The Supervisors must stop treating the Midcoast like a colony


By on Tue, January 6, 2009

Art by Benj. Franklin

Who can speak for the Midcoast? Not our elected officials, according to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

The Supervisors are considering a proposal to forbid the election of current members of existing Coastside boards to the Midcoast Community Council. They can do whatever they want. Because they control the Midcoast and the MCC—and we don’t.

Three elected members of the MCC would be affected by this rule: Kathryn Slater-Carter is on the board of the Montara Water and Sanitary District, and Leonard Woren and Gael Erickson are on the board of the Granada Sanitary District.

The MCC has nominated Ric Lohman, another member of the GSD board, to fill a vacant position. I understand the issue with seating three members of the five-member GSD board on the MCC. But Lohman was one of only two applicants for two open positions on the MCC. And by addressing this particular issue with a blanket rule, the Supervisors neglected to check the bathwater for babies.

Because we are ruled by Redwood City, our water and sewer boards are the closest thing the Midcoast has to local government. But the Supervisors want to keep those board members from representing us on matters unrelated to excrement.

The Midcoast is a colony of Redwood City

The Board of Supervisors is the "city council" for the unincorporated Midcoast. Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton, and Miramar depend on the county for zoning, parks, roads, public works, and police services—unlike incorporated cities, such as Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

But our votes don’t matter to the Board of Supervisors. They are elected by the county at large, instead of by the districts they ostensibly represent. The Midcoast has 15,000 of San Mateo County’s 700,000 residents. We’re only 2% of their electorate. They are 100% of our local government. You do the math.

The MCC exists to represent our community to the Board of Supervisors. But as a strictly advisory body, it has no power. We don’t control the MCC, and soon we won’t be permitted to choose who represents us there.  And because the county counsel has already told the Board of Supervisors that it is legal for elected members of local boards to serve on the MCC, the Supervisors have decided to change the rules.

The Supervisors aren’t just moving the goalpost, they’re burning it down.

Who speaks for the Midcoast?

The Supervisors have literally forbidden the MCC to express an opinion that has not been approved by the Supervisors, and only the Supervisors are allowed to represent the views of the Coastside. The Board of Supervisors have already sent one of their staffers to forbid the MCC to send a letter of comment to the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) about the needs of the Coastside.

Does the Board of Supervisors want honest advice from the Midcoast Community Council? Or are they looking for someone to tell them how much we love they way they’re ruling us, and please sir may we have some more?

Instead of trying to undermine self-government on the Midcoast, the Board of Supervisors and our district representative—Rich Gordon—should be working to increase our control of our own destinies.



Nice series of Requiem Editorials. As Kevin Lansing points out in another thread, it is about a year late. LAFCo had their review. CUSD voted 5-0 last fall to send to LAFCo a letter endorsing the absorption by CCWD of the other water districts. Supervisor Gordon has the plan to eliminate MCC’s voice and replace them with those who couldn’t otherwise get elected with CUSD and CCWD Board Member intervention.

The boat has sailed in Half Moon Bay. To our northern neighbours: DO something now and stop whining!

For those who missed it, “our” Supervisor Rich Gordon was the sole vote against the appointment of Carole Groom to fill the vacant Supervisor position and Supervisor Rich Gordon is soon termed out.

My Email to BoS Tuesday, 06 January, 2009 16:08_. just in case it was not postponed during that meeting. You have two weeks to email and otherwise communicate with the Board of Supervisors:

‘Carole Groom’ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
‘Adrienne Tissier’ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
‘Richard Gordon’ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
‘Mark Church’ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
‘Rose Jacobs Gibson’ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Ken Johnson

It’s not too late.

The LAFCO thing was on rails. Nothing we could have done would have changed the outcome of the report because those things are written using a template that favors consolidation of functionally similar agencies.  And you know better than to think that CUSD cares what the folks on the Midcoast want.

What we need is an ongoing long-term process to raise the consciousness of Midcoast residents, create a plan for self-government, and to execute it incrementally. No one’s going to give it to us.

