Caving in and kowtowing to developers is common in San Mateo County politics

Letter

Posted by on Wed, April 14, 2010

NOTE: This letter has been updated by the author.

Board of Supervisors Meeting - April 13, 2010
Agenda Item 11: Midcoast LCP Update

At the Board of Supervisors meeting today Supervisors Adrienne Tissier, Rose Jacobs Gibson and Mark Church showed their collective unwillingness to consider California Coastal Commission suggested modifications to the Midcoast Local Coastal Program.

Supervisor Tissier said, "Growth limits are a catch 22, it’s a no win situation." One wonders why that is a "no-win situation"; certainly there are gains for an entire community, and not just for a few developers, when growth is subject to intelligent controls.  Mark Church said, "The Coastal Commission recommendations are a subjective interpretation of the Coastal Act." This is a no-brainer; all interpretation from whomever is subjective because interpretation is a product of the human brain and imagination. The question that begs to be asked is: Are CCC’s suggested modifications responsible and intelligent.  Supervisor Jacobs Gibson supported Supervisor Tissier’s suggestion that the Board resubmit the LCP Update without any additional modifications.

Board President Rich Gordon, District 3 said he is very concerned about lot retirement leading to weed filled lots in residential areas. He did not evince any concerns about storm water flooding, salt water intrusion, water pollution in Pillar Point Harbor, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and limited traffic capacity on Highway 1. Supervisor Gordon shows due diligence to surface niceties; he cannot tolerate unsightly weeds growing in a few lots but he can, apparently, tolerate avoiding the significant challenges facing the Midcoast.

Supervisor Carol Groom said she would like to have one more meeting with Coastal Commission staff before making a decision. Supervisor Rich Gordon supported Grooms request for one more meeting.  Hopefully the two Supes will use the time with Coastal Commission staff to discuss ways to move the process forward rather than focusing on weed abatement. 

Supervisors Adrienne Tissier, Rose Jacobs Gibson and Mark Church made it clear that they were not interested in meeting with Coastal Commission staff.  Perhaps if they had attended the December 10, 2009 California Coastal Commissionhearing in San Francisco they might be better informed. To help them grasp the complexities of the LCP Update process, all three would benefit from meeting with Coastal Commission staff. If they had asked more specific questions of County Planning staff today they would have learned that resubmitting the LCP Update without any additional modifications is not a reasonable or appropriate next step.

The Supervisors’s fear of lawsuits initiated by developers was punctuated and highlighted by the angry tirade and finger pointing of local land use attorney David Byers. Intimidation is a standard tool in the lawyer’s bag of tricks.

The Supes habitually site the fear of lawsuits as an excuse to turn a blind eye to environmentally responsible land use policy. Fearful thinking is likely to continue ruling the decisions of the Board due to the loss of over 150 million tax payer dollars to Lehman Brothers.

Kicking coastal resources to the curb has short-term benefits for developers and real estate lobbyists. Enhanced coastal ecotourism, recreation, environmental education, and proactive sea-level rise planning provide long-term benefits to California residents.

The environmental catch 22 Supervisor Tissier invokes may be a win-win proposition for developers and supervisors with political aspirations, but it’s a losing proposition for thousands of County residents.


It appears that Sabrina and I were not at the same BOS meeting.

I thought the BOS were quiet concerned about balancing good planning techniques, adequate public participation in the LCP design, private property rights, community needs, cost to the County taxpayers and reasonableness of the Coastal Commissions last minute demands.

In the end, this meeting wasn’t about making a decision but about obtaining public input and next steps. 

Comments that are not constructive but rather taken out of context and inflammatory do not help us move forward as a community.  I hope they cease and that others will ask posters who do this to stop.

If (and when) the Board of Supervisors obey the wishes of their developer/realtor masters, they will reject the proposed LCP changes of the Coastal Commission and thereby waste years of effort and countless taxpayer dollars. If that happens, Rich Gordon should be held personally responsible for failing in his duty to serve the greater good.

