Why can’t the Review be objective about the Pilarcitos Creek park site?


Posted by on Fri, June 22, 2007

No one has done more to confuse public about the Pilarcitos Creek park site than Half Moon Bay Review publisher Debra Godshall.

First, she devotes nearly two-thirds of her Wednesday column to a rambling allegory about a profligate household head who, against the advice of his attorney, buys a piece of land he can’t afford which happens to be infested with California red-legged frogs. Now you know how Ms. Godshall earned her reputation for subtlety.

After wasting several column inches this way, Godshall raises four points against the park. The first two are irrelevant and the second two are unsupported.

Ms. Godshall says that the city spent too much for the land, and that documents were improperly withheld from the public.  I’m not saying these aren’t important issues, but they’re of no consequence in deciding whether to put a park on Pilarcitos Creek.  Every time they are raised in that context, you can be assured that either the commenter is confused or is trying to confuse you.

The Economist aptly defines sunk costs as that which cannot be undone.  Whether the city overpaid (which I doubt) doesn’t matter now that the city owns the land. Should the last city council have shared more of its work product with the citizens before buying the park? I’m not sure. Does it matter now? No, it doesn’t.

Then Ms. Godshall goes on to discuss the cost of the park, asking, "What’s the plan to raise the $10.4 million to make it into a real park?"  That’s a misleadingly precise figure, $10.4 million, considering that the city’s consultants delivered an unitemized and unsubstantiated estimate nearly a year ago. Since then, the city has done nothing to figure out what its options are and what they would cost.

Finally, Ms. Godshall states, "If it is possible to develop the land after an endangered species has been found on the property, it will be a first for the Coastside, by the way."  That argument says that Half Moon Bay will never have proper park anywhere.  Perhaps she should ask how the city plans to deal with the endangered species no doubt lurking in its proposed park site on Sewer Plant Road.

She concludes: "We all want and deserve a park, we just can’t afford this one." Compared to what? Until the city costs out the park on Pilarcitos Creek and the one on Sewer Plant Road, how does she know?

Half Moon Bay must have a conversation about the kind of park it wants and what it is willing to spend. The Review has the opportunity to play an important role in that conversation, but it’s getting off to a poor start.

To further cut through some of the confusion that has been deliberately put out about the park:

- The presence of frogs has been noted and accounted for in the park planning from the beginning. There is ample space set aside for the frogs while still having a park with many active and passive public uses. 

- The $10 million figure being thrown around is the cost of doing everything asked for by the public during the long public hearings process on the park’s development. It was a wish list that by no means has to be fulfilled. This figure was put forth as an estimate by the design firm hired to assist the park planning. After they made one appearance before City Council many months ago, Council has not bothered to follow up and get actual figures or more details. This figure could be cut significantly or it could be considered as part of a multi-year plan for development.

- The idea that there are environmental time bombs waiting to be discovered on the site is yet another red herring.  There is no pesticide contamination on the site. The City’s
environmental due diligence report by Green Engineering gives the site a clean bill of health.

- All these facts are well known, but if people are intent on creating the idea that there are problems with the park, they can hope to stop it and give City Council cover to sell it for development or turn it into a light industrial park. Just what we need at the city’s gateway.
- Jack McCarthy

The only quasi-valid point in Godshall’s entire opinion piece is that the City doesn’t currently have enough money to pay for the park.

Ok. Then why doesn’t the City have enough money? There are a lot of reasons. Number one is that the City has done absolutely nothing since the last City Council election to pursue grant funds or other long-term financing for the park. Number two (at the risk of beating a dead horse) is the doubling of City spending on Police Services from about $2.5 million per year in 2001-2002 to about $5 million per year in 2007-2008.

If Police spending had been restrained to some reasonable growth rate over the past 5-to-6 years, then the City could have paid cash for the park parcel by now.

By the way, I sincerely doubt that a “light industrial park” could ever be approved on that site in conformance with the City’s Local Coastal Program.

