
  • It suggested that I was asked by city officials to pay a recently instituted $200 appeal fee but I refused, and was looking for some kind of special exemption from the fee.  Reality:  I asked staff if there was a fee, and when they said there was but without details of applicability, I wrote that if a fee was applicable then my appeal would be directed, fee-free, to the California Coastal Commission. "I did state that I had no intention of paying $200 to obtain justice" because I have at least one avenue of appeal that does not require it. No special favors were requested.   

In cyberspace, speed may matter more, but accuracy does not matter any less.   I appreciate the Review’s correction (and personal follow-up by the reporter to ensure the story was improved), but wish that it had been more prompt. We have enough polarization of the community without mistaken reporting  and delayed correction.  
Jimmy Benjamin
Half Moon Bay