Opinion: County Supervisors push their buildout vision on Coastside residents


Posted by on Wed, October 11, 2006

by Kevin Lansing and Steve Terry

Kevin Lansing is a resident of Half Moon Bay. Steve Terry is a resident of El Granada.

On Tuesday October 17 at 11am in Redwood City, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will hold what could be the final public hearing on the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Update Project for the unincorporated Midcoast. This wide-ranging project has the potential to shape the quality-of-life of Coastsiders for the next 50 years or more.

For Tuesday’s hearing, County planning staff has distributed a packet that includes a 20-page staff report of the remaining key issues of the LCP update project, along with the main project resolution to amend the LCP and enact County policy. The package also includes letters from the Committee for Green Foothills (on Burnham Strip uses), land use attorney David Byers (lobbying for priority water to serve the Big Wave project), and County Counsel Thomas Casey (on the LCP certification process).

This information has been compiled into a single pdf file from document files provided by County Planning staff. It very closely represents the printed packets mailed out by the Planning Department and includes bookmarks and hypertext links to facilitate navigation and comprehension.

Among other things, the new County ordinances reflect and would implement the Supervisors’ buildout vision for the unincorporated Midcoast. This vision includes a near doubling of the number of housing units on the Midcoast in coming decades and a proposed Midcoast residential growth rate of 2 percent plus numerous exemptions.


The range of issues is perhaps best summarized by the list of exhibits in Attachment A that support the main resolution to amend the LCP and drive policy:

A. Estimate of Midcoast residential buildout
B. Map of Midcoast project area
C. Estimate of Midcoast sewage generation at buildout
D. Estimate of Midcoast water consumption at buildout
E. Reserved water for Midcoast failed wells and affordable housing
F. Annual Midcoast residential growth rate limit
G. Midcoast substandard lot merger process
H. Additional Midcoast traffic mitigation measures
I. CalTrans’ Devil’s Slide bypass property
J. Updated Midcoast trails list
K. Highway 1 pedestrian improvements
L. Additional Midcoast affordable housing incentives
M. Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (STOPPP)
N. Midcoast Stormwater Drainage Committee
O. LCP responsibilities assigned to the county
P. Role of trail providing agencies
Q. Resolution of LCP conflicts
R. Eliminate conflicting and ambiguous LCP provisions
S. Postpone adding commercial/job generating uses (Princeton)
T. Postpone adding commercial/job generation uses (HMB Airport)

The Supervisors had most recently held hearings on this project back in December 2005 and March 2006, only one of which was actually held on the Coastside. At that meeting, dozens of local citizens voiced their opinions about the Supervisors’ buildout plan. One of the most controversial aspects of the Supervisors’ plan is the fact that key elements of the Midcoast infrastructure cannot possibly handle the projected buildout scenario. Page 3 of this latest staff report admits the following:

  • Highways 1 and 92 will be at Level of Service "F" during peak commuting hours.
  • The Montara Water and Sanitary District (MWSD) can only meet 64 percent of water demand at buildout.
  • The Coastside County Water District (CCWD) can only meet 91 percent of water demand at buildout.

Moreover, the County staff report conveniently fails to mention a December 12, 2005 letter from the Cabrillo Unified School District which stated that Coastside schools "can support limited growth, but not a doubling in population." With regard to future road capacity, the doubling of traffic on Highway 92 during this year’s Devil’s Slide closure can be viewed as sort of a natural experiment for what traffic would be like under the Supervisors’ buildout plan.

Detailed letters received from the California Coastal Commission staff in 2005 have tried, with little success, to steer the Supervisors in a direction that would pay more attention to the limited carrying capacity of the Coastside infrastructure. The most recent of these letters, dated December 2, 2005, reminded the Supervisors that "...the current volume of traffic on Highways 1 and 92 exceeds their capacity and that even with substantial investment in transit and highway improvements, congestion will only get worse in the future."

It is not clear from the staff report exactly how many substandard lots have been figured into the Midcoast buildout estimate. Page 5 of the report indicates there are about 600 vacant parcels that can be made to conform to the minimum lot size by merging adjacent substandard lots. However, one of the proposed incentives (see Attachment A, Exhibit G) allows for a 250 sq. ft. floor area bonus. In an area that already accounts for 40 percent of all development in the unincorporated portions of San Mateo County and already allows the second largest floor area ratio (FAR) in the County, this bonus would provide for an effective 58 percent FAR on one-fifth of the remaining new construction lots from now until buildout.

The Supervisors’ proposed merger strategy for substandard lots provides only incentives and no disincentives that would help achieve the desired outcome. Thus, the 271 vacant parcels identified to exist as isolated substandard lots are left unaddressed in the lot merger policy. Since the LCP update process began five years ago, many voices have unsuccessfully encouraged the County to: (1) significantly reduce the FAR on substandard lots, (2) mandate substandard lot mergers, and (3) make the building standards for substandard lots more consistent with those in its sphere of influence, Half Moon Bay.

