MCC moves forward with incorporation/annexation study


Posted by on Mon, September 5, 2011

Sign at a house on Farallone in Montara.

NOTE: We’ve had a lively discussion in the comments on this letter, so we’re moving it to the main column.

I’m not sure I understand this matter completely, but I want to go on record anyway by saying “... This doesn’t make sense for Montara or Moss Beach.”

As a Montara resident, I feel we may wind up paying for HMB’s troubles, and getting cut off from the County because Lehman Brothers nearly bankrupted them. We hardly receive any services here considering the taxes the county collects from us already. This seems like some back room deal that I don’t want be at the table for when that hand gets dealt out.

Anyway, don’t we have a 19 million dollar bond outstanding we’re paying on: What’s going to happen with that?  I think there are 3 seats on the MCC up for grabs. I can’t imagine what the MCC was thinking about, as it seems they have opened a can of worms.  What makes this worse is that it’s left up the Board of Supervisors and not giving the community its due process.

I’m curious as to how MWSD feels about subject?  I’m not sure if I’m on the wrong side of the topic here, so if I am, feel free to enlighten me.  Thank you

From the Review story by Lily Bixler on August 18, 2011:

The Midcoast Community Council has requested that San Mateo County re-evaluate a study that would determine if incorporation or annexation options are fiscally feasible. The council suggests that a steering committee be formed to guide the review process.

The study considers the feasibility of annexation to Half Moon Bay or incorporation of Montara, Moss Beach, Princeton, El Granada and Miramar into a new municipality. The study estimates the cost of providing municipal services to the Midcoast and the revenues for a year of operation.

The study would update, and in some cases correct, a 1998 study that addressed the issue. According to the 13-year-old study, the Midcoast would lose $1.4 million by annexing to Half Moon Bay, and it would face an $877,000 deficit if it were to go it alone.

In a letter sent to county supervisors late last month, MCC noted that circumstances have changed since that study was prepared. Substantially higher property values resulting in higher property tax collection, a larger population and transient occupancy tax revenues from the Oceano Hotel are factors that warrant a review.

MCC urges the county to consider a scenario in which the Midcoast incorporates and the local water districts dissolve, with their functions taken up by a new city department. Also, MCC suggests any analysis address how Half Moon Bay’s Beachwood lawsuit settlement debt would affect annexation.

In the letter, MCC makes a case that by the time community support grows for incorporation or annexation, the San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission process is complete and a new municipality is formed, the economy will likely be back on track.

LAFCo would conduct the study. That agency gets funding from the county, cities and special districts.

The county hasn’t made a decision yet on whether it will request the study through LAFCo, but the board of supervisors is expected to discuss the matter soon.

Comment 1
Tue, August 30, 2011 5:53pm
Carl May
All my comments


You are right. This is a huge can of worms for those of us who live here, with few possible upside outcomes and many possible downsiders for anyone who appreciates the positive aspects of our unincorporated setting and communities.

The subject is re-raised around here every decade, or so, stimulated by the lousy, mismanaged, undemocratic control of our area by the county. Some of the major considerations in the potential process are the county-politician-dictated LAFCO, which, among other imperious activities, carries out such studies and the state law of Cortese-Knox-Herzberg, which sets the conditions for incorporation. (Most of the small incorporated cities in California, some of them with a population a fraction of the size of the midcoast, would not be permitted to incorporate today under Cortese-Knox-Herzberg.) In other words, outside politicians and their controlled staff, and not the people of the unincorporated midcoast, both set the stage and requirements for what the annexation/incorporation study considers and then conduct the study. The Coastal Act is not much help for protecting us through the process as it would get bent the same way it is being bent through our current LCP update process.

I could be wrong, but I would guess a majority of older midcoasters who have seen the foolish misteps, controlling greedbots, and entrenched Old Guard/overdeveloper lovefest would not vote for annexation to the “city that doesn’t know how,” Half Moon Bay. At the same time, separate incorporation would be fraught with possibilities for disaster of its own if not very well designed. Which takes one back to remembering what and who would be controlling the process.

