Opinion: Highlights (and lowlights) from the Supervisor’s Midcoast LCP hearing


Posted by on Sun, October 22, 2006

Last Tuesday October 17 at 11am, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing to consider approval of the wide-ranging Midcoast Local Coastal Program (LCP) update project. Most ordinary Coastsiders don’t have the schedule to attend middle-of-the-day meetings like this, unlike the many pro-growth advocates who did attend and lobbied the Supervisors for more housing-related development.

Fortunately, we can watch a video of the proceedings that was kindly recorded by Darin Boville and posted here on Coastsider. Below is a summary and critique of what some people said at the hearing (in no particular order).

—Matthew Clark, President of the Board of Directors of the Granada Sanitary District (GSD), deserves major credit for bringing up the inconvenient truth that the Midcoast sewer system does not have enough capacity to handle the Supervisor’s buildout plan. The Supervisors’ plan involves a near-doubling of the number of housing units on the Midcoast in coming decades. Mr. Clark pointed out that while the sewer system might have enough treatment capacity, there is not nearly enough collection or transmission capacity to prevent wet weather overflows—-a regulatory concern of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For those keeping score, that makes it four-out-of-four key elements of the Coastside infrastructure (roads, water, schools, and sewers) that cannot possibly handle the Supervisor’s buildout plan. Unfazed, the Supervisors forged ahead. The official GSD letter explaining the sewer capacity problem was ignored.

-—Steven Lowens, organizer of Montarans United Against Flooding succeeded in getting the Supervisors to start paying attention to huge flooding problems that have been caused by years of County neglect and inadequate stormwater management practices. The Supervisors agreed to form a commitee to study the problem.

—San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR) representative George Mozingo asked the Supervisors to allow new residential houses on the Burnham Strip, with heights up to 28 feet and floor areas up to 6,200 square feet.

—Many speakers advocated for protection of the historic Burnham Strip, including Nancy Oliver, Jerry Laster, Leni Schultz, April Vargas, Lee Engdahl, Sofia Freer, Fran Pollard, Leonard Woren, and Barbara Mauz. The Supervisors voted to prohibit new residential houses on the Burnham strip. This is a good thing. But before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that this policy eliminates a grand total of 9 new houses out of around 3000 new houses in the Supervisors’ buildout plan. Oh yeah, and some pending applications for new houses on the Burnhan Strip are grandfathered, i.e., not affected by the new policy.

—County Planner George Bergman pointed out some important provisions of the County’s LCP that would prohibit the granting of priority water connections to serve the controversial Big Wave project. Legally, priority water is supposed to be reserved for essential public services (libraries, hospitals, schools, etc.) not things like profit-oriented office buildings which are being proposed as part of the huge Big Wave complex. Moreover, the residential component of the Big Wave project would not seem to qualify as "affordable housing," because Big Wave developer Jeff Peck does not wish to legally restrict the housing component to remain affordable. George Bergman also pointed out that it’s not really appropriate to consider project-specific issues as part of a general planning exercise like the Midcoast LCP update. The Supervisors said they would consider the issues as part of the Big Wave project application, not as part of the Midcoast LCP update.

San Mateo County Farm Bureau Executive Administator Jack Olsen spoke in support of the Big Wave project. The Big Wave project would be built right on top of land that is currently being farmed. Some may wonder whether the recent intitiation of agricultural operations on the property is really intended to promote farming.

—Cabrillo Unified School District (CUSD) trustee Charles Gardner was not there, but his letter as president of Coastside Community First (a non-profit organization) was read aloud to the Supervisors. The letter urged the Supervisors to support the Big Wave project. Some may recall that CUSD sent a letter to the Supervisors in December 2005 indicating that the school system could not handle a doubling of population, as envisioned under the Supervisors’ Midcoast buildout plan. Mr. Gardner’s letter made no mention of that issue.

—Coastside County Water District director James Larimer spoke in favor of the Big Wave project. He said that CCWD was willing to deliver priority water to the project, even though the site is located outside of the CCWD service area. Mr. Larimer did not mention how much it would cost ordinary CCWD customers if increasingly expensive CCWD water is diverted to serve a huge new office complex. Earlier this year, CCWD raised water rates on homeowners by 7 percent. This action followed a 12 percent rate hike in 2005 and and a 9.6 percent hike in 2003.

—Developer Ann Carey asked that any unused growth allocations in a given year be "banked" for use in later years. In other words, she wanted to make sure that developers had every opportunity to build as many new houses as possible in the future. The Supervisors appeared not to take up her suggestion.

—Realtors Kathy Rain and Juliette Kulda spoke in favor of increasing the amount of allowable impervious surface area for new residential houses. That would obviously increase stormwater runoff and the potential for flooding. The Realtors apparently didn’t hear Steven Lowens speak about the serious flooding problems. The Supervisors did not adopt the Realtors’ proposals.

