We need a common vision of downtown Half Moon Bay


By on Fri, September 23, 2005

The Coastside is going to change a lot in the next 20 years. If we don’t have a shared vision of our community, we’re going shift strategies and make incremental decisions until we have a random collection of houses and strip malls connected only by roads.

A recent survey of downtown merchants helped me understand the issues that they confront every day. And it made me realize how fragile downtown is. Everyone says they love downtown Half Moon Bay, but we haven’t really discussed what we want it to look like.  It’s important for all of us, and it’s a matter and life and death for the merchants who have invested in it.

The researchers were the downtown merchants themselves. And, although the survey was a little rough in spots, 96 of 108 surveys were returned.

It’s hard to run a store downtown

Nearly half (48%) of the merchants who responded to the survey said they had been struggling to some degree over the last three years. Three-quarters depend on their spouses, savings, or even loans, to keep going. A quarter said that their business was taking a toll on their health.

It’s challenging to set up shop in Half Moon Bay. About a third say that rent is one of their biggest challenges and another 20% feel it’s hard to find the right help on the Coastside.

With Highway 92 often jammed to capacity on weekends and the price of gas steadily increasing, downtown Half Moon Bay and Coastsiders need one another more than ever.

For some reason many Coastsiders prefer the shopping centers, like Linda Mar in Pacifica and Strawflower Village. And two-thirds of downtown merchants are certain that the unfinished Harbor Village in Princeton will cost them even more customers. I’m just grateful that no more retail space is planned for Wavecrest.

Despite these obstacles, about half (46%) the downtown merchants feel that the key to their success is bringing more Coastsiders downtown. Whenever you ask people what will bring Coastsiders to downtown Half Moon Bay, you hear answers like shoes, clothing, or underwear. These items showed up in the survey, as well. That seems like an improbable solution.

Let’s bring downtown even closer to the heart of the Coastside

Downtown Half Moon Bay is already the heart of the Coastside community.  We need to emphasize that link. For many of us who live outside of Half Moon Bay, our main connection is through Cunha or the high school.

Parents and kids spend time downtown before and after school. I became a regular member of the downtown scene when I started dropping my daughter off at Cunha. Cunha kids walk to the high school and vice versa.  If the middle school is replaced with an elementary school that serves families who already live near downtown, it could be devastating.

The kinds of activities that bring people downtown are entertainment, recreation, meeting friends, and sharing meals. Our new park, within walking distance of downtown, is critical to downtown’s success.

We need a movie theater, but we don’t need big concrete box surrounded by a parking lot in what used to be an empty field. That’s not going to bring anyone downtown. It could keep them away.  We need an old-fashioned movie theatre that opens on the Main Street sidewalk.

We have already made some mistakes, mainly in our support of cars downtown. The Bank of America Building intimidates pedestrians by turning the sidewalk into a busy intersection for their parking lot. The CCWD building is a block-long blank wall leading to another parking lot intersection. Half Moon Bay’s post office is designed to work like a freeway interchange. We can do better.

We should be thinking about people and not cars. A downtown designed for smooth traffic flow will keep us all off the sidewalk. More than half the merchants seemed to think parking downtown was inadequate.  But you can usually find a space within a couple of blocks of your destination and everyone who gets out of their car and walks a couple of blocks adds to activity on the sidewalk in a positive way.

Downtown, every day can be a special event

A downtown designed for entertainment and walking will keep Baysiders in town after dark, instead of sending them home at the first whiff of fog.

Special events, like the Halloween and Fourth of July parades, Wine Walk, Pumpkin Festival, and Night of Lights should be part of our strategy for reorienting the community to downtown. But many of the merchants are alienated from them, saying they don’t generate enough foot traffic or sales. These events should be planned with downtown merchants in mind. After all, the merchants are what makes downtown a desirable place to hold these events.

The only other alternative is to become like Carmel, filled with art galleries that don’t even pay sales tax because they ship out of state. The locals in Carmel have lost their downtown. They shop in the strip malls on the edge.

Please think about what you want downtown to look like. Let’s keep it friendly to pedestrians, welcoming to locals, and open to our children. Let’s meet our friends and celebrate our successes in local restaurants. Let’s fill it with special events and remember that the downtown merchants are our hosts, and not simply a backdrop for our parties.  Buy your meat, fish, bread, and vegetables for dinner in downtown shops. And focus on keeping downtown at the heart of our community.

What’s your vision of downtown Half Moon Bay? Or downtown Montara, Moss Beach or El Granada for that matter. Please share your responses and ideas by clicking on the comment link below the headline.