Most days I think it would be better than county mis-government, but I suspect a merger would be as difficult to sell in HMB as it would be on the Midcoast.

But I also agree with Carl that there are plenty of ways incorporation could go very wrong.

Comment 3
Thu, September 1, 2011 10:02pm
Joel Colletti
All my comments

WOW: A lot to digest.

Okay: I’m done digesting. Now, I think I have a sick feeling in my stomach :0(

How come nobody’s talking about this?

It seems like we should all be letting new Supervisor who took over Rich Gordon’s post how we feel about this subject.  I was thinking about starting with April Vargas or the likes to get some lawn signs up. 

I may be getting anxious over nothing, as the HMBR states that it’s allows for a “study” to go forward.  Either that, or it was those 36 episodes of the “Deadwood” series we just finished watching. If you saw the series, you’d get the reference; but I digress.

I thought the MCC were our friends.  After hearing about this for the first time on Saturday I wanted to put my name in the MCC ring. I’m sorry I missed the cutoff yesterday.

I’m not a politician or versed on all the matters going on in these communities, I’m just a 30 year resident of the coast-side, 14 of them in Montara. How hard can it be to find 3 people who think like we do; and perhaps like most of the local residents.

The thing I can’t understand is why no one I’ve spoken with seems to know anything about this topic; and that to me just as troubling.

Anyway, I appreciate your comments. It is helping understand the matter better and confirming my own intuition.  I think if more folks knew about this subject, they would be up in arms (I’m not advocating violence, just using a figure of speech).

I am glad the Coastsider is here, and can serve as a tool to educate and learn from.  I did not see this topic on Montara Fog, or being discussed elsewhere.  Isn’t this a topic worth talking about and mobilizing over?

Comment 4
Fri, September 2, 2011 3:14pm
Carl May
All my comments


The revived subject of annexation or incorporation involves myriad considerations and local attitudes. If you want to delve into every political and developer money-grubbing aspect of it, the effort could easily eat your life. The county supervisors and bureaucrats consider themselves our rulers, not our public servants. Horsley included, as was entirely clear during his campaign to become a supe. The frustration is that annexation to Pacifica or Half Moon Bay would be just as bad or worse as we took on the troubles and foibles of those cities while giving up control and character of our communities.

In recent years, people sitting on the MCC have ranged from localistas who want to preserve what they can of what is left of our local setting to county tools who want to go along to get along (cue Rodney King quote here) with the politicians and overpaid staff in Redwood City. According to their approach, which pretty much discounts the unique aspects of our towns and surroundings, the destructionists and preservationists should be friends. A couple of years ago, the county supervisors, led by Richard Gordon who was unhappy because many coastsiders wouldn’t roll over for his overdeveloper-serving goals, rejiggered the MCC so that any of our strong local leaders sitting on sanitary district and water district boards could not serve on the purely advisory MCC. Supposedly a conflict of interest. This skews the makeup of the MCC from what it had been from the start—and is hypocritical to the point of making one want to hurl, considering the multiple decision-making boards and commissions on which the supes sit in addition to the Board of Supervisors. And as if to emphasize that conflict of interest is okay as long as the supes are the ones enjoying it, one of their favored members of the MCC now has been appointed to a second and potentially conflicting position on the county’s Parks and Rec Commission.

And so it goes. Be careful about believing whatever you see in the HMB Review. That south-weighted paper frequently shows either bias or cluelessness when it comes to our unincorporated midcoast issues. The paper typically buys into the ancient self-serving myth in which the Old Guard in HMB, egged on by developer interests, assumes a certain informal hegemony over the communities to the north. Add to them relative newcomers with kids in school who think Cabrillo Unified makes us one big community and those few whose right-wing religion is their particular money-lusting view of property rights, and you define the neighbors, local suckers, and cornucopians who would not mind seeing our communities bulldozed by homogenizing, unsustainable urbanization.

