Video: Understanding the Big Wave development in Princeton


Posted by on Wed, February 4, 2009

Neil Merrilees explains the scope and impact of the proposed Big Wave development. Video by Darin Boville at Montara Fog.

This remarkable video does a better job than any environmental impact report of explaining the scale of the proposed Big Wave development, and what its impact will be on the neighborhood and the Coastside as a whole. It concludes with some thoughtful examples from Neil Merrilees of well-thought-out and properly located projects of a similar nature. The video was produced by Darin Boville for Montara Fog.

Watch the video, come to the MCC tonight. Comments should be emailed to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), who is the county planning department project manager for the Big Wave proposal.

If you have time, I also recommend watching the James Howard Kunstler video below, which deals with some similar questions.

Comment 1
Wed, February 4, 2009 3:03pm
Carl May
All my comments

It is understood many aspects of a project this size cannot be covered in a short video. Many concerns for this piece of land were discussed a couple of decades ago when another developer, J.L Johnson, proposed a commercial project of a similar scale.

Big Wave is not a project for the disabled with an ancillary commercial component, it is primarily a commercial project with a disabled component. The motivation for the effort is clear on the Big Wave website under Financial Considerations:

Comment 2
Wed, February 4, 2009 7:18pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Big Wave is also responsible for some controversial filling and grading near wetlands:


[the photos are no longer available, but the discussion is still quite interesting]

Thanks for this informative video.  I had no idea the size of this project.

That’s lame, Barry. **YOU** are the one creating the controversy. You yourself wrote “**near**” wetlands. The permits were approved. The other thread even states (EARLY ON): “...the county’s Development Review Services Manager… (said)... the property was exempt from coastal district and grading regulations….”

The fabrications you make to attract readers is really a disservice to the Community. (The video is a good service; thanks.) Focus on the merits of the project, please.

Comment 5
Thu, February 5, 2009 9:42am
Barry Parr
All my comments

I spoke to Code Enforcement at the time, and the county approved the filling and grading because it was permitted for *agriculture*.

But, in the three years since all that filling and grading, as far as I can tell the only thing that has been grown there—other than cover crops—was a bunch of pumpkins last fall. Hardly an economically viable proposition.

Joel may be right. Instead of calling the filling & grading “controversial”, I should have called it “suspicious”. The county should be looking into whether the agricultural lease was a sham designed to provide an excuse for activity that would not be otherwise permitted.

If not the county, then perhaps someone should take it up with the Coastal Commission.

Jeez, don’t you think every time you yell “Coastal Commission” you weaken your case? (See “Fables, Aesop’s.” First in-fill lots EAST of Highway 1, and now something that sits **between light industrial and the airport**? Pretty soon you won’t be taken seriously, especially if you keep up the smokescreen and the adjectives. Just debate the facts, please, and feel free to share your knowledge of the history of the area, including what other (and better?) uses have been planned for that site.

Comment 7
Thu, February 5, 2009 12:37pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

Joel, you’re either missing or ignoring my point:(1) the developers appear to not be operating in good faith, and (2) this opens them up to delays or cancellation of the project.

My point was that the county is not the last word here.

Why is it that when developers flout the law and their projects fail as a result, their supporters whine about the rule of law?  We see it again and again.  Meanwhile, developers who work within the law get stuff done.

Comment 8
Thu, February 5, 2009 12:47pm
Carl May
All my comments

The commercial office park/Big Wave scheme is on property that has wetlands issues. This property is in our coastal zone, and the Coastal Act, which the Coastal Commission enforces, has a number of requirements for development on and near wetlands.

On this property, there was already an assault on wetlands in J.L.‘s prior office park development effort, some of it undoubtedly involving his consultant, Ralph Osterling. Extensive cattails and bullrushes in the southwest quadrant were disced, allowing the soil to dry and destroying habitat. The discing and clearing continued all along the edge of the willows in what a lot of us refer to as the “freshwater end” of the Pillar Point Marsh. This was not only to directly destroy wetland habitat at the edge of the marsh but also to create an edge effect on the riparian forest that would further diminish the habitat (penetration of sunlight, wind, etc. into areas that were previously buffered).

A trench was dug along the road next to the fence of the mobile home park all the way from the northern end of the marsh to Airport Road, obviously to drain some water away from the marsh. I seem to recall a drainage pipe was put in it but forget the details.

Worse, heavy equipment entered the heart of the marsh from the northern end and was used to cut a channel several feet deep into the bed of the small stream. This was an obvious attempt to increase the flow of water through the marsh so it could not be used by marsh plants and to lower the water table of the marsh to a degree that plants that require root saturation with water at least part of the year would be left high and dry.

In answer to complaints, the Coastal Commission sent an intern out of the Santa Cruz office to have a look at the situation, but he was not professionally prepared to see what was going on. The county got after the developer in a small way after much prodding, and the activity stopped after the trench along the road was completed. Neither the county nor the Coastal Commission was willing to make a respectable biological and geological assessment of the property at the time, in spite of several well-known attributes of the marsh among, for example, bird watchers. The effect of acres of pavement and grading for construction on natural water supply to the marsh was never seriously calculated. The impacts of degradation of the freshwater end of the marsh on the associated saltwater end were never seriously assessed.

Impacts of extensive adjacent hardscaping and commercial activity once the project was built on diverse marsh wildlife species were largely ignored except for a few token species. Nearby upland areas on Pillar Point Ridge were essentially ignored. As in all see-no-evil approaches by San Mateo County, dealing with the full range of possible impacts was avoided by avoiding conduct of appropriate and necessary studies to elucidate the impacts.

When coastside displays empty storefronts, a couple of closed restaurants and For Lease signs posted on empty office space, why would this commercial project be needed?

Here are a couple photos from the filling and grading in June 2006. These should give you the scale of the operation that was apparently needed for the 2008 pumpkin crop. These are part of a large archives of photos that were taken at the time.


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The current Facilites Plan states that the site is being actively farmed and has two fields with rotating crops.  It also states in the comment section of a summary report in the back that agricultural land is exempt from environmental regulations.

Deborah, if you get a chance, you would request details on what has been grown where and when. My perception is that the southern lot is used mostly to grow cover crops.

It would be good to know whether the leasing farmer or Big Wave paid for the filling and grading, and whether the revenue from the lease, or the crops, actually exceeded the cost of the work.

I don’t know if the county is asking these questions, but someone should.