At the same time, we need to keep the Supes from moving us in the wrong direction.

I’m working out my ideas about this on Coastsider, and I’m just getting started. 

We need to be for something (increased autonomy) and not simply against stuff. What are we for and how do we plan to achieve it?

Everyone is welcome to participate in the process of discovering that.  I hope to see some participation from Half Moon Bay, just as I plan to continue to participate in the conversation about what’s happening down there.  The fates of the two communities are linked regardless of how one feels about it.

“Two communities”?  Barry, if you can recognize that HMB and the unincorporated Midcoast are separate communities, then why is it such a leap to understand that there are actually at least 5 separate communities in the unincorporated Midcoast?  They even have their own names:  Miramar, El Granada, Princeton, Moss Beach, Montara.  And if I can’t convince you that it’s 5, certainly south of HMB Airport (El Granada, etc) is different from north of HMB Airport (Montara, etc).  While the differences between HMB and the rest are larger than the differences between the unincorporated communities, there are differences.  The question devolves down to what is the defining criteria for “a community” (vs multiple communities)?

Fair enough. We’re all members of multiple communities.  I’m a member of the Montara, Midcoast, and Coastside communities.  Montara/Moss Beach is a community where water is concerned. The Midcoast community is the weakest of these communities, and that’s part of the problem.

There’s a reason Mr. Franklin captioned his cartoon “Join, or Die”.

>>They even have their own names: Miramar, El Granada, Princeton, Moss Beach, Montara.<<

In the places I’ve lived before we call these “neighborhoods.”

We all share schools (even at the elementary level), we share fire services, we share police services, we all shop at the same places, etc etc.

We’re one community.

Only at the level of water service is there any distinction and it is precisely those entities that are fighting the hardest against incorporation.

The real question is a practical one: Do we take steps to incorporate the Midcoast as an independent town or do we fight against it and wait for HMB to swallow us up, one by one?


Cutesy retort but ultimately useless.  To pursue that nearly pointless discussion, we would need to start with trying to come to agreement on terms.  I start at  Looking up “community” and “neighborhood”, I can pick amongst the definitions to make my case, and Darin probably could also make his case.

So let’s shift gears to the fundamental issues:
* What do the citizens of the unincorporated Midcoast want and need for their local government?
* What’s appropriate?
* What’s viable?
* What are the pros and cons of incorporation?

Since only a very tiny of our citizens even have an opinion on the first question, I’ll start with what’s appropriate.  We have 400,000 voters who don’t live here voting on our local government.  So we’re outvoted 25:1.  There is just no reality in which county supervisors are going to care about or have the best interests of our little area in mind.  Having our own city is appropriate.  To go back momentarily to the community vs neighborhood discussion, I agree with Barry’s “fair enough” followup, and there is the only scenario where I would support a consolidated government for the 5 Midcoast communities:  a single new city, hopefully with no special districts But there are a number of influential people in Montara and Moss Beach who oppose this for reasons that I don’t understand.  In the end, that opposition likely means we’ll always be unincorporated, since LAFCo will be reluctant enough to approve one new city of 12,000 here—forget about 2 new cities of 6,000.  Also, there is no tax base to support a new city of Montara/Moss Beach.

That said, size/population is irrelevant:  1/4 of the cities in California have populations smaller than ours.  In fact, nearly 1/6 of the cities in California have populations smaller than El Granada’s.

Budget needs serious study, but ignore the people whose mantra is “it will cost us more in taxes.”  There is no supporting evidence for that statement, and under Prop 13 and other laws, it would require a 2/3 vote to add any new taxes—very unlikely.  Do people in cities pay any more in tax than we do?  No, with certain special-case exceptions that they voted in themselves.