I sure don’t understand HMB.  The one plan that I saw (watching a City Council meeting on TV) for the park development appeared to be an attempt to cram everything that the City needs in parks into this one park space.  Of course that’s expensive.  Since that park space comes nowhere near close to meeting the recommendations for acres/1000 residents figures that I’ve seen, it seems to me that they should be developing this park at a much more modest level (and cost!) and looking to provide other park functions on other park sites.  Just my opinion.  I’m sure that this idea will get be savagely attacked by a certain faction.  I don’t care; I’m just happy that I don’t live in HMB.  As much as we rag on the County for not providing parks in the unincorporated Midcoast, has anyone noticed that HMB doesn’t actually do any better?  I get a good laugh every time I pass by MacDutra “park”.  5000 sq ft of concrete, a few benches, and a restroom.  (This is not meant to diss anyone who may have worked hard to create that space—it’s just not what I figure most people think of when they hear the word “park”.)

First, it would be polite,for the City to communicate with POST concerning the loan which currently gives HMB “ownership” of the land. Then look to a phased park implementation plan, start with some trails, picnic area, clean the site and plant beautiful plants and trees. It is the Gateway to the City. Then move onto a time frame for the most needed aspects while the community continues to have use.
I trust that not just Mike but all of the former City Council members were part of the approval process for the purchase of the park. Does it make any sense at all that they would agree to pay more than was needed to secure the property? Are not most properties purchased above the appraisal value-certainly residential real estate is.
The spinning of a fairy tale was just annoying. What can possibly be accomplished by “killing” the park for HMB and Coastside. This reminds me of getting rid of Cunha Middle School to build Wavecrest. Is there more story here or is it just partisan division? lani ream

Debra describes her article as reading “like a fairy tale” in her editorial, hence my reference to it. I also want to point out that San Mateo paid $6.1 million for the Mirada Surf property. I can’t remember how large it was but there were/are environmental issues there also. lani ream

Mirada Surf is somewhere around 45 acres, give or take.  (Over the years I’ve heard various numbers ranging from 42 to 47 acres, with 45 being the most recent number tossed around.)  Roughly double the land of the HMB future park site, for double the money—cost per acre nearly identical.  Much of the Mirada Surf East parcel is sensitive habitat leaving very little land which could be used for traditional park uses.

While considering what to do, HMB needs to bifurcate the acquisition cost from the development cost.  Park development costs will be the same regardless of which land it goes on.  Development cost for the HMB Community Park following the draft plan that was presented is high because the plan that was presented was way too intense use, cramming everything into that one space.

Barry makes the point that “Half Moon Bay must have a conversation about the kind of park it wants and what it is willing to spend”. 

This is both about the cost of development and ongoing maintenance.  I continue to be concerned about ultimately having to fund this through a bond measure and/or through increased taxes.  I’d be more supportive if there are major grant monies but I have yet to see this proven.  Surely there must be park supporters willing to step up to finding out for sure.  Similarly, I would like to see a plan for making the park cover its ongoing maintenance costs. 

Kevin Lansing points out that one reason for difficulty finding money is the extra funds spent on police support.  I don’t know what HMB should be spending on police resources but doesn’t this suggest we need to have a more well rounded, forward looking plan?  Not just for the park but for the city’s total income and expenditures?

I am still left wondering why we need all the features that are in the park plan.  There seems to be agreement on need for certain sports facilities but do we really need recreation areas to the extent they are being proposed?  The city comparisons of acres/1000 residents seem way out of line to me given Half Moon Bay’s access to coastlands, and nearby State and Federal parklands.  If given a choice, I would rather see smaller neighborhood parks in some of the fill in lots.  That seems more practical to me.

It is easy to be in favor of parks and recreational facilities in the abstract.  But at some point the plan has to translate to the bottom line.  Deborah’s editorial may have had inaccuracies but it seems to be sparking discussion of the important issues anyway.

Suzan, I agree that these are good questions, and the city and the Review should be asking them. But, sadly, they are not.

Debra stated flatly that the city cannot afford the park, but made no case, not even providing a proper estimate of the cost.

Open space is no substitute for a park. And cities need both neighborhood parks & playgrounds, as well as larger community spaces.  Take a look at Central Park in San Mateo. It’s a magnificent resource for the community. It may take years for Half Moon Bay to build a great community park, but it will never happen if the city doesn’t reserve the land this year. There is no other option.