On other issues, the Coastal Commission staff has stated that the Supervisors’ plan appears to be in direct conflict with California Coastal Act. These issues include:

  • The Supervisors’ plan to rezone the Burnham Strip in El Granada to allow single-family residences on all parcels.
  • The Supervisors’ plan to grant priority water and sewer service to "affordable housing" on the hundreds of exisitng substandard lots—housing that would also not be counted when computing the annual residential growth allowance.
  • The Supervisors’ plan to weaken the scenic and visual resource protection standards in the County’s LCP.

The Supervisors have put off any consideration of rezoning the unused Devil’s Slide bypass parcel, which is currently owned by CalTrans. The California Coastal Commission staff recommended that this parcel be rezoned to prohibit future residential development. Other groups, including the San Mateo County Association of Realtors (SAMCAR), have lobbied the Supervisors to keep the current zoning, which would allow for medium density residential housing.

One slightly positive feature in the latest County staff report is the recommendation to drop two policies that would have created special treatment for the controversial Big Wave project. Those LCP policies would have granted priority water status to the project and exempted the residential component of the project from being counted under the annual growth allowance. The new recommendation is to consider this type of special treatment as part of the application for the Big Wave project itself, rather than as part of the Midcoast LCP update.

If the Supervisors vote to approve the LCP update, the next step will be for the County to submit its proposal to the California Coastal Commission to begin the review process for final certification. Citizens who wish to have a say about the future of the Coastside should attend the October 17 hearing or send written comments to the Board of Supervisors. The email address bos(at)Lists.SanMateo.org can be used to transmit comments to all five Supervisors at once. Contact information for the individual Supervisors is shown below:

Mark Church
1st District
(650) 363-4571

Jerry Hill
2nd District
(650) 363-4568

Rich Gordon
3rd District (includes
Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton, Half Moon Bay)
(650) 363-4569

Rose Jacobs Gibson
4th District
(650) 363-4570

Adrienne Tissier
5th District
(650) 363-4572

One of the frustrating outcomes of this long process has been the refusal to consider county and state traffic studies that show the Midcoast and Half Moon Bay is already experiencing terrible levels of service for daily transportation and for emergencies.

If traffic flow was factored into the Midcoast LCP planning, as it shuold obviously be, the proposed buildout for dwellings could not be set at 75 homes a year instead of 52 as is now proposed.

- Jack McCarthy

Good article and good analysis.

LCPs are supposed to be updated every 5 years to adjust them to account for experience, new knowledge, and changed circumstances.  Instead, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors has turned this LCP update into a developer’s wishlist, the exact opposite of what an LCP update is supposed to be.

Let’s just come right out and say that while there are a few parts of the LCP update which are good for the coastside environment, the focus of it as currently being considered is to maximize the number of housing units built here.  Nothing else seems to really matter.

Instead of providing true incentives to merge the many hundreds of substandard lots, they’re providing incentives to develop then separately, as “affordable housing”.  But the size bonus makes these houses LESS affordable.

Most people seem to agree that we need more commercial and more jobs.  But instead of reserving all of the existing commercially zoned land for commercial, this LCP update makes it easier to use it for housing, and then proposes rezoning open space for new commercial space.

Waiving fees for “affordable”, in addition to being a hidden tax on everyone else, is only a one-time thing—there is no lasting effect.  The FAR bonus and other incentives is a gift to the applicant which negatively impacts the community forever.

The consideration of highway Level of Service (LOS) is an incorrect approach which makes things seem not as bad as they actually are.  When I was into LOS in Southern California, we ONLY looked at LOS of <u>intersections</u>, not roads.  Sure, the LOS of SR 1 and SR 92 is not yet F, but if you look at the <u>intersections</u>, they are already at LOS F during peak times.

The water supply data is a real fiction, using average yield instead of safe yield.  Without massive storage which the coastside water districts don’t have and probably will never have, what must be considered is safe yield—how much they can expect the water supply to be during drought years.  Using safe yield, we’re already beyond a reasonable buildout.  Expect severe rationing during droughts under the BoS’ buildout scenario.

When the original LCP was approved by the CCC in 1980, it was with a certain “estimated” buildout population.  My educated guess is that the CCC would not have approved it with a substantially higher buildout population number.  We are already at 2/3 or so of that number, but with only half of the residential parcels built out.  This means that the final buildout population under the current land use scheme will be at least 50% higher than originally envisioned and approved by the Coastal Commission.

Therefore, what should be done via this LCP update is to change the land use plan to reduce the buildout population, instead of just upwardly revising the estimated number to match the current, flawed land use plan.

Personally, I think this current proposal is like union contract negotiations:  you ask for something totally outrageous, and compromise somewhere in the middle to get what you really wanted.  The CCC likes such compromises, but the coastside environment just can’t stand it—we need to improve things, not make them worse slower.

