Backgrounder: The Quarry vote in Pacifica

Posted by on Thu, August 17, 2006

Pacifica Today & Tomorrow
The Quarry site viewed looking south from the wastewater treatment plant.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This November, there will be an important vote in Pacifica that will affect the Coastside's traffic, development, and environment. Pacificans will consider whether to permit the building of 355 housing units on a site known locally as "the Quarry" off Highway 1 near Reina del Mar and Fassler Avenue. We've been looking for a good way to get a running start on a complicated issue, and Ken Restivo of Pacifica Today & Tomorrow offered to write one for us. His group is focused on defeating the measure, and you should keep Ken's perspective in mind when you read it, but it contains a great deal of useful information. He has also linked to more background material if you want to pursue this further. Of course, comments are welcome.

The Quarry, while a degraded enviroment, is a beautiful place. It's hard to believe when you're walking in it that you're only a few hundred feet from a busy highway.


The Quarry is an 87-acre lot on the Pacific Ocean, west of California State Highway 1, between already-congested intersections at Reina del Mar and Fassler Avenue in Pacifica. It borders both the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Mori Point reserve and the City of Pacifica's Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to the north, and the West Rockaway Beach district to the south. Calera Creek and its floodplain bisects the flat areas of the Quarry. One of the Quarry's hillsides has been thoroughly mined, and another ridge is largely intact. The creek and surrounding hillsides are known habitat for the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake and threatened California Red-Legged Frog. A public biking/hiking trail also runs through the Quarry.

In the 20 years since limestone quarrying operations ceased, and with the help of the restoration of Calera Creek, the ecology is recovering. Alhough it is private property, unofficial hiking trails have traversed the Quarry for decades. It is one of very few remaining vacant lots of its size in Pacifica.

The ballot measure

On November 7th, 2006, Pacifica voters will be asked to approve a ballot measure which would authorize the City Council to rezone the Quarry to entitle up to 355 housing units on the property, and contains no specifics on what kind of housing units or what mix of them. If the measure is rejected, any development in the Quarry would be covered by existing C-3 commercial zoning and various regulatory agencies. This ballot measure is required by a 1983 ballot measure which mandates "a vote of the people" before the City could alter the zoning to allow any housing on the property.

No project, development agreement, regulatory review, or plan has been created by the developer or submitted to the City or the voters, nor would any such review be available to the voters before the November election. The only purpose for this November's ballot measure is to give any future developer an entitlement to build 355 housing units in the Quarry. If it is approved, this or any developer would be entitled to propose a project with up to 355 houses, and the "voter mandate" would provide a big stick to wave over elected officials should they attempt to challenge or downsize such a project.

The developer

The Quarry was purchased in 2005 by Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation (PADC), headed by R. Donahue Peebles. Peebles began his career as a real estate appraiser, and was appointed to the Board of Real Property Assessment & Appeal by then-D.C.-mayor Marion Barry. Barry later gave Peebles his start developing office space for the District's use. After a deal fell apart due to accusations of cronyism, Peebles moved on to Miami and leveraged the purchase of the Royal Palm Hotel as part of a redevelopment project. The project turned litigious and dragged on for years as Peebles sued Broward County over it, was counter-sued by them. Peebles purchased the Bath Club in Miami Beach, and funded a campaign to attempt defeat the Mayor who opposed the hotel's partial demolition. Peebles purchased the Quarry property in 2005. He then went on to purchase the 250 Brannan office building in San Francisco for conversion into ultra-luxury condos.

History of the quarry

  • Early history: Limestone quarry, operated by William F. Bottoms
  • 1983 - initiative passed to add Ordinance 391-C.S. changing the Quarry’s zoning from agricultural to commercial and requiring "a vote of the people" before any housing would be built there.
  • 1984 - last of a many-decade tradition of "Frontier Days" held in Quarry
  • 1987- Pacifica creates the West Rockaway Beach Redevelopment Area and includes the Quarry in it
  • Late 1980’s - mining operations cease on the site. Quarry ecology begins to recover from the mining operations.
  • 1995 - City of Pacifica purchases a portion of the Quarry for the site of the new Calera Creek wastewater treatment plant, and restores the Calera Creek wetlands.
  • 1996 - A public Steering Committee is chartered by the City of Pacifica, which, after extensive open public input, produces a report cautioning against housing as a key component of development in the Quarry.
  • 2002- Dallas, Texas developer Trammell Crow enters into a $20 million agreement with William F. Bottoms to develop the Quarry. Trammel Crow proposes a project with 315 housing units, and places the housing component on the ballot as required. Despite a thorough marketing campaign by Trammel Crow, Measure E is soundly defeated by Pacificans by 6,867 (66.2%) NO votes to 3,511 (33.8%) yes votes.
  • 2005 - Ailing Quarry owner William F. Bottoms dies during negotiations with PADC; On July 29, 2005, Rockaway Beach Ltd. (a Florida limited partnership, controlled by Peebles) purchases the property from the Bottoms estate for $7 million, and takes out a $16.5 million non-recourse loan on the property. Peebles publicly lays out his plan for a large-scale development on the property, including up to 400 housing units.