Hello Christine,

Based on your response to my letter I understand that we share different points of view.  I look forward to reading your future posts.

Sabrina Brennan
http://www.thepelicaneye.com

I would like to see a coast that is a model for balancing environmental interests with economic and societal interests. The LCP amendment has taken 10 years and hundreds of hours of staff time and many, many public hearings.

Why throw-out all of that good work at the 11th hour without transparent public hearings and input? 

I would like to see the coast have wonderful open space that is well maintained, kept clean, has bathrooms for our visitors and ample hiking and biking trails.

I would like a coast that has a vibrate and healthy economy which includes and supports our agricultural heritage, our micro businesses, affordable housing and adequate infrastructure.

I am concerned that if the BOS cave into the Coastal Commissions demands that our coast would become an enclave for only the very wealthy, that our infrastructure will become obsolete without the ability to repair/replace, that our farmers will be priced out of our community, that our children will not be able to find affordable housing.

In summary, I seek balance and harmony between the competing sides because in the end only that will truly be sustainable.

“...I would like to see a coast that is a model for balancing environmental interests with economic and societal interests…”

That’s what the Coastal Act (and the LCP) is all about—striking a balance between preservation of scarce coastal resources and allowing viable development so that the coastal economy actually works and is sustainable.

Trouble is, after the hard compromises were made and balances struck during the years of recent County Planning Commission hearings, the Board of Supervisors then decided they wanted to compromise the compromise—always moving the balance point in the direction of more development and less coastal protection, all for the benefit of their developer/realtor special interest friends.

The Mid Coast Community Council exists in large part as an advisory board to keep the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors informed of public sentiment on issues impacting the Midcoast.

How telling that while the Mid Coast Community Council - which covers a geographic area entirely withing the coastal zone, and thus under the purvey of the California Coastal Commission and LCP - took a strong position in support of the California Coastal Commission, the Board of Supervisors chose to either disregarded this input, or never bothered to receive it.

As elected officials representing the interests of the Midcoast, one would think that the BOS would do a better job of listening to, and working with, the MCC to better conform their position on key issues like the proposed LCP updates to reflect the interests of the constituents that stand to be most directly impacted by LCP issues.

As we begin to think about issues like at large vs. district elections, there is no clearer evidence of a profound disconnect between our elected representatives in Redwood City and the residents of the Midcoast than with respect to issues like the LCP amendments and controversial development project proposals like Big Wave.

As a member of the MCC, I will do my part to help continue to accurately and faithfully continue to keep the SMC BOS apprised of issues and perspectives important to the residents of the Midcoast. 

—David

FIrst of all,  what is there is to gain by calling the Supervisors names, and inferring that they don’t care about coastal issues, just because they happen to disagree with our personal positions.  We live in a world that is inhabited by Green party members, Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians.  Our courts have members like Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, as well as Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  We don’t live in a world where everything the Coastal Commission never makes a mistake, and everything they want becomes the rule of law.

That said, I love the coastal commission, support the Coastal commission, and want to have a very strong coastal commission in the future.  If the Coastal initiative hadn’t passed, the world would be a much worse place.  That said, I am willing to admit that they are not always infallible.

The latest Coastal Commission LCP proposal places limits on water recycling.  10 years from now, should Stockton be able to recycle more of their water than El Granada?  Huh?

No building until the wet weather flow sewer problem is solved?  Doesn’t anyone except me worry that attaching that issue to development will slow down the solution?  Lets fix our sewer problems now.  No more sewage leaking into the ocean, whether one more house is built or not.  New sewer pipes generally don’t cause the wet weather problem anyway, it’s usually older laterals, that need replacement.

Lot retirement.  Is that legal?  Well moratorium.  Will lot owners sue if they are able to prove that there is plenty of water under their land?  Couldn’t the wording be changed to “no wells in areas where there isn’t enough water?”  Can’t we negotiate?

