Save Pacifica’s hillsides, don’t widen Highway 1


Posted by on Sun, July 12, 2009

"The Daly City syndrome has "infected" the northern area of Pacifica in a small but important way since Pacifica was incorporated in 1956. But the "infection" is spreading southward"

Bob Pilgrim is a Pacifica resident who has been involved in local conservation/preservation efforts for many years in Pacifica, both as a member of Pacificans for Sustainable Development and the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter for the Peninsula. This story is reprinted with permission from Pacifica Riptide, because the status of Highway 1 is a critical issue for every coastal community in California, particularly in neighboring cities

In June 1980, Pacifica City Council adopted a new General Plan, the work product of Ironsides and Associates of Oakland. This was revised, published, and adopted by Pacifica City Planner Michael Crabtree in October 1990. His revision (now 19 years old) has stood the test of time, and it’s fair to say the taxpayers got their money’s worth by virtue of Crabtree’s contribution. 

But City Council realizes that the existing General Plan is now out of date, and has contracted with Dyett and Bhatia of San Francisco to create a new plan at a projected cost of about $1 million. The purpose? At least two elements of the plan can use updating: seismic/safety and circulation. 

This writer has learned that the new circulation element will contain language about a six-lane road between Westport Drive and Fassler Avenue. The ostensible reason for doubling the road’s carrying capacity is to facilitate the morning commute for drivers going out of town between 7. and 9 a.m. The increase in carrying capacity is to create a "segment" that allows Caltrans to connect Interstate 280 with the tunnels at Devil’s Slide. There is nothing new about this Caltrans/Pacifica approach to induce population growth on the San Mateo coast; this activity has been continuous since the Adopted Alignment first surfaced in 1958.

But Caltrans/Pacifica and other agencies face an unexpected problem in shaping their growth-inducing impact: They cannot widen Highway 1 to the west because the entire quarry is  (functionally) an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA) as discussed and described by the California Coastal Commission (CCC) in its report F5a-7 2008. This means that any widening of the highway will have to be made to the east. At this point, City Council is faced with the Daly City Syndrome. Some commercial entities are at risk to be taken (used) for roadway infrastructure. The Daly City Syndrome is an aggravated sociocultural malignancy: unacceptably intense congestion and heavy traffic.

The Daly City syndrome has "infected" the northern area of Pacifica in a small but important way since Pacifica was incorporated in 1956. But the "infection" is spreading southward, and Highway 1 (and its carrying capacity) is the vector. Highway widening from Westport to Fassler would produce a significant, unacceptable growth-inducing impact on Pacifica’s hillsides, if recent history is any indicator.  

The public would do well to recognize that the city’s Planning Commission and City Council approved two site development permits ("Prospects" and "Harmony") on hillsides north and south of Fassler. It appears that  the skids are greased. 

Developers of both those developments were required to produce Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), which they did. The Planning Commission and City Council approved both EIRs though it was widely known (for more than 20 years) that the circulation level of service (LOS) was "F" at Fassler and Highway 1 and also at Reina Del Mar and Highway 1. So far, the two approved developments have not been constructed for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article.

But if Caltrans and its cohorts succeed in connecting Westport with the tunnels, the effect could be a functional connection to I-280. Of course, Caltrans et al. would have to face the question of a legal right-of-way in the unincorporated area between the Pacifica city limits and the tunnels. 

Coastal Act Section 30254 requires that Highway 1 remain a two-lane road in unincorporated areas. This has not prevented Caltrans and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from attempting to circumvent strictures in the Coastal Act in the past. The record will demonstrate that they thumbed their noses at the Coastal Act when they attempted to construct a freeway from Pacifica’s southern city limits through the mountain at McNee Ranch State Park. In doing so, they advanced the concept of "taking" the existing two-lane road in the unincorporated area to build a 105-foot-wide freeway through a state park! This was called the "Martini Creek Alignment." It established new precedents for bureaucratic arrogance and deception that the public can live without. The end result of their defeat in Judge Peckham’s court is manifest in the two 30-foot-wide tunnels now under construction through the landform behind Devil’s Slide. 

The two tunnels have the carrying capacity of the four-lane roadway that the power structure has been striving for over the past 50 years. They are the likely precursors of a widened Highway 1 on a two-lane road in the unincorporated area. This is prohibited by the Coastal Act, but that does not seem to impress Caltrans or other elected/appointed bodies from bringing the new Daly City to the San Mateo coast.  