History of the ballot measure

  • May 2006- Peebles sends out a direct-mail newsletter, then conducts five "Charrette" sessions with some members of the public on May 15-21. Many "green" features and public amenities are requested by the public, and appear in the final "Charrette" presentation. On May 30th, a local property management firm officially files a request on Peebles’ behalf for a petition for ballot measure. None of the "green" features or public amenities are included in the petition, nor does any plan, project, or development agreement accompany it, for none has yet been created.
  • June 2006 - Paid signature-gatherers appear in Pacifica shopping malls on June 14th, the same day the petition is publicly announced in the Pacifica Tribune. Outraged accusations of petition-gatherer misrepresentations begin to surface, and citizens begin asking how they can have their names removed from the petition. Peebles ceases collecting signatures and submits them to the City, after which time signers are not allowed to remove their names. 4,236 signatures are verified by the City. On June 30th, Pacifica Today & Tomorrow launches and announces its opposition to the ballot measure.
  • July 2006 - Prior to the City’s official certification of the petition, citizens request that the City prepare a report under Elections Code 9212, to provide impartial answers to some of the many questions surrounding the ballot measure.
  • August 2006 - The "EC 9212" report is delivered August 2nd, after a review of which, the City Council certifies the petition and places the measure on the November 2006 ballot.

Ken Restivo, above, stated

“No project, development agreement, regulatory review, or plan has been created by the developer or submitted to the City or the voters, nor would any such review be available to the voters before the November election. The only purpose for this November’s ballot measure is to give any future developer an entitlement to build 355 housing units in the Quarry. If it is approved, this or any developer would be entitled to propose a project with up to 355 houses, and the “voter mandate” would provide a big stick to wave over elected officials should they attempt to challenge or downsize such a project.”

This is precisely what Measure D, in 1992, the Cassenelli Ranch proposal wanted to do. They proposed to develop over 900 acres but never submitted a project, development agreement, regulatory review or development plan submitted to the SMC Planning Commission. It was located south and east of the HMB City Limits and required a vote of all the voters of SMC. They wanted to bypass the Planning Commission and work directly with the BOS so they could build houses, condominiums and a golf course

Guess what happened? They spent over $700,000. We spent $34,000. It was soundly defeated 82% to 18%.

In the last few years the Peninsula Open Space Trust has purchased the complete property.

John Lynch

John, thanks!

By the way, the ballot letter has just been assigned: NO on Measure L.

Comment 3
Thu, August 17, 2006 4:17pm
Carl May
All my comments

Pacifica’s government has long suffered due to a gross imbalance of budget-draining bedrooms over budget-supporting commercial enterprises. This development can only make that situation worse.

The commute-hour traffic at the lights at Rockaway and Vallemar is already terrible and destined to get worse due to whatever new commuters from unstopped development on the midcoast south of Devil’s Slide add to it. Another situation that can only be made worse by development in the quarry area.

If they become informed during the campaign, Pacificans will clobber this proposal with their votes by more than they clobbered the last one. But one must always worry about the media misrepresentations and spin that can be purchased by a developer with this many millions at stake.

Carl May

This last Sunday night, we drove by this site and smelled a sewage odor. And the same odor has occurred on other drives through this area. I find it hard to image that someone would want to build homes in this area. I don’t know the reason for the odor, but it would seem undesirable if it were around my home.

Do vents from the sewage treatment plant sometimes vent odor as a part of their processing systems?
Linda Rutherford

Quoting a paragraph from the Pacifica Tribune, dated August 23, 2006.

“Peebles said his development will generate new jobs with priority given to local citizens and business people and significantly revitalize Pacifica’s economy. Alluding to $17 million in new revenue, based on his own accounting of the maximum proposal, he said the money could be spent at the discretion of City Council acting as the Redevelopment Agency. Since the Quarry is in Redevelopment , the majority of tax increment increases go directly and wholly to the city of Pacifica.”

This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE. The tax increment generated goes only to the Redevelopment Project Area, not the City of Pacifica to do as they wish. This is a common misconception regarding redevelopment.

Not stated is that, under California Redevelopment law, any tax increment generated in the Redevelopment Project Area must stay and be spent within the project area . Exceptions must be negotiated by effected agencies such as police, fire districts, schools, etc. Usually these offsets do not exceed more than 20-25% of the tax increment generated. This works to the detriment of the rest of the City of Pacifica.

Contrary to what most people believe, there is NO found money in redevelopment.

No mention was made of the affordable housing component of the redevelopment project. Redevelopment law requires a minimum set aside of 20 % of the housing units. Note this is a minimum. It can be more. The affordable housing component should be located within the project area.

I have a larger concern. Why even use redevelopment to develop undeveloped land? Redevelopment may be only used when blight occurs. It must be both physical and financial blight.

This sounds just like the Kelo Supreme Court decision last year of using redevelopment to aid a private developer.

John Lynch,
Half Moon Bay

Background: In 1999 I was the Chairman of the City of Half Moon Bay’s Advisory Committee for the Downtown Redevelopment Project Area.