Supervisors’  vision for the Midcoast: double the number of houses (and cars)


By on Sat, November 26, 2005

Kevin J. Lansing is a planning commissioner for the City of Half Moon Bay. The views presented in this article represent his concerns as an individual Coastside resident. The Board of Supervisors is set to resume public hearings on the Midcoast Local Coastal Program (LCP) update on Tuesday, December 6 from 2pm to 5pm at a Coastside location to be announced. Coastsider encourages you to attend this meeting and tell the supervisors what you think. The real estate and construction industries are expected to be there in full force.

UPDATED: Coastsider now has updated PDF’s of all three letters from the Coastal Commission to the Board of Supervisors.

Imagine the Midcoast (El Granada, Miramar, Moss Beach, and Montara) with 3400 additional houses—-a figure that would just about double the number of housing units that exist today. Figuring at least two cars per household (a conservative estimate), now try to imagine a 4-lane version of Highway 1 (think Pacifica) running past Surfer’s Beach in El Granada, with daily bumper-to-bumper traffic during commuting hours (again, think Pacifica). This is the future envisioned by San Mateo County Supervisors Richard Gordon and Jerry Hill, who comprise a special subcommittee making planning recommendations to the full Board of Supervisors.

After a 6-month hiatus, the Board of Supervisors is set to resume public hearings on the Midcoast Local Coastal Program (LCP) update. The next hearing will be held on Tuesday, December 6 from 2pm to 5pm at a Coastside location to be announced. Residents can provide comments to the Board either in writing or in person. You can download the staff report and subcommittee recommendations that will be discussed at this meeting from Coastsider.
Covering 23 Key Issues involving residential buildout numbers, annual growth limits, and infrastructure expansion plans, the subcommittee’s recommendations include the following:

  • Allow an additional 3000-3400 housing units beyond the approximately 3700 units that exist today.


  • Establish an annual residential growth rate of 1.9%, or about 75 new units per year. This figure is lower than the currently-allowed rate of 125 units per year, but substantially higher than the historical average rate of 52 units per year.


  • Encourage the construction of "affordable housing" on hundreds of nonconforming, substandard lots by: (1) providing a bonus floor area ratio, (2) reducing the requirements for providing off-street parking, (3) waiving permit fees and expediting processing, (4) allowing access to priority water and sewer connections, and (5) pre-approving a set of standard house designs.


  • Exempt new affordable housing, second-units, and caretaker’s quarters when figuring the annual growth limit.


  • Widen Highway 1 to four lanes "within the urban Midcoast" to accommodate peak commuter traffic.


  • Expand the water supply system to "Phase 2" to accommodate the Midcoast buildout vision.

The above recommendations, if adopted and carried out, would dramatically accelerate the loss of the unique rural and agricultural character of the Coastside. Many of the subcommittee’s recommendations appear to have little or nothing to do with the balanced principles set forth in the California Coastal Act, but rather are designed to help the County meet its objectives for providing new housing in the Bay Area over the next several decades. Policies for encouraging new housing belong in the Housing Element of the County’s General Plan, not in the Midcoast LCP (which is the local implementation of the California Coastal Act).

The idea of exempting several categories of new housing units from a higher-than-historical growth limit subverts the whole purpose of a limit; it would allow construction of an unlimited number of exempt housing units that impose just as much stress on Coastside infrastructure (roads, schools, water, and sewer) as any other type of residential housing unit. It’s also worth noting that the proposed growth limit applies only to residential units; it does not in any way restrain the rate of commercial development that can also impose great demands on the infrastructure. A perfect example is the "Harbor Village" project now under construction in Princeton, which will accommodate up to 450 cars.

While it is true that an annual residential growth limit provides some relief to the overburdened infrastructure, any proposed growth rate that leaves the final buildout numbers unchanged will only serve to postpone the day of reckoning when gridlock sets in for the Midcoast. Good planning for the future requires that decisions about infrastructure expansion be closely integrated with decisions about land use and development. No such integration is apparent in the subcommittee’s infrastructure recommendations. Instead, they appear to be saying "If we build it, they will come."

Regrettably, the subcommittee’s recommendations mostly ignore the detailed input provided by the California Coastal Commission staff in three lengthy letters [Download February 16, March 7, and March 28 letters from Coastsider] sent earlier this year to the Board of Supervisors. Some relevant quotes from those letters include:


  • "[W]e do not agree that affordable housing units and second units should not be counted under the annual growth rate limit."


  • "[W]e recommend that the LCP language clarify that the buildout estimates are the planned theoretical maximum buildout of the community, assuming consistency with all other LCP policies. In other words, the LCP should acknowledge that the buildout estimates…are therefore not an entitlement to a particular density or intensity of development."


  • "Plans for expanding the capacity of public works such as sewer and water that can be potentially growth inducing and lead to greater traffic should only proceed after roadways capacity has been increased sufficiently. However, we realize that the potential to significantly improve Highway 1 and 92 are extremely limited, therefore, the more realistic solution for easing traffic congestion in the area is to reduce total demand on the roadways. Policies should prohibit potentially growth inducing public works projects and reduce the amount of available opportunities for new development."


  • "Prohibit new subdivisions until such time as there is adequate infrastructure capacity to support such development."

Before becoming part of the Midcoast LCP, the subcommittee’s recommendations must first be approved by the full Board of Supervisors and then ultimately certified by the California Coastal Commission. Citizens who are concerned about the future of the Coastside have the opportunity (and perhaps the obligation) to participate fully in each phase of the approval process.