Video:  HMB government takes on the Coastal Commission and gets nowhere

Posted by on Sat, July 14, 2007

Montara Fog

On Thursday, the Half Moon Bay city government took on the California Coastal Commission face to face.

At issue was a house project on Terrace Avenue, which had been denied by a previous planning commission and city council, but permitted by the current commission and council. The applicant wanted to build a house within a 100-foot wetland buffer when feasible alternatives existed for building on the lot.  The permit was appealed by the Coastal Commission itself as being in violation of the city’s Local Coastal Program. Coastal Commission staff recommended against the permit [pdf of staff report].

What’s interesting here is that Half Moon Bay Mayor Naomi Patridge, Vice Mayor Bonnie McClung, and Planning Commissioner Tom Roman