Picture: Another view of Beachwood

Posted by on Fri, June 26, 2009


James Swanson  

Jim Swanson is an artist who paints landscapes from a distance.  He contacted me recently about a photo of Beachwood that we ran last year. He just sent me a picture of his completed painting. Click for a larger version. See the original photo after the jump.

Barry Parr



Maybe we could ask Naomi Patridge & Co. to hire Jim to paint this as a mural on City Hall.

Swanson’s Beachwood never looked better - now it is an eyesore snuggled between housing developments or a maybe a farm.  Fix it.  When did HMB complete that naturaist park?  Tha is an idea - a nudist park with campgrounds, showers…!

Add the caption “For $25 Million and Rising, you can enjoy this view!” For the same amount of money you could have bought 600 acres of N Wavecrest or for $45 million bought Martin’s Beach.  Not a bad deal considering its only worth $3-4 million (water not included)!

This piece of land is a lot more beautiful than many growthophiles would have you believe. But you won’t be able to tell if you don’t get out of your car and walk around in it.

Beachwood looks really nice in the painting.  It just doesn’t look that pretty when you consider the projected $40 million (including interest) cost to the residents.  What a staggering waste of money that could have been better used elsewhere.

BTW,  I’d be careful walking around on someone’s property without permission.

Funny, after all the haggling and some very costly lessons, some folks still don’t see the environmental value of wetlands.

Everything has its place.  Spending $40 million (including interest over 30 years) to preserve Beachwood’s wetlands isn’t worth it to many people I know. If anything,  it will do the opposite and show how costly it can be to fight and lose.

That $40 million cannot be attributed to the property alone. It includes interest as well as some pretty bad decisions by your own elected city officials.

Hindsight should tell you that it would have been better had the city been unwavering in its support for environmental laws instead of dropping that support in the face of a bad legal decision that favored the developer.

$40 million is what it cost HMB to fight a foolish battle and have it drag on for way too long. At best,  this 23 acres is worth around $3-4 million (water connections not included) yet this fight till you die attitude by several administrations has inflated the cost of acquisition to this incredible inflated amount of money.

Beachwood’s legacy will be a text book case of what not to do.  Hopefully HMB has learned its lesson,  although the expensive way, and not repeat this mistake again.  If for no other reason they won’t cause they won’t have any money to fight another battle.

Actually, it shows how expensive it is to fight and then capitulate.

The city has now let us know that they have a glass jaw. It won’t be long before someone else takes them up on their obvious inclination to fold like a card table.


“Hindsight should tell you that it would have been better had the city been unwavering in its support for environmental laws instead of dropping that support in the face of a bad legal decision that favored the developer.”

NO - hindsight would have been better if the city honored its issued permits and then not have tampered with the property to create an artificial wetlands!

There needs to be a high standard of ethics and transparency (that old hackeyed word) that seems to be lacking time and again with politicians - in this case a near generation of politicians that failed every four years since this fiasco started.

This whole thing was avoidable if politicians and the planning commission kept their word on this property and then held the line on other developments in a case-for-case basis!

At least that is honorable and defensible.

Steve is drawing the wrong lesson from the Beachwood fiasco. He’s not alone.

The city blew an opportunity get relief from the settlement. They had a powerful friend in Sacramento, Gene Mullin, who was willing to carry their case to the legislature.

They let their hatred and contempt for environmental regulations blind them to just how bad an idea AB1991 was.

A more reasonable bill, made up of low interest debt and parks or affordable housing funds, probably could have passed in 2008 if they hadn’t waited until the last possible second before seeing the light.

Barry,  you are right.  HMB shot its wad on a worthless piece of dirt.  And everybody knows this although I bet they knew it years ago.  I wrote about this 9 years ago.  Now when some of the PUDS around HMB start to play the drumbeat of development,  HMB will be too weak and broke to put up a serious fight.

Other cities will also see how destructive HMB’s policies were and try a more concilatory approach.  Besides the obvious of HMB never draining water on someone’s property,  they should have settled this 10-15 years ago.