—Realtor Jan Gray argued in favor of delaying the trigger point for starting a mandatory merger program for substandard lots. County Planner George Bergman pointed out that Ms. Gray’s idea would go against the County’s stated goal of trying to merge substandard lots before they are built upon. The Supervisors sided with Ms. Gray however, reasoning that some houses had been eliminated by the new Burnham Strip policy, so it was ok to add some houses back via the merger policy.

—Realtor Judy Taylor wanted "residential uses in Princeton expanded now" and also asked the Supervisors to "free up land around the airport for commercial development." The Supervisors plan already expands residential uses in Princeton, but they have postponed decisions about the airport until a mandated safety plan in completed.

Comment 1
Tue, October 24, 2006 10:54am
Ken Restivo
All my comments

For those keeping score, that makes it four-out-of-four key elements of the Coastside infrastructure (roads, water, schools, and sewers) that cannot possibly handle the Supervisors’ buildout plan.

Thanks for keeping score!

Miami high-rise developer R. Donahue Peebles and his million-dollar Southern California P.R. agency have argued that, because thousands of new houses are some kind of fait accompli in the Midcoast, Pacificans should vote to merge traffic from 355 new houses in the Quarry directly onto Highway 1.

I’m glad to see that such a dramatic buildout south of the Slide is not necessarily going to happen, and that there are citizens actively fighting against it.

Ken, it’s clear that the Supervisors’ buildout plan is grossly at odds with the principles set forth in the California Coastal Act.

The Coastal Act mandates the preservation and restoration of Coastal resources—-not their exploitation for developers’ profit by stuffing as many new houses as possible into areas where the infrastructure is already overburdened.

In Pacifica, Measure L would stuff 355 new houses into the Quarry, allowing Mr. Peebles to make tons of money, at the expense of Pacificans’ everyday quality-of-life. Any resonable person should be able to see that 355 new houses (with at least 2 cars per household) would be a disaster for traffic, not to mention the irreplaceable loss of recreational open space.

As I commute past the Quarry everyday, I can’t help but notice Mr. Peebles’ slick, deceptive signs claiming that Measure L would somehow help traffic. Hopefully, voters will see Measure L for the “L"oser proposition it is.

Comment 3
Tue, October 24, 2006 3:48pm
Carl May
All my comments

Pacifica’s Measure L is a pig in a poke.

But Peebles and the PR people he has conducting this latest campaign to get Pacifica voters to change the zoning for the quarry area are slicker and much more thorough than those conducting the campaigns of previous promoters. And they are also boosting candidates for City Council who will favor their schemes for all the additional steps and clearances necessary for the project in the future.

They are even debating this stuff in the schools. There’s a good little “No on L” contingent picketing at the traffic jam at Vallemar every evening; but beyond that, everyplace I look, including the Fog Fest, the “No” side seems to be outgunned in terms of campaign effort.

Buying elections with PR niceties and misrepresentations works much of the time with our electorate in the U.S. How much can Pacifica voters be trusted not to fall for the campaign hyper-fluff this time?

Carl May

Comment 4
Tue, October 24, 2006 4:01pm
Carl May
All my comments

I don’t know if it was Rain or Kulda, but one of my favorite moments was the woman who asked for a greater percentage of coverage by hardscaping because of pesky gophers.

The local Farm Bureau almost always comes out in favor of developing close-in properties. Protecting their members’ “rights” to raise the “final crop,” I suppose.

The LCP revision for the midcoast is all about how to go urban, not about planning to conform locally to the requirements of the Coastal Act. With a lot of work, people who are gluttons for punishment might be able to improve it slightly at the Coastal Commission.

Carl May

Could someone please comment on whether it’s true that, if Measure L does not pass, the developer could follow current zoning laws that allow him up to 2 million square feet of big box retail space? That sounds like a real traffic nightmare. I’m not familiar with the measure, but I overheard people discussing this at the Linda Mar Safeway.

I realize it may sound selfish, but I have to admit I love hiking with my dog and kids on the quarry trails and wish the land could remain open space/recreational area. Is there any chance of POST or another organization buying the property from the developer?

It’s a scare tactic that has been pretty thoroughly debunked. Most of us just laughed.

Basically, that square-footage number is flat-out wrong. Part of it is now the sewer plant, there are also overlays for HPD and ESHA that prevent even more of it from being developed, and it is also highly unlikely that any kind of “big box” store could ever get past feasibility study stage—half of the customer base is in the Pacific Ocean and the other half in a national park.

Finally, the traffic impact would be far worse with Measure L and its 355 households that’d all be merging onto Highway 1 at the same time you’re trying to get to work.

I heard that POST was trying to buy the property before the previous owner died and Peebles snapped it up; perhaps they’ll try again after Measure L is defeated.