If the Board of Sups adopts all of these suggestions, then the liability becomes ours (yours and mine).  The Coastal commission doesn’t get sued, we do.  Just like the City of Half Moon Bay.  At this point in the process, the County and the Coastal Commission are really pretty close, and a little give and take on both sides could probably work… but at this point it seems that only the County is willing to negotiate.  I hope I am wrong.

Neil Merrilees

Neil,

For the record, I don’t think I called the Supervisors names in my post above (or elsewhere, for that matter).

The position I am stating above re: the LCP amendments is consistent with the position that the MCC has taken on this issue.

While you raise some interesting points worth further discussion,  my observation above was more directed towards a desire to address what appears to be a significant chasm between the MCC and the BOS on vital issues impacting the coastside than on the merits of the amendments themselves.

—David

The Coastal Commission happens to be 100% right in trying to fix the fix we are in.
Consider the fact that through sweetheart deals, exemptions and use-permits the LCP has been rendered less than useless in the last 30 years.
Because of all the deals the county has been doing, zoning laws became meaningless and can be (and are) challenged all the time.
Take Big Wave: the developer proposes 70 affordable housing in a land with W1 (Waterfront) zoning - and the County says “fine” and “no problemos”, even though W1 explicitly disallows residential use.

Neil, you must know that while the CCC’s amendments appear radical, there’s no other way to protect the coast! The Board of Superwisors will not be helping, that’s for sure.
Outcome: everything will be appealed to the CCC and projects will take longer and become more expensive as they will be litigated.

Neil Merrilees commented, “FIrst of all,  what is there is to gain by calling the Supervisors names, and inferring that they don’t care about coastal issues, just because they happen to disagree with our personal positions.” 

In the United States citizens have the freedom to criticize elected officials.  Freedom of speech is an important civil right and it should be tolerated, not censured or punished by law. 

The free expression of ideas that push the limits of the status-quo developed alongside the rise of the printing press.

“The invention of the printing press is regarded as the most influential event in the second millennium AD, revolutionizing the way people conceive and describe the world they live in, and ushering in the period of modernity.”

As for Merrilees’s other points he sounds conflicted.  Developers and real estate speculators are concerned about getting a maximum return on investment. 

When the County gets sued by activist land-use attorneys the tax payers lose and when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors refuses to act as responsible stewards of the environment the tax payers lose and future generations lose.

more info on freedom of speech and the printing press:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing_press

I am so pleased to read in the Examiner that the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee voted to endorse April Vargas for our District 3 Board of Supervisors seat.  I know having April as our representative will give those of us who realize that the San Mateo County midcoast is a valuable resource for all Californians, and should be recognized as such by the governing board of the entire county.

April understands that the Local Coastal Plan decision will be with us for a very long time.  She worked extremely hard to make sure all sides were heard at the local hearings ten years ago.  She heard both sides.  She knows that the caving in to the threat of lawsuits only weakens the County.

I hope Carole Groom comes to this understanding as well.

http://www.examiner.com/x-40581-San-Mateo-County-Top-News-Examiner~y2010m4d15-San-Mateo-County-democratic-party-announces-endorsements-for-June-8th-election

Printing Presses, yes. Freedom of Speech, yes.

Can we get back to Neil’s question? It’s one I’ve asked again and again myself, sometimes here in the Coastside comments.

Again, the question was “what is there is to gain by calling the Supervisors names, and inferring that they don’t care about coastal issues, just because they happen to disagree with our personal positions?”

It’s obviously not a question about the *right* to criticize political leaders. It has nothing whatsoever to do with printing presses. That’s just silly.

His question, and mine—let’s go over it again—is one of tactics. What is there to *gain* by vilifying our political leaders when you don’t agree with them? What political, tactical, or moral advantage is being sought?