The real way to ease the morning commute on Highway 1 is to avoid any widening between Westport and Fassler, and look for simpler remedies that could be inexpensively implemented. That is now our most important task.

In the face of known facts, it’s obvious that  the planned/proposed widening/"segmentation" of Highway 1 is unacceptable and antithetical to the public interest. Clearly, it will be an avoidable malignant circulation vector that may be referred to as an "equestrian alignment" because it’s an obvious Trojan Horse.

I don’t understand why simpler solutions could not be pursued to address the traffic issues on Highway 1 on weekday mornings. 

How about, for starters, reducing traffice from HMB/Coastside by initiating a SamTrans express bus route to SF from HMB/Coastside locations.  I, for one, would take the bus to SF on a regular basis if I didn’t have to first drive over Devil’s Slide to the bus stop in Pacifica, then spend an extra 20 minutes stopping all through Pacifica to pick up passengers, after which time the bus is stuck in SF traffic. 

It’s also clear that parents driving kids all over town to school in the morning add much to the traffic, as there is almost no traffic on weekday mornings during summer break.  I don’t live in Pacifica so can’t advocate specific solutions but it seems that a system that requires families to drive all over town and back home again, or then to work, every morning and afternoon makes no sense, for many reasons.  School buses, anyone?

The transportation question is an interesting one.

A member of our school board, which cancelled busing and refuses to address the issue, keeps pushing for a bypass on Hwy 1 in HMB. School traffic is a huge contributor to morning traffic on that route and others.

New to Pacifica but baffled at the school bus situation. With 3 of my kids in 3 different schools , one car due to the recession mind you, this is troublesome. The amount of driving in the morning will be incredible not to mention the scheduling hassles, gas, etc. that will go on. I am one family. I wonder how many others are out there with this headache.

I’m curious after reading Barry Parr’s comment above, what the argument was for getting rid of buses. I would LOVE any info about that decision..

They say they can’t afford to operate the buses.

Ironically, there’s little question the last parcel tax wouldn’t have failed had it included money for busing.

But there’s always money for more and wider roads, but not for much else.

This is interesting and irritating.

Buses = less traffic = less of a need for these roads. Hmm. Backwards. Anyone out there with an argument in favor of ?

Guess I need to figure out how to bring this agenda to the table with the district or city council. If anyone reading knows of any groups pushing for school transportation, please share. This article has just lit a fire within.. can’t sit back on this one. Thanks, Barry.

Kimmie - You are welcome to call me anytime or let’s grab coffee.  This is an issue I’ve been trying to move forward with zero luck for over three years.  I’ve appeared before the Board of Supervisors, Sam Trans and the HMB City Council and School Board on this very issue.  I’ve been involved both as a private citizen (parent of three) and as the Executive Director of Coastside Hope, where I oversaw the #17 Bus that provides almost the only outside transportation option for many of the school kids.  Now I understand that Sam Trans is considering canceling the #17. 

My favorite situation is that the school district, which continually says they have no funds for school transportation, has a full size bus that they use to distribute the Hispanic kids among the elementary schools.  This bus picks up kids at Moonridge every morning and brings them to Farallone View in Montara.  The best part is it then drives EMPTY back to Half Moon Bay, passing along the way, high school and middle school kids waiting for public transportation.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that the school district does have the funds to send an empty bus down the coast every morning. 

Again, I’m happy to talk anytime.  You can reach me at Cheri (at)

First, thank you for all of this info. I will email you to set up a lunch. It may take a minute or two as I have literally just started unpacking into our new house in Pacifica.

There is obviously much more to this issue that I need to understand. Off the top of my head it seems like some major grassroots action is needed (door to door, parent to parent, a massive canvassing campaign).

I’m going to look up the #17 bus, I am assuming this is in HMB. Need to get familiar with the options here in Pacifica but so far am finding nothing in my area.

I have to wonder who and what we would be up against though perhaps that would be semi-irrelevant if there were enough people…

I am saving your email now. I really appreciate this!

Part of the problem with school bussing is that the funding is a little perverse. The district receives some state funding that’s earmarked for bussing, but the balance (maybe 1/3 if there’s a full bussing program; I forget the exact number) must be funded from the districts general fund.

