Opinion: County Supervisors push their buildout vision on Coastside residents
by Kevin Lansing and Steve Terry
Kevin Lansing is a resident of Half Moon Bay. Steve Terry is a resident of El Granada.
On Tuesday October 17 at 11am in Redwood City, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will hold what could be the final public hearing on the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Update Project for the unincorporated Midcoast. This wide-ranging project has the potential to shape the quality-of-life of Coastsiders for the next 50 years or more.
For Tuesday’s hearing, County planning staff has distributed a packet that includes a 20-page staff report of the remaining key issues of the LCP update project, along with the main project resolution to amend the LCP and enact County policy. The package also includes letters from the Committee for Green Foothills (on Burnham Strip uses), land use attorney David Byers (lobbying for priority water to serve the Big Wave project), and County Counsel Thomas Casey (on the LCP certification process).
This information has been compiled into a single pdf file from document files provided by County Planning staff. It very closely represents the printed packets mailed out by the Planning Department and includes bookmarks and hypertext links to facilitate navigation and comprehension.
Among other things, the new County ordinances reflect and would implement the Supervisors’ buildout vision for the unincorporated Midcoast. This vision includes a near doubling of the number of housing units on the Midcoast in coming decades and a proposed Midcoast residential growth rate of 2 percent plus numerous exemptions.
The range of issues is perhaps best summarized by the list of exhibits in Attachment A that support the main resolution to amend the LCP and drive policy:
A. Estimate of Midcoast residential buildout
B. Map of Midcoast project area
C. Estimate of Midcoast sewage generation at buildout
D. Estimate of Midcoast water consumption at buildout
E. Reserved water for Midcoast failed wells and affordable housing
F. Annual Midcoast residential growth rate limit
G. Midcoast substandard lot merger process
H. Additional Midcoast traffic mitigation measures
I. CalTrans’ Devil’s Slide bypass property
J. Updated Midcoast trails list
K. Highway 1 pedestrian improvements
L. Additional Midcoast affordable housing incentives
M. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (STOPPP)
N. Midcoast Stormwater Drainage Committee
O. LCP responsibilities assigned to the county
P. Role of trail providing agencies
Q. Resolution of LCP conflicts
R. Eliminate conflicting and ambiguous LCP provisions
S. Postpone adding commercial/job generating uses (Princeton)
T. Postpone adding commercial/job generation uses (HMB Airport)
The Supervisors had most recently held hearings on this project back in December 2005 and March 2006, only one of which was actually held on the Coastside. At that meeting, dozens of local citizens voiced their opinions about the Supervisors’ buildout plan. One of the most controversial aspects of the Supervisors’ plan is the fact that key elements of the Midcoast infrastructure cannot possibly handle the projected buildout scenario. Page 3 of this latest staff report admits the following:
- Highways 1 and 92 will be at Level of Service "F" during peak commuting hours.
- The Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD) can only meet 64 percent of water demand at buildout.
- The Coastside County Water District (CCWD) can only meet 91 percent of water demand at buildout.
Moreover, the County staff report conveniently fails to mention a December 12, 2005 letter from the Cabrillo Unified School District which stated that Coastside schools "can support limited growth, but not a doubling in population." With regard to future road capacity, the doubling of traffic on Highway 92 during this year’s Devil’s Slide closure can be viewed as sort of a natural experiment for what traffic would be like under the Supervisors’ buildout plan.
Detailed letters received from the California Coastal Commission staff in 2005 have tried, with little success, to steer the Supervisors in a direction that would pay more attention to the limited carrying capacity of the Coastside infrastructure. The most recent of these letters, dated December 2, 2005, reminded the Supervisors that "...the current volume of traffic on Highways 1 and 92 exceeds their capacity and that even with substantial investment in transit and highway improvements, congestion will only get worse in the future."
It is not clear from the staff report exactly how many substandard lots have been figured into the Midcoast buildout estimate. Page 5 of the report indicates there are about 600 vacant parcels that can be made to conform to the minimum lot size by merging adjacent substandard lots. However, one of the proposed incentives (see Attachment A, Exhibit G) allows for a 250 sq. ft. floor area bonus. In an area that already accounts for 40 percent of all development in the unincorporated portions of San Mateo County and already allows the second largest floor area ratio (FAR) in the County, this bonus would provide for an effective 58 percent FAR on one-fifth of the remaining new construction lots from now until buildout.
The Supervisors’ proposed merger strategy for substandard lots provides only incentives and no disincentives that would help achieve the desired outcome. Thus, the 271 vacant parcels identified to exist as isolated substandard lots are left unaddressed in the lot merger policy. Since the LCP update process began five years ago, many voices have unsuccessfully encouraged the County to: (1) significantly reduce the FAR on substandard lots, (2) mandate substandard lot mergers, and (3) make the building standards for substandard lots more consistent with those in its sphere of influence, Half Moon Bay.
On other issues, the Coastal Commission staff has stated that the Supervisors’ plan appears to be in direct conflict with California Coastal Act. These issues include:
- The Supervisors’ plan to rezone the Burnham Strip in El Granada to allow single-family residences on all parcels.
- The Supervisors’ plan to grant priority water and sewer service to "affordable housing" on the hundreds of exisitng substandard lots—housing that would also not be counted when computing the annual residential growth allowance.
- The Supervisors’ plan to weaken the scenic and visual resource protection standards in the County’s LCP.
The Supervisors have put off any consideration of rezoning the unused Devil’s Slide bypass parcel, which is currently owned by CalTrans. The California Coastal Commission staff recommended that this parcel be rezoned to prohibit future residential development. Other groups, including the San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR), have lobbied the Supervisors to keep the current zoning, which would allow for medium density residential housing.
One slightly positive feature in the latest County staff report is the recommendation to drop two policies that would have created special treatment for the controversial Big Wave project. Those LCP policies would have granted priority water status to the project and exempted the residential component of the project from being counted under the annual growth allowance. The new recommendation is to consider this type of special treatment as part of the application for the Big Wave project itself, rather than as part of the Midcoast LCP update.
If the Supervisors vote to approve the LCP update, the next step will be for the County to submit its proposal to the California Coastal Commission to begin the review process for final certification. Citizens who wish to have a say about the future of the Coastside should attend the October 17 hearing or send written comments to the Board of Supervisors. The email address bos(at)Lists.SanMateo.org can be used to transmit comments to all five Supervisors at once. Contact information for the individual Supervisors is shown below:
3rd District (includes
Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton, Half Moon Bay)
Rose Jacobs Gibson