Wavecrest: The first decade

By on Thu, March 17, 2005

The Wavecrest development is single most polarizing issue on the Coastside. Arguably, the controversy surrounding this development and later its associated middle school plan led to the emergence of a viable smart-growth alternative in Coastside politics. This July will mark the tenth anniversary of the approval of the original Wavecrest plan by a pro-development Half Moon Bay City Council.

With the recognition that the federal approval process could be long and arduous, and that Cabrillo Unified School District is once again considering alternative sites for its long-delayed middle school, now is a good time to look at how we got ourselves in this fix.

The following chronology is based on the excellent chronology prepared for the failed Measure D campaign in November 2003.  I’ve edited it to make the tone less partisan, updated it with more recent events and added links to relevant documents and stories on Coastsider.


I’m publishing this in tandem with a chronology of the CUSD middle school, which you may also find interesting. Many events show up on both timelines. Please email notes and corrections to me, or attach them as comments to this story.

Can’t get enough?  The Half Moon Bay Review published an overview of the Wavecrest project in March of 2002. There is an excellent archive of Wavecrest material on SanMateo.org.

What is Wavecrest, anyway?

Where: Wavecrest (the property) is located on the west side of Highway 1, roughly at the southern end of Main Street (across the highway from Johnston House) on 200 acres of open space. Smith Field is at its southwest corner.

Who: Wavecrest (the company) has had several names over the years. It is a partnership between Ocean Colony Partners (97% owned by Plumbers and Steamfitters Locals 467 and 393, and developers of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Half Moon Bay Golf Links, and the Ocean Colony gated community) and other landowners. The Cabrillo Unified School District school board are co-applicants before the Coastal Commission.

What: Wavecrest Village (the development) includes 178 new market-rate homes, 39 affordable homes, and a new middle school on the western edge of Highway 1 south of town as of March 2005

When:  Wavecrest was appealed by competing real estate developers to the California Coastal Commission. The project has been in limbo ever since, mainly due to incomplete/compromised wetlands analysis; major unresolved issues such as drainage, run-off and traffic impact; and the discovery of endangered species and habitat on the property. It is currently unclear how many years it will take before the project could be approved by federal, state, and local agencies.


July 1995
The Half Moon Bay City Council passes an ordinance approving and adopting the original Wavecrest project. This project, located south of downtown and west of Highway 1, includes 750 market-rate houses and a golf course (the developer already owns two golf courses surrounded by a gated community and (at the time) the new Ritz-Carlton a little farther south along Highway 1).

November 1995
Half Moon Bay voters pass a referendum requiring that the ordinance be repealed. This is also the start of a significant shift in local politics, away from a pro-development, pro-growth orientation to a slower, planned growth vision.

July 1999
After asking for and receiving a set of developer considerations, such as space for a new middle school, a Boys and Girls Club, five ball fields and 70 acres of open space, City Council approves a newly configured Wavecrest Village. This one calls for 225 market-rate units and 54 units of affordable units of housing, divided between two tracts, one to the north and one to south of the development. The plan also includes 18 acres of commercial/retail space (roughly three times the size of downtown Half Moon Bay. At one meeting, city council members grant a Coastal Development Permit and a vesting tentative map, and enter a binding development agreement.

However, there appear to be several "mutual mistakes in fact." For example, at the time wetlands had not been properly delineated. Also, at the time, Cabrillo Unified School District (CUSD) still provided busing to school, which mitigated traffic congestion on Highway 1, a service that has since been eliminated by the school district for budgetary reasons.

Finally, lawyers quietly remove a key provision requiring that final action on the project’s Coastal Development Permit precede the awarding of any new home development allocations under the city growth-limiting ordinance (Measure A). Wavecrest has been accumulating these scarce allocations ever since. It’s unclear whether these allocations are transferable if Wavecrest goes unbuilt.

August 1999
Competing real estate developers appeal the project before the California Coastal Commission [PDF of appeal], where it has been tied up ever since.

September 1999
The California Coastal Commission discovers that Wavecrest Partners have installed a drainage pipe in order to dry up wetlands and pass obligatory Environmental Impact Report inspections. The Commission finds that substantial issues are unresolved and assumes jurisdiction. The project is now out of local hands.

December 2001
Wavecrest’s developers withdraw their application to the California Coastal Commission. According to the Coastal Commission staff, biological studies still have not been satisfactorily completed. The Coastal Commission has yet to hear the matter.