Yes, there will be posts from the usual suspects accusing Neil and I of being shills of developers, of being cheerleaders for real estate interests (there are quotes from previous Coastsider posts, by the way). The ones who proclaim the glories of free speech seem to be the first ones here to vilify, to make ad hominem attacks, to try and shut down discussion of ideas that differ from their own (the irony here seems to escape so many).

Are the politics of vilification working? Is this tactic a winning one? I’m not seeing those victories—perhaps someone would care to enlighten me.

—Darin

“...No building until the wet weather flow sewer problem is solved…”

In other words, a building moratorium. Zero building. Really? Where does that come from? It certainly is not in any the Coastal Commission’s recommended LCP changes as far as I can see. And as long as we’re talking about “tactics” of debate, how it helpful to just make stuff up?

Hello Darin,

Are the CCC’s suggested modifications responsible and intelligent?  Read them and let me know what you think. 

I understand that you prefer a diplomatic style to opinion letters.

Sabrina Brennan
http://www.thepelicaneye.com

>>Where does that come from?<<

The Coastal Commission is recommending that there should be no more wells until a groundwater plan is incorporated into the LCP. So, given the MWSD moratorium that would mean no new houses in the district.

But, according to a related Coastal Commission recommendation,  the MWSD can’t lift the moratorium until “existing traffic conditions improve, wet-weather sewer overflow problems are solved, and water supplies for current and future development are secured.”

The unintended consequence here is that sewers will continue to leak since fixing them will contribute to the possibility of more development. Doesn’t seem very “green” to me—seems sort of “brown”...

Here is the link. You might not agree with the County’s view but doesn’t seem “made up”...

http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/bos.dir/BosAgendas/agendas2010/CurrentAgenda/20100413_m_11.htm

—Darin

>>I understand that you prefer a diplomatic style to opinion letters.
<<

Actually, I prefer winning to losing. :)

I’m still laughing over the printing press post, sorry.

—Darin

Neil and/or Darin,

Please cite where in the initial post or subsequent comments the supervisors or a supervisor was ‘called a name”.  I did see descriptions of their attitudes and comments, but that is not the same a applying a label to someone. 

Neil wrote:  No building until the wet weather flow sewer problem is solved?  Doesn’t anyone except me worry that attaching that issue to development will slow down the solution?  Lets fix our sewer problems now.  No more sewage leaking into the ocean, whether one more house is built or not.  New sewer pipes generally don’t cause the wet weather problem anyway, it’s usually older laterals, that need replacement.

Last night GSD gave direction to staff to finish the purchase of the land for the wet weather flow project.  When complete this will contain any spills in the intertie system.

Neil, do you think homeowners should pay to replace their old laterals when experience in other communities has shown that a complete replacement of all old laterals has minimal impact on wet weather spills?

Neil wrote:  Lot retirement.  Is that legal?  Well moratorium.  Will lot owners sue if they are able to prove that there is plenty of water under their land?  Couldn’t the wording be changed to “no wells in areas where there isn’t enough water?”  Can’t we negotiate?

Lot retirement was imposed on the Pacific Ridge Project in HMB.  The developers sued——and lost.  Our traffic will only get worse unless we find a way to balance the size and capacity of our roads with growth.  The retired lots could be donated to the community for small garden/neighborhood parks.  There are lots underwater in Princeton that could be retired, no weed will grow there.  Lots this significant wetlands on them, they could be retired and left as they are today, a green area.

Well moratorium - no new wells are allowed in HMB.  Who will pay if salt water intrusion makes well water unusable?  This happened in the Terrace Ave. neighborhood in HMB?

“No more wells” does not equal “No building.” And given that there are already houses with failing wells, drilling a bunch more really doesn’t seem like a good idea. Nature is saying that the aquifer is being over-drawn. The Supervisors should listen before it’s too late. 

And finally, the MWSD service district does not cover the entire Midcoast. Notably, the builder meccas of El Granada and Miramar are served by CCWD.