Yes, people who care about the independent character of our midcoast communities and surroundings from Miramar through Montara should make their point of view heard at the MCC and at every other opportunity. The already unsustainable midcoast is being prepped for greater urbanization with the relocation and replacement of trails with hard-surfaced roads in parks and open space and with the population-doubling county-dictated LCP update now in its final stages of compromise and approval. Letters before and then a large citizen turnout at the Coastal Commission when the LCP update next comes up for approval might have an effect. An independent midcoast citizen organization not afraid to employ legal remedies could be another possibility for being heard over our self-assigned political masters. Support for their independence and strengthing of the local districts we do control, notably MWSD and GSD, are also important for keeping the idea of democratic self-determination alive.

“An independent midcoast citizen organization not afraid to employ legal remedies could be another possibility for being heard over our self-assigned political masters. Support for their independence and strengthing of the local districts we do control, notably MWSD and GSD, are also important for keeping the idea of democratic self-determination alive.”

There’s a lot of power your statement/s.

While it may be bitter medicine for the BOS and other self interests to hear this, it’s what has been keeping the spirit of the Coastside alive and viable all these decades: 

The Eagle’s have a song “The Last Resort.”  There’s a line at the ending,

You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye

I like this stanza which precedes the line above

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

This has been going on in my head since hearing about this matter.

Thanks for taking the time to drop in on this post and for taking the time to post back :0)

Comment 6
Sat, September 3, 2011 3:03pm
Carl May
All my comments


I took up residence on the coastside a few years after Joni Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi” (about a visit to Hawaii she made, but universal as a comment on unthinking wipeout of places for the sake of a few short-term dollars). The chorus lives on as a comment on the disengagement from petty political shenanigans that many of us coastsiders prefer and the shock we feel when slickly manuevered development trashes a piece of our place:

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Well I can see we have some of the same tastes for music….

Comment 8
Mon, September 5, 2011 10:02pm
Joel Colletti
All my comments

“ a letter sent to county supervisors late last month, MCC noted that circumstances have changed since that study was prepared. Substantially higher property values resulting in higher property tax collection, a larger population and transient occupancy tax revenues from the Oceano Hotel are factors that warrant a review.”

I find this statement confusing.

While property values are most likely higher than they were in 1998, I thought tax revenues were down along with home sales; and what about all those foreclosures…? Why even bother conducting the study now given the current economic enviroment.

I’m not sure that Oceano generates enough bookings to keep their doors open. I don’t mean to be cruel, but does anybody stay at the Oceano, formerly the Farallone Inn?  Looks like they fixing the place up, but only receives 2* from “Trip Advisor.  But I digress.

Thank you, Coastsider, for bringing this topic to the Front Page and to the Coastsider Readers.

Comment 9
Tue, September 6, 2011 12:25am
Leonard Woren
All my comments

Oh, one more thing.  In regards to “Why even bother conducting the study now given the current economic environment?”, I answered that during the MCC discussion of sending the request.  Any new city would have to be able to survive during good times as well as bad.  It’s in fact <u>more</u> appropriate to do the study under current circumstances, so that we’ll know whether or not the new city could make it through bad times.

I’d insist that the new city be a charter city, with a clause in the charter that during good times, the city must put a significant amount of money into reserves, instead of spending it just because it’s there.  That’s where governments and people both go wrong.

My comment above appears to be dangling because I big comment that I just posted before it isn’t there.  I don’t know where it went.