A few years ago, when the district found itself strapped for cash, it cut bussing back (in stages) to the point where it didn’t have to dip into the general fund, but could fund the program out of the state earmark. That’s what’s paying for the buses that you see on the road these days.

Bussing in particular was cut because it was a lower priority than other uses of the general fund. And that’s where the perversity creeps in. The benefits of bussing accrue to the entire community, especially parents and commuters. But the district doesn’t see those benefits as part of its core mission.

Barry’s right, I’m pretty sure, that the community would have stepped forward with the parcel tax had some of that tax been dedicated to a full bussing program. My impression, though, is that the administration at the time, along with a majority of the board, had no particular interest in a bussing program, and rather misread public opinion on the subject.

So if you were to go to a school board meeting now and ask for a bussing program, the question you’d get in return is: where is the money going to come from? It’s a legitimate question, but you’ll likely hear it from some of the same folks who refused to tie bussing to any of the proposed parcel taxes.

And it’s doubtful that a parcel tax could pass in the present economy regardless of what it was going to fund.

I don’t think that it makes much sense for bussing to be funded from a school district’s general fund. A big portion now comes from the state; the balance should perhaps be the responsibility of the cities and counties in which a district is located.

This is why I gave up on bussing and moved on to creating the Senior Brown Bag food program in Half Moon Bay.  At least I knew who to work with to donate funds to make it happen. I have to believe that with enough interested parents we could look at a pay for service program that could possibly provide at least some of the funding.  I wouldn’t be surprised that if we approach it as a stand alone project we come up with some solutions.  My approach has always been to come to the table with solutions and not just another problem to dump on someone else.  There are enough people on both the coast and HMB who would benefit from a bussing program, particularly when you think of everyone the morning traffic affects. I’m game to jump in and help if others are.

Cheri, Isn’t the bus used to “distribute the Hispanic kids among the elementary schools” actually a bus funded from outside the school district’s budget? I thought it was a bus for low income residents that live in the Moonside development. Have they put a “hispanics only” sign on this bus? It seems like that would be illegal.

Thank for the clarification Rick.  It just depends on who you talk to.  I was told by a one school official it was to “distribute the hispanic population” and another, as you stated, to “move low income kids”. At one point the answer evolved to “the bus is to distribute the ESL (English as a Second Language) population…....”  As it was explained to me, the purpose was to keep the Hatch School test scores from suffering because all the children from Moonridge, if not bused, would attend Hatch.  By spreading them out over multiple schools, no one school’s score took the hit.  Now - the questions of is that right or not is one for greater minds than mine to debate. 

My point was that in an area where we have such enormous traffic problems, that sending an empty bus down the coast is a waste of resources.  I’ve not heard that the bus was funded outside the district for low income use, though that may be true.  If so, I’m pretty certain we could find plenty of low income kids to take in the other direction when it heads back to half moon bay.  You may be thinking of the Sam Trans Bus 17, which, when I was at Coastside Hope, received some funding based on providing transportation for the low income community.

Obviously, the issue is very complex with many facets. At the end of the day, in order to solve it, the school administration, school board, and community are going to have to work together to find an answer.  I’m happy to take another run at it, and it looks like we have some new folks willing to lend a hand.  And thats a good start.

About the Moonridge bus…

(This comment represents my recollections, impressions and opinions, all of which are no doubt faulty.)

A while back, the school district needed to adjust the enrollment at its three major K-5 schools, mainly because Hatch was overcrowded, while El Granada and Farallone View had excess capacity. To do so, they redrew the boundaries between the K-5 “subdistricts” a little farther south, so that the northern schools picked up more students, and Hatch lost some.

But the boundaries they chose didn’t entirely solve the imbalance; Hatch’s enrollment was still to high. Rather than push the boundaries even farther south, they decided to run a bus (or more than one? I don’t know) from the southern end of HMB (Moonridge and vicinity) to Farallone View.

Why not simply fix the boundaries? I can think of several reasons. One is that you might end up with kids in northern HMB, within walking distance of Hatch, being assigned to El Granada, or El Granada kids assigned to FV. Another is that busing the Moonridge kids tended to spread Spanish-speakers more evenly across the three schools. Still another is that the Moonridge kids are a long way from Hatch, out of walking distance anyway, and if you’re going to transport anyone, why not kids beyond walking distance?

Remember that the district receives a certain amount of state funding for busing, and it can’t be used for anything else. Busing is mandated for some special-needs students, and if the balance is used to bus Moonridge kids to FV, it has no impact one way or the other on the rest of the district’s budget.