We also need to consider the moronic “revenue neutrality” provision which was added to Cortese-Knox at Sacramento County’s request in their ultimately-unsuccessful attempt to prevent the incorporation of Citrus Heights.  Revenue neutrality basically says that for an incorporation, the taxes shifted from the county to the new city must be approximately equal to the cost of the services which are shifted from the county to the new city.  This is a really complex issue.  It can be broken down into 3 scenarios:
1.  Revenue is neutral, in which case the city should be viable and there is no loss to the county, which should therefore have no objection to the incorporation.
2.  Revenue exceeds expenses, meaning that the unincorporated area proposed for incorporation is subsidizing the rest of the county.  In this case, incorporation is a simple matter of fairness, and LAFCo is allowed to require payments by the new city to the county.  I don’t at this time understand how the total amount of those payments may be computed.
3.  Expenses exceed revenue, meaning that the rest of the county is subsidizing the proposed new city.  In this case, the county should be more than happy to get rid of the area, and should even subsidize the incorporation to some extent.  Like that will ever happen.  Oh wait, it did (I forget where.)

So from a fiscal perspective, there should not be any reason for counties to oppose incorporation of new cities.  Yet most counties do oppose new cities.  Why?  Even if the new city was to waive receiving these payments, most counties will still oppose the new city.  Why?  Because to my knowledge, many if not most new cities want to incorporate because the county government is shoving in too much development.  Ring a bell?  Looking only at the people who have expressed an opinion on the question, ever notice how many of those people who are satisfied with county government are the same people who oppose all limits on development?  So, to answer my “why” questions in this paragraph, the answer turns out to be very simple.  County supervisor campaigns are funded by labor unions, primarily construction trades.  That certainly seems to be the case in San Mateo County.

Since the population of HMB is very close to that of the unincorporated Midcoast, it’s a useful starting point for discussion.  There is a wide range of per-capita spending.  I know of a city with about double the population of HMB, with an annual budget 16 times HMB’s.  I’m sure there are cities which spend much less per capita than HMB.  We would, as a community (arrgh), need to come to some agreement regarding level of services.  Then we look to see if the existing tax revenue supports that.

I would really like to have some face-to-face discussion of all this.  The Midcoast Community Council is the appropriate focal point for such discussions, and I did try to start this discussion there with an agenda item in 2008.

I’ve been planning on writing much of this as a series of Opinion pieces.  Oh well, here’s a lot of it all at once, hopefully still somewhat cogent.

Comment 7
Fri, January 9, 2009 2:42pm
Carl May
All my comments

Good rundown, Leonard. Join with Half Moon Bay? No way! But do you have any reason to believe an inevitably county-dominated study of midcoast incorporation at this time would have a bottom line different from the last one? Are difficulties caused by Cortese-Knox-Herzberg that political opponents to incorporation would employ any less today? Why even bother trying to resolve our internal differences on the midcoast with an eye to incorporation if state law invented to inhibit incorporation, county supervisors, and county LAFCO are holding the reins? We already know how they approach all local issues of self-determination, don’t we?

Carl, I’d be interested in knowing what you’d like to see happen.

It seems to me that the options are (1) no change, (2) a Midcoast services district with more power than MWSD and GSD, (3) incorporation, or (4) annexation with Half Moon Bay. Am I missing any?

Comment 9
Fri, January 9, 2009 5:11pm
Carl May
All my comments


Sure there are other options: secession, revolution, planning on miracles, etc.

Setting aside details of timeline and scale, I’d still have to ask “Options for what”? If the answer is “better governance of the midcoast,” then only two of your options have any possibility in them as far as I’m concerned:

(2) I’d have to make this (2a), because I see two “community services districts” as better than a combined one for the communities served. Both MWSD and GSD do a pretty good job of providing appropriate services with what they have to work with now, and for decades most of their elected directors have had good sensitivities to local physical realities and us citizens.

But csd’s, in their limited coverage, are only possibilities for improvements in the areas of the services they provide. And they might only provide relatively short-term improvements because we would still be subject to the county’s greater control of land use in our area (for example through dictating our LCP). The csd’s would be subject to county LAFCO evaluation and interference in their organizational makeup and coverage of services—just look at the recent periodic review of our coastside districts by LAFCO for an indication of how this outside force tries to influence what little local government we have. We might get a temporary high out of more local control of some services by csd’s, but the midcoast as a whole and as a place to conduct one’s life would continue to decline, perhaps more slowly, due to the county’s power over us.