The are positive recommendations and negative recommendatoins, I can’t say any are neutral.  I few point tonight, more to follow:

I am dismayed at the buildout rate given neither water district can meet the peak day demand at buildout.  A slower growth rate would allow more time for both district to find water supplies to meet the buildout peak day demand.  The same slower growth rate would allow the school district to meet the increaded demand at buildout.  The 52 unit cap on residential building permits is still substantially higher than the historic rate of 35 a year. 

In 2004 the Board tentatively adopted a revised zoning designation for the west side of the airport allowing commercial uses that remind me of many of the strip makks I see over the hill.  This, because we have a need for commercial space.  However, in this same document the recommendation is to make residential uses easier to institute in our existing commercial areas (C-1 and W) and in one of our open space designations, COSC - the most prominent piece being the narrow length of land between Hwy 1 and El Granada known as the Burnham Strip). 

In my opinion the airport is used, to a limited extent, for much needed active recreation and visitor serving uses.  Expanding these recreation uses should be part of the upcoming airport master plan process, not creating a strip mall in between communities.  We also must remember the airport will be a critical link for medical and other transport needs when the roads fail due to a major earthquake or tsunami.  [Go the ABAG.ca.gov webiste for an interesting set of interactive hazard maps.] 

the Board mentions changing growth controls once the ground water study is complete.  It is nearly 2 years overdue.  If the Supervosirs can tell us what it would like to see at the airport why not tell us what the scenarios are for changes based on the groundwater study?

Comment 5
Sat, October 14, 2006 9:47pm
Ray Olson
All my comments

I totally agree with Jack on the comment about traffic issues. I hope the county realizes that for our quality of life to be improved, we desperately need to improve our road infrastructure, including widening of hwy 92. It amazes why this was not done 10-15 years ago.

Comment 6
Sun, October 15, 2006 12:57am
Barb Mauz
All my comments

Actually, the County Supervisors are pushing the Builder/Realtor/Daveloper/Greedy Antiquated 25’ Sub-Standard Lot Owners’ vision of buildout on the Tax-Paying Homeowner/Residents in the Mid-Coast and Half Moon Bay who would suffer the consequences of shared, finite Coastal Resources being destroyed such as Coastal/Ocean Viewsheds and water - once these things are gone, they are gone forever!

The County has incorrectly based all of their over-bloated assumptions for how many additional houses, people, cars, out-of-scale road expansions, water & sewer infrastructure expansions, water supply additions & over-sized park/rec facilities they would like to shove into the Mid-Coast upon the old, over-estimated LCP Buildout Numbers from the 1980’s (Westinghouse Plan) that DO NOT EVEN INCLUDE the hundreds, if not thousands of Antiquated 25’ Sub-Standard Lots in the Mid-Coast which makes their so-called “LCP Update” a TOTAL FRAUD!

Please note that there are at least 800 of these tiny, vulnerable lots in the Granada Sanitary District’s Service Area alone that they plan to exploit under the guise of “Affordable Housing” with multiple inter-linked schemes within their “LCP Update”, Design Review Standards and, General Plan Amendment to the Housing Element (Chapt. 14) - “Affordable Housing” that they never sent to the Coastal Commission for their review!

The County did NO Carrying Capacity Analysis—- THAT would show that the Mid-Coast is nearly built out now. Further, the County did NO analysis on ALREADY EXISTING affordable housing units - the Mid-Coast most probably has already met its quota for an area that is in the COASTAL ZONE.

The purpose of an LCP Update is to take a good look back to see what has happened development wise since the LCP was put into place, then take careful stock of our remaining beautifle, fragile Coastal Resources and devise new, stronger protections for them. Sadly, this County has failed to do that by going along with the exploitive, destructive pursuits of the Builders,Realtors & Greedy Antiquated 25’ Sub-Standard Lot Owners.

Barb Mauz

The County did NO Carrying Capacity Analysis—- THAT would show that the Mid-Coast is nearly built out now

Actually, an unbiased, objective carrying capacity analysis would probably show that the Midcoast is already <u>overbuilt</u>.

Comment 8
Mon, October 16, 2006 4:55pm
Barb Mauz
All my comments

I have looked and have been unable to locate any news source other than Coastsider.com or the SF Examiner - click here: http://www.examiner.com/a-338987~Residents_decry_housing_numbers_included_in_midcoast_area_plans.html that have published an article regarding the Board of Supervisor’s Public Hearing on their so-called “LCP Update” set for tomorrow morning.

It seems as if the HMB Review and S.M. County Times have both been pursuaded ($$$$) by the County/Builders/Realtors & Greedy 25’ Sub-Standard Lot Owners NOT to write anything about this!

Barb Mauz

If you want to watch the Board of Supervisors meetings you can over a Real One player:


It is important to note that the buildout number that will be approved today is 37% higher than the number currently in the LCP.  However, it simply reflects current County practices.

Not only has there been no carrying capacity analysis, there has been no analysis of the effects of a 37% increase in population on the quality of life here or the ability of visitors to reach the coast (an important source of income for the economy here). The underlying assumption is that we will simply grow the roads, schools, water supply and drainage system.