I don’t know enough about the schedules of the individual schools to know whether it’d be practical to use the buses’ empty return trips to transport middle- or high-school students. It does seem wasteful to drive them around empty.

How about a single-purpose parcel tax dedicated to a full busing program? Could one pass? I’ve criticized parcel taxes before (see <>), but I’ve supported a couple of them, and I’d probably vote for this one. But would a 2/3 majority?

It wouldn’t have to be very big; my uninformed guess is $50, give or take, and that would no doubt help passage. Could the district resist the temptation to ask for more? Under present circumstances, it seems unlikely, but it also seems unlikely that one more shot at a standard-issue parcel tax could succeed.

It’s too late for the November ballot (the deadline for filing a tax measure is August 7), but there’s a primary election coming up next June, which could be in time for the 2010-11 school year.

(A minor catch is that the district has sold off most of its bus fleet, and it’d have to rebuild it in order to reinstate busing. On the other hand, other districts are abandoning busing because of the budget crunch, and it’s reasonable to assume that there’s a buyer’s market in used school buses.)

At the same time the Moonridge kids started being bussed to Farallone View, the Pillar Ridge kids were all switched from FV to El Granada, breaking up friendships and whatnot.

I’ve never really understood who are the Spanish-speaking kids in the school district.  In my multi-lingual community, I’m always amazed how young children who have Spanish-speaking parents so quickly start speaking English as they reach kindergarten age and even before.  They seem to learn it from their friends and older siblings.  It seems to be absorbed the way a first language is, rather than through study as an older person would have to do.

According to standardized test results (and it’s fine by me if you take them with a grain of salt), 60% of Cabrillo second graders scored less than proficient in English last year. 28% were below or far below basic level.

We don’t see much improvement in higher grades, either. Tenth graders had nearly the same statistics.

Granted, test scores for native English speakers aren’t exactly through the roof. But English proficiency rates for Hispanic students are quite a bit lower.

Granted, I was just observing and gauging casual spoken English among the children, fluent, with American accent and current slang.  I wonder if the lower scores reflect the price they pay for being bi-lingual from an early age?

Judging from the amount of time I spend helping our kids with homework, the impact on academic achievement of not having parents who are fluent in English must be huge. In high school and even middle school, kids with college-educated parents almost certainly have an academic advantage.

That’s without taking into the account the impact of living in an economically stable household. And a host of other factors correlated with ethnicity.

Clearly anyone with college educated parents has an advantage, in any case, any ethnicity. And parents that are financially stable too!? Well, I hope you’re going to Harvard at that point!

3 of my 4 children are from my ex, who is Hispanic. He grew up in a Spanish speaking *only* household. His elem. school offered an English tutor that studied with him at home and he did extremely well. Honors all the way through. This is the early 80’s of course. It was a very low income area and school with probably 70% or above of the pop. being spanish speaking.

What started as odds stacked against him turned into a demand for someone bilingual. My kids now reap the benefits.

I’m glad that there is a bus getting these kids around but coming back empty when there are other kids needing to hitch a ride is inefficient and contributes to the traffic problems. There IS no bus in Pacifica of any sort that I know of and something as simple as transportation can make such a huge difference. 

My own Mother didn’t drive until she was 35. We NEEDED that bus!

When I think of the rhetoric “invest in early education”, I have to wonder what that means to others…

Let’s GET the kids to school first, right? !

Jonathan Lundell on Jul 29 at 3:47pm

This is very helpful to those of us who are trying to get involved and who are feeling out this issue. Thanks for posting this, it provokes alot of thought and activism believe it or not.

wow only 28% voter turnout even! Whew. There’s alot of work to be done here. Good grief, bring on the coffee!

Being bi-lingual is indeed a big advantage—something you’d think should be given extra credit when evaluating kids by standardized tests. 

Eliminating bussing hit many low income residents at Pillar Ridge hard.  Cunha & HS kids manage on SamTrans, but the only option for elementary school kids is private transportation.  When my neighbor’s kid started kindergarten I think his dad dropped him off on the way to work, but at noon his mother walked with baby in stroller to El Granada school to pick him up.  Airport St. and through Princeton is not a fun walk—narrow streets, no sidewalks.  Parents try to find carpools and often have to pay for that.