March 2001
Wavecrest Partners submits new version its project, based on requirements put forth by the Coastal Commission. The new development includes a total of 190 market rate homes and 54 affordable units, mostly located as apartments over commercial space. Most significantly, this version eliminates the whole southern tract, where wetlands have been delineated, moving all the units to the northern section, thus doubling the density of housing and cutting lots sizes in half There is only one road into and out of the project.

March 2002
The Coastal Commission hears public testimony against Wavecrest at a public hearing in Monterey. At this point, the Sierra Club and other major environmental organizations become increasingly vocal opponents. The Sierra Club designates Wavecrest one of their "Great Coastal Places.".

May 2002
Parents and other citizens concerned with CUSD’s stalled middle school progress speak at a school board hearing on the site issue. They urge CUSD Board of Trustees to consider revamping Cunha at its current site. Board members dismiss the suggestion as a "fringe" point of view. Frustrated, citizens went out and gathered more than 1350 signatures in five days and presented them to the school board as proof of the idea’s wide community appeal. The school board reaffirms its commitment to Wavecrest.

October 2002
A new, substantially altered, version of the Wavecrest Village project, eliminating the commercial element and relocating the middle school to a site on Highway 1, is unveiled through an ad in the Half Moon Bay Review. City Council is not formally notified of the redesign and as of June 2003, Coastal Commission staff report that a new version of the official project has not yet been submitted for consideration.

May 2003
A full year passes without any progress at all on Wavecrest. California Coastal Commission staff report that they are awaiting additional biological analysis, which Wavecrest Partners has so far declined to provide. Meanwhile, two springtime efforts to pass a parcel tax fail by a narrow margin—swing voters perhaps who have cast a no-confidence vote against CUSD.

June 2003
The community rallies behind its downtown with a historic block party to celebrate and support Cunha’s Country Store, which has been razed in a fire.

July 2003
A new version of Wavecrest is unveiled, featuring 281 homes, a middle school, a Boys and Girls Club, 30,000 square feet of retail space, relocated ball fields and open space.

September 2003
Half Moon Bay City Council votes 3-2 to find Wavecrest’s developer in default of their August 1999 agreement. The council cites drastic, poorly communicated changes in the project since the council’s original approved in July 1999.

April 2004
Wavecrest introduces a new version of the development, featuring a reduction in the number of homes from 275 to 204 and the reinsertion of 123,000 square feet of commercial space.

July 2004
City of Half Moon Bay and Wavecrest Village LLC come to an agreement. The most important changes are the elimination of retail and commercial space and the reduction of the number of units from 225 to 175.  The city sends a letter to the Coastal Commission in support of the Wavecrest Village project.

A California red-legged frog, a federally-recognized threatened species, is found at Wavecrest by a herpetologist, who reports it to the California Department of Fish and Game.

August 2004
The Cabrillo Unified School District signs a new agreement with Wavecrest Village LLC.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service finds California Red-Legged Frog habitat at Wavecrest. This leads the California Coastal Commission to remove the Wavecrest project from its agenda.

September 2004
CUSD and Wavecrest developers sign an agreement to create a special district that would tax market-value homes in the development $1,000 per house per year for 30 years. The revenue from this Mello-Roos community facilities district would be earmarked for middle school improvements. There are 178 market-rate homes planned for Wavecrest.

Wavecrest almost immediately misses its new agreement’s first deadline with CUSD because of delays caused by the discovery of endangered species habitat on the property. The CUSD board declines to exercise its option to cancel the agreement.

Wavecrest’s original wetlands delineation expires, requiring a new delineation before the approval process can proceed.

November 2004
Wavecrest’s owners attempt to grow hay on a portion of the property. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and California Coastal Commission tell them to stop cultivating the property as it has been found to contain endangered species habitat.

February 2005
Wavecrest applies to the US Army Corps of Engineers for a 404 permit to allow development activity that would affect waters of the U.S.  They plan to create frog breeding ponds in the undeveloped portion of the land. If the Corps declines to accept jurisdiction, Wavecrest faces a multiyear process of developing a Habitat Conservation Plan with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

March 2005
The City of Half Moon Bay and Cabrillo Unified School District admit they’re exploring a new site for the middle school, adjacent to Half Moon Bay High School.