(3) and (3a: Incorporation into two cities) is the only option with theoretical possibilities for long-term improvement of overall local government on the midcoast. (This does not mean government would be necessarily be better. Small city governments may be even easier than county governments for limited special interests to influence to the detriment of most citizens and the place where they live.)

I see little reason to get too deep into option 3 unless the sort of practical questions asked of Leonard in Comment 7 can be answered in such a way as to give us locals a shot at creating something good. We have been down this road several times before, and although a lot of people got a chance to comment during a rigged process, the outcomes have been, at best, discouraging.

FYI, in the beginning of the story (“The Supervisors are considering a proposal to forbid the election of current members of existing Coastside boards to the Midcoast Community Council”, there is a broken link ( )

Ah, I hate to admit this, ah, but, I agree with Carl May.

Combining GSD and the sewer portion of MW&SD;would be ok.  But, I would guess MW&SD;can’t split its water and sewer functions, now.  To put it directly and tactlessly, control of the water portion of MW&SD;is the political prize that the political extremes are willing to fight to the death over.  Again tactlessly, control of that political price (water) is what the BOS are after.  The problem with the water portion of the MW&SD;is that there are just too many deep divisions within the voters of Montara and Moss Beach and too many different stakeholders(those on the water system, those on wells, those with failed wells, unimproved lots that would like to get water…) all in different financial positions with big financial stakes.  It would be unfair to the residents of the other MidCoast District to referee these divisive battles over water.  It would also be unfair the the residents of Montara and Moss Beach to have the important water issues decided by a MidCoast District at large.

LAFCo Commissioners are representing the interests of the BOS. The recent MSR laid out the BOS model for the MidCoast.  The best way to stop portions of that model from being implemented is too keep the Districts as small as possible.  That way if there is a hostile annexation or merger by the BOS, there are only a small number of protest signatures which would need to be gathered to maintain the status quo and local control. It would be more difficult for outside interests to sell a political Trojan horse to a smaller engaged constituency with a financial stake in the outcome.

Carl and I disagreed about the merger of PMFPD and HMBFPD.  But, I think that merger was beneficial to the community, because it eliminated a distraction from the real issues. With that out of the way, we on the MidCoast can focus our political attention on maintaining local control of the most critical of our Special Districts.

In ten years, if we can hang on to our local control, I think mergers of mutual benefit and common interest may be possible.  Right now, it’s time to hunker down and maintain a defensive posture.  Trying to make the leap to incorporation of the MidCoast would be a leap into political chaos.

Thanks to the members of the MCC for enduring and singing for as long as you have, you are the canaries in the coal mine of the MidCoast.

Tammy:  Thanks for the tip.  I fixed the link.

Leonard, Barry—to the naive and uninitiated (like me), I’d love to know what changes incorporation would bring to our community.

Our most visible public services include our schools, fire, sheriff, water, sewage, and parks (and I’m sure I’m missing others). I understand that building codes are state and locally determined, and I’m sure there are other legislative effects from local ordinances.

How would these (and other) services be concretely affected? What are some expected benefits and likely difficulties that would need to be resolved with incorporation?

Thanks for the dialog.

The county provides our roads, planning, zoning, public works, police and parks. Schools, water, and sewers are handled by separate agencies.

The issue is that the county does what it wants on the Midcoast without regard to the wishes of its residents. Examples:

* Eviscerated protections in the Local Coastal Program (the development plan required by the Coastal Act) developed by the MCC after consultation with the community.

* Permits the development of the Midcoast without regard to the water supply or transportation.

* Failed to deliver any parks for our community.

* Maintains our roads in an appalling condition.

* Forbids the MCC to comment on LAFCO’s recommendation for reorganization of our water and sewer districts.

* Plans to change who can represent the Midcoast on the MCC without a vote of the community.

You can’t run a community of 15,000 like it was some sort rural outback, but that’s what the Supervisors are doing.