Here’s a situation where lots of kids need to get from one same place to another (Pillar Ridge to El Granada school) at the same time every day and everybody’s left to manage on their own.  How dysfunctional is that?

Even the kids taking public transportation have issues.  Because the bus is overflowing, oftentimes they have to wait for the second bus.  This causes many to walk down highway 1 so that they can get to an earlier pick-up.  The other community issue created is that after school, many Cunha and High School kids just stay at the library until their parents can get them after work.  Needless to say, this isn’t ideal for anyone. Add to this the traffic impact etc. and I’m with Mr. Lundell.  My guess is a single issue parcel tax would pass with flying colors.

It has been well documented that household income seems to be a factor in the overall success of children in school, health, and behavior. There are many reasons for this I’m sure. Whether a child lives in a single parent household, has drug, alchohol, physical, mental, or sexual abuse in his or her home, doesn’t get the love or attention that they need, and a myriad of other factors can always contribute to whatever problems the child already has with learning. When you add in things like language barriers and undiagnosed or untreated illnesses, it truly takes a lucky and special child to be able to rise above these problems and compete with other children that are well loved, and well taken care of. If the child is unlucky enough to live in an less than affluent area, then chances are the schools in that area aren’t going to get the parent participation and resources available to some others, regardless of ethnicity. There are always exceptions, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that kids that are raised in higher income families are going to have a lot better chance overall at achieving “success”. I frequently ride my bike from Montara to Half Moon Bay with friends and children, and I don’t really understand people who say “there is no option other than cars or busses”. That said, I don’t have children, so I can’t really speak from a parent’s point of view on this matter.

Getting from Montara to Princeton on a bike is risky. I’ve done it and there are several places where it’s just terrifying, particularly crossing Hwy 1 and getting from Montara to Moss Beach. But Hwy 1 and Sunshine Valley are *very* risky between these two towns.

Airport Rd is also deadly, despite its lack of curves and hills. And Princeton is not a good place for kids, either.

As part of the Midcoast trails charrette, we walked from EG Elementary to Surfers Beach and discovered how incredibly unsafe Alhambra is for kids on foot or on bikes.

Until we’re more thoughtful about what our streets are like for pedestrians and cyclists, no one will want to use our streets for anything but driving.

To make matters worse, I just found out that SamTrans is proposing to severely cut the few public transit options that do exist in Pacifica and on the Coastside south of Pacifica.  They are considering eliminating the DX express commuter bus from Pacifica to SF, the CX bus from Pacifica to BART, and another line in Pacifica, as well as Route 17 on the Coastside south of Pacifica.  My understanding is that the final public hearing on the matter (several have taken place already, apparently) will take place at Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay on Thursday, August 6 at 6 p.m.  You can also comment to SamTrans directly by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

A note on CUSD parcel taxes. The district has placed four parcel tax proposals on the ballot in the last ten years, one in 1999, and the other three all in a bunch, 2002-03.

They all failed to get the required 2/3 vote, though some came very close (date, amount/duration, vote shown):

Measure C 11/99 $125/4 years 56%
Measure A 3/02 $75/3 years 61.4%
Measure A 3/03 $250/5 years 65.4%
Measure C 6/03 $250/5 years 65.4%

Has it really been six years? All those failures left the board a little gun-shy about proposing parcel taxes.

A word about my estimate of a $50 parcel tax to run a full busing program. It’s based on my somewhat hazy recollection that the district budgeted a $300K savings from terminating the old busing program, and an estimate of about 10,000 parcels being subject to the tax. I wouldn’t bet on my estimate being all that accurate, but it’s in the ballpark.

Actually, only three years: Measure S got 61% in 2006 [link].

But, then, it’s easy to lose count.

Thanks, Barry. How soon <strike>they</strike> I forget. Here’s the full table:

Measure C 11/99 $125/4 years 56%
Measure A 3/02 $75/3 years 61.4%
Measure A 3/03 $250/5 years 65.4%
Measure C 6/03 $250/5 years 65.4%
Measure S 6/06 $175/5 years 62.6%

And a bonus, to make up for the oversight: the ballot language from Measure S:

To further student academic achievement by retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers, supporting their ability to focus on individual student needs through lower class sizes and providing academic resources at all grade levels, shall the Cabrillo Unified School District levy an annual tax for 5 years of $175 on improved parcels, $30 a year on unimproved parcels, with senior citizen exemptions and annual audits?