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to be different is the definition of insanity.”—Albert Einstein

I cannot understand why some of those who are most vocal about how the County government abuses and screws over the unincorporated Midcoast are also the most vocal against incorporation.  The only thing that ever changes at County Center when it comes to the Midcoast are the nameplates in front of the Supervisors.  So why does anyone think that continuing on with the current setup will ever be better?  It only gets worse, and all the activists here, to quote Carl’s past writings, only slow the rate of degradation.  If you like the Midcoast the way it is, a change in government structure is necessary to keep it from continuing to get worse.

Let’s define terms so that everyone can calm down.  <u>Annexation</u> is an unincorporated area becoming part of an existing city.  <u>Incorporation</u> is creation of a new city for an unincorporated area.

The 1998 Fiscal Feasibility Study evaluated both scenarios for the unincorporated Midcoast. [1]  There is a terminology error in the HMBR’s article where it uses the word “lose” in the text quoted in the original post above.  There is no loss, it’s simply the bottom line of the potential city budgets for the two scenarios evaluated in the study.  Being heavily involved in the issue back then, I can assure you that the study was based on artificial and incorrect premises, guaranteeing that the conclusion was wrong.  Whether or not one believes that, the fact is that circumstances have changed, and it’s appropriate to update the study in order to provide a basis for community discussion.

I am likely the strongest supporter of incorporation.  I’ve never been in favor of annexation to HMB, and it’s worse now than ever before, with no hope of improvement.  So I’ll throw on the table that annexation is a total non-starter and there’s no point in discussing it.

[*1] Note that the term Midcoast has been co-opted to mean “the incorporated area between Half Moon Bay and Montara Mountain”, when originally the definitions were: North Coast: North of Montara Mountain through the northern San Mateo County line; Midcoast: Montara Mountain through the southern city limit of Half Moon Bay; South Coast: south of Half Moon Bay through the southern SMC line.

[Continued in next comment.  Apparently the software silently drops too-long comments on the floor.]

So let’s move on to discussion of incorporation.  Would it be better than the status quo?  In my opinion, very likely.  Could it be worse?  Sure, the over-developers could buy the City Council as has been done in L.A. and in HMB.  To decide how likely the latter possibility is, think about the two community-friendly (as opposed to developer-friendly) local governments:  Granada Sanitary District and Montara Water and Sanitary District.  We do manage to keep them out of the hands of the over-developers, although it was a major battle for GSD in 2009, because I cause the over-developers too much grief.

The bottom line for me regarding having our own new city consisting of the territory from the north HMB city limit (near Medio Creek) to the northern edge of Montara is that the worst case is that it’ll be just as bad as it is now; I don’t see how it could possibly be any worse.  It would almost certainly be better.

Ultimately, no change can happen without approval of the voters of the unincorporated area, and for annexation, it’s likely to also separately require approval of the voters of HMB.  I put my money on no segment of the coastside, HMB or any unincorporated town, voting to annex the Midcoast to HMB.  Just not gonna happen.

Comment 13
Tue, September 6, 2011 8:34am
Barry Parr
All my comments

I agree with Leonard that an incorporated Midcoast is likely to elect a slow-growth city council. one of my concerns is that it would not have the resources to defend itself from lawsuits over land use policy.

The supes have used the threat of lawsuits to rationalize their decisions on Big Wave and the revised LCP. They could fight those battles if they chose. However, an incorporated Midcoast might not be strong enough to defend itself.

It’s another reason HMB’s capitulation on Beachwood was such a disaster.

Comment 14
Tue, September 6, 2011 5:25pm
John Lynch
All my comments

Leonard is right on. The only way the coastside could become one city, is by becoming a Charter City with a seven member city council elected within their own district. That way no district could control the functioning of the city.

Just think. All the functions of Coastside City would be controlled by the seven council members with appointments by them to all the special districts that we now endure.


Half Moon Bay loses land-use lawsuits because they want to lose them.  The lawsuits pretty much dried up during the few years that the pro-environment Council members were in office because in those days, the City WON the lawsuits.  Practically the next morning after the environmentalists lost control of the HMB City Council, lawsuits landed on City Hall’s doorstep in the expectation that the City would cave, which of course they did.  In fact, a cynic might say that the lawsuits were delivered simply to give the city council cover to do what they wanted to do anyway.  Similarly for the County.

Joel, there seems to be some confusion regarding hotels.  The hotel we referenced (not “formerly the Farallone Inn” that you’re thinking of) is the monster that belongs more at Disneyland than on the semi-rural Coastside.  It’s in Princeton on Capistrano near SR 1.  You can see it for miles.

John:  I’ve actually put a lot of thought into districting for both a new city and for one big city, and taking into account that each district has to be approximately the same population, I can’t come up with a set of districts that doesn’t divide one community in the middle.  If you have suggestions, let’s hear them.  First the new city scenario because it’s simpler to show the problem:  The population of the unincorporated Midcoast north of HMB Airport is very likely almost the same as the unincorporated population south of the airport, so I haven’t come up with a way to have an odd number of Council districts, as required, without having a district spanning north and south of the airport.  Next, trying to do the “one city” districting:  I agree that it should be an odd number between 6 and 8.  5 isn’t enough given the diversity of communities, and anything over 7 is totally unwieldy.  And trying to do One Unified City in 5 districts is even more problematic than doing New City in 5 districts.  Since a charter city is the only way to go, I’d look to the PMAC structure for inspiration, and propose something like this:
District 1: 2 Council members, Montara, Moss Beach, Pillar Ridge.
District 2: 2 Council members, Clipper Ridge, Princeton, El Granada
District 3: 1 Council member, Miramar, Frenchman’s Creek, and a bit further south
District 4: 2 Council members, the rest of the current HMB.

Even though this is just blue sky idle speculation at this time, I’m interested in other thoughts on all this.

Also, John, why would you keep any of the SDs in a single city scenario?  Then you’re just exchanging a number of elected officials with the same number of appointees, who are less answerable to and therefore less responsive to the voters?  If we have one city with a 7 member city council, why not eliminate MWSD, GSD, CCWD, HMBFPD and have those functions in the Department of Public Works and a Fire Department?  Much as I hate big cities, I think that L.A. and S.F. infrastructure functions a lot better due to having everything in the city government with no special districts.  Heck, a more local example of an almost-ok sized city is Palo Alto, where even electricity and water is a city department (as in L.A.)

Bonus points: What did L.A. and Palo Alto have in common during the manufactured fake “energy crisis” a decade ago?

I commend the MCC for taking the issue up.  I doubt anything will come of it.  However, I think the citizens of the MidCoast would benefit from an updated financial assessment of the feasibility of incorporation.

A real incorporation or annexation is fraught with risks.  SMC BOS control LAFCo and everyone outside the MidCoast has an agenda for the MidCoast that I don’t think the residents of the MidCoast share.  Being active in Fire Board politics, it’s scary how outside money can come in and buy elections here.  A lot of people here vote pure name recognition and a local control narrative that may be anything but.  While I have no desire to partake in HMB’s follies from Beachwood, we are perfectly capable of creating our own Beachwood.  It’s called Big Wave. The first question I’d have is what do we as an incorporated charter city intend to do with Big Wave and what would be the legal ramifications of what we chose to do with Big Wave?  It may be better to let SMC BOS pay for their Big Wave mistake, before the MidCoast incorporates.  Be careful what you wish for you.  You may just get it, get sued, go bankrupt, have to fund bonds,dissolve and wind up back under the BOS paying bonds on top of regular property taxes.

If one reads the State LAFCo statutes there are provisions for forcing a protest vote(not an election).  GSD and MWSD are small enough that if some outside entity or group attempted to force an annexation or consolidation or someone from within the Midcoast went off on an ill conceived agenda, a few hundred people could stop it cold with essentially a petition.  There are many average citizens in the MidCoast that know to look beyond the rhetoric of both sides of the development issue to where their own personal interests lie.