Darin, 

There are undeveloped lots with wells drilled years ago - these can be built on until the groundwater management plan is in place.

As I said at the meeting on Tuesday, I invite the Board of Supervisors to work with us to have adequate water supplies for buildout of our district.  I have made this offer repeatedly for the past ten years.  The County has never called me, nor MWSD to form a team.  Do you think we should have salt water intrusion ruining someones well before we put a groundwater management district in? 

Thank you for noting that the major constraint that is not being addressed is the traffic level of service.  That is entirely in the hands of the County.  How bad do you think traffic should get before the connection to increasing population is made and something is done.

>>I did see descriptions of their attitudes and comments, but that is not the same a applying a label to someone.<<

Kathryn, you’ve got to be kidding me.

My favorite line so far in just this thread is Kevin’s “If (and when) the Board of Supervisors obey the wishes of their developer/realtor masters.” That’s an interesting description of the “attitudes and comments” of the Board.

This stuff plays well here in the comments but do you really think it effective in policy-making?

Show me the effectiveness of this tactic and I’ll shut up.

-Darin

>>The County has never called me, nor MWSD to form a team. <<

Thank you. Exactly my point. You can’t vilify someone at every opportunity and then expect them to come running to help when you need it.

This tactic of vilification is failing us to our detriment. We need to consider a little more sophisticated use of politics.

—Darin

Merrilees commented, “… but at this point it seems that only the County is willing to negotiate.” 

On what grounds does Merrilees base this opinion?  At the BoS meeting Gordon agreed to go to a meeting with Groom however he did not sound willing to negotiate (watch the video).  Tissier, Gibson and Church made it clear that they were unwilling to negotiate.  Board discussion during the meeting did not specify any details of a good faith effort to-date.

Lansing comment, “If (and when) the Board of Supervisors obey the wishes of their developer/realtor masters” is right-on. 
“Are the politics of vilification working” for Darin?  Don’t shoot the messenger!

“We need to consider a little more sophisticated use of politics.”  Who made you the boss of everyone?

A sophisticated approach is lost on unsophisticated representatives.

The problem is that Sabrina is right in that too often those who are uniformed gravitate towards the sensationalist authors on both sides of the isles.  Yellow journalism sells.  It may not be the right way to make policy but it sells and is used by big business and corporate interests all the time (including the Sierra Club/National Rifle Association).

Darin, you’re promoting a balanced, pragmatic, collaborative approach.  That’s one that while I prefer, is a philosophical decision that some disagree with.

The question is what do we as a coast want? How do we want to make policy?  Are we going to continue to allow one side of the conversation to polarize our community or are we going to look for win-win solutions? Yes, I believe collaboration is the most sustainable solution.

Christine, You say “Yes, I believe collaboration is the most sustainable solution.” So do I.

You say, “Yellow journalism sells.” We don’t have to buy.

Adversarial and confrontational politics may be the name of the game today, but the result is delay and ultimate defeat. We have to work together for solutions.

Darin’s position is not confrontational; it’s simply the way our democracy is supposed to work. Let’s have civil discourse rather than invective, diplomacy rather than war. Please.

Hello Suzanne,

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my position.  In my letter I pointed out that Supervisors Adrienne Tissier, Rose Jacobs Gibson and Mark Church would benefit from meeting with Coastal Commission staff.  It’s not unusual for politicians to move forward without considering the consequences entailed in a policy or a piece of legislation. 

I would like to hear your thoughts on the following:
Are the CCC’s suggested modifications to the LCP Update responsible and intelligent?  Read them and let me know what you think.

To suggest that I called our elected representatives names is an unbalanced misrepresentation of the facts.  I’ll get over it! ;)

Sabrina Brennan
http://www.thepelicaneye.com

“What after all has maintained the human race on this old globe despite all the calamities of nature and all the tragic failings of mankind, if not faith in new possibilities and the courage to advocate them.”

-Jane Addams