Beachwood will be forever remembered as the Poster Child of government policies run amuck and how it almost ruined a city.

  Beachwood will be forever remembered as the Poster Child of government policies run amuck and how it almost ruined a city.<<


Huh, I see Beachwood as the Poster Child of naive city leaders run amok. The current city council (at least the four in the majority) must be eligible for some sort of award for the most politically unaware group of civic leaders in the state.


As I said,  this should have been resolved 10-15 years ago.  Instead each administration made it worse and kicked the ball down the field for their predassors to deal with.  The music stopped with the current CC and they had to deal with the mess they inherited.

Did they reduce the debt, yes. Could it have been handled better, yes. Was 1991 the cheapest solution, yes. Will we ever agree, no!

The Beachwood Settlement was the biggest blunder in the City’s history. The City Attorney publicly urged an appeal, The appellate attorney, Knox, publicly stated that the City’s chances of prevailing were very good (and why not when the Judge was the most overturned on the Ninth Circuit?), but the Mayor stated publicly that “Settlement is the first priority”.

Well, the Council majority achieved their first priority, alright - an $18 million dollar anchor around the necks of the people of Half Moon Bay because they didn’t really want to win an appeal.

To me the biggest blunder the City made was not settling this issue 10-15 years ago.  We were wrong, we damaged Keenan’s property,  we should have settled.

Instead, we spent over $5 million on lawyers and rolled the dice on a trial and lost in a $40 million judgment. 

One of the big disputes which have divided our community was to appeal or not appeal.  If the purpose of the appeal was to reduce the amount of money owed,  the settlement did that.  If the purpose of appealing was to keep fighting because the City felt they were right and the Judge was wrong,  then keep spending money.

To me the settlement made sense.  I know most here disagree with me but its too bad we didn’t let Keenan build his homes on his land.  That was the cheapest option.

Why I was and still am against appealing is that the City is making a gamble with MY money and can’t cover the debt if they lose.  You can’t go to Vegas and place a bet without putting the money on the table.  If we lost,  BK was our only option.  I find that option unacceptable.

Could things have been done differently post settlement agreement? Yes.  I would have cut salaries of people at the top and kept more City employees.  I also would have sold off many City parcels to reduce amount of money owed.  Its so easy being an armchair quarterback.

The painting above looks very appealing.  But was it worth the $25 million we spent to own it? For me the answer is a resounding no.

An absurd $41 million decision remains absurd when it’s reduced to $18 million. An appeal would have taken it to zero and the $1 million cost of an appeal would have been reimbursed by ABAG. It is not known if the more than $1 million spent in lobbying for AB1991 will be reimbursed.

The City was wrong in flooding Keenan’s property and owed him money.  I agree that I thought $41 million was too high. 

But if we appealed and lost,  we would have seen that judgment skyrocket to $50 million with several years of interest tacked on. 

I still think that would have been an irresponsible thing for government officials to do with their constituents money.

Anyway,  for those in favor of appealing,  we will all have a chance to see how that option plays out with MWSD.  Interestingly,  no one has spoken poorly about this federal judge and his ruling. Does that mean his judgment is sound but we want to appeal anyway and on what grounds?

Just part of the absurdity was the claim that the City created the wetlands with the installation of the drainage system in 1984. Yes, a drainage system.  Yes, 1984.

Think it through. If that was the case why didn’t the applicant’s environmental paperwork submissions in 1989 and 1998 reflect it as so?

As to your claim that “no one has spoken poorly about this federal judge and his ruling” I would say you must be wearing selective cognitive blinders to make that statement. California Lawyer magazine would be just one place to look. It is sufficient for our purposes on this thread, however, to note again - as previously noted - that he’s the most overturned judge on the Ninth Circuit.

Among his overturned gems from other cases were his findings that there was no constitutional problem with officers rubbing pepper spray into the eyes of demonstrators and that there is no constitutional freedom of speech right associated with the eligibility to be a candidate for an elected office. Do these and other similar decisions indicate that the judge might have an “attitude”? To a lot of people the answer is yes.

Like I said,  why wasn’t this mistake corrected a long time ago.  The City had 25 years to right their wrong.

As far as the federal judge,  I was referring to the MWSD lawsuit and that appeal. Nobody has said anything about his ruling but we are appealing. Based on what?

Like I said, the applicant(s) didn’t inform the City that the subject wetlands were there when applications were filed.

Its the City’s obligation to tell property owners they did illegal actions to their property, not the other way around.  It also seems to me that HMB has a habit of repeatidly doing just that.  Oak Park is the latest costly example (although nothing like Beachwood) of government arrogance.

Maybe getting hit with some costly judgments will change that attitude. If nothing else,  these payments will reduce the amount of money we have been wasting on costly litigation with such poor results.

Steven—Political expediency isn’t always the best solution. In fact, it rarely is. That is another lesson that should be learned from the Beachwood case.

Hard to see how something dragging on for 25 years can be called political expediency. Then go add how much time and money was spent on other projects like N Wavecrest, Pacific Ridge, water pipeline, new Cunha, Boys & Girls Club, etc and you can see why people are getting angry at how poorly our government works.

Its very frustrating to spend a lot of money and watch nothing happen year after year.

Steven—Stay focused on Beachwood. Most people can distinguish between politically expedient decisions and the results of such decisions. Why can’t you?

There is nothing expedient about Beachwood dragging on for 25 years.

Steven—Beachwood dragged on because of numerous politically expedient decisions by HMB. So, if you’re upset about the duration and ultimate cost of the Beachwood fiasco, you might want to reconsider your support for those politically expedient decisions.

I am aware of the Oak Wood Park property, but after checking Caoastsider and Half Moon Bay Review, I have not read what HMB settled for in amount or dollars or forgiveness or….  (the various “or” are a bit scary considering the host of politicians you have to deal with and their ethics). It was referenced to the next HMB meeting for approval.

Does anyone have this referenced or know the results.



The Review covered it a few weeks ago.  The cost was $100k.  That amount does not include HMB’s legal fees.

I’m not an attorney, but common sense and a bit of legal reasoning suggests that the attempt by Keenan to sell off water connection rights from the Beachwood parcel might constitute a breach of contract for the sale of the real estate. Under California Supreme Court interpretations of Proposition 218, water and sewer services are incidents of property ownership, they are not personal property like a washing machine that you can simply remove from real property.

When you buy real property with an existing house on it, the contract doesn’t have to include a clause saying, “Oh, and by the way, the former owner can’t move the house off the property before delivering the deed,” because everyone understands that the house is a part of the transaction. Similarly, the water rights appurtenant to a parcel being sold cannot be transferred out from under the buyer, even if they are not explicitly mentioned in the purchase and sale agreement, in my opinion.

I suggest the Half Moon Bay City Attorney look for relevant similar cases, e.g., has anyone ever entered into a contract to purchase a piece of property with extensive woodlands, and then been handed a deed after the previous owner has clear-cut the timber and sold it separately? Stripping a parcel of valuable resources after a sale agreement is consummated would seem to me a breach of contract. There must be case law on this kind of issue.

Of course, Coastside County Water District could always refuse the transfer of water connection rights, leaving those rights still attached to the property when the City takes ownership.

I’m no attorney either.  I know when I sell land with a ccwd water connection,  I specificially include that in the contract.  Also the mls would say whether or not a parcel has water.

I can see why when the deal with the City was reached,  water was excluded because of the Plan A & B settlement.  It could also have been an oversight by the City in not thinking about this valuable asset.

CCWD lets people transfer water connections for a nominal fee to other parcels since they are paid for in full by the owners.

The City from the start was in a very poor bargaining position with a $41 million judgment.  Perhaps this is the best they could get from Keenan or just an oversight. I also don’t know if the City wants to try taking him on again.  He already beat them badly with better lawyering and he’ll have $18 million of their money soon so he’s ready for a few more rounds.

Its kind of surprising that this is coming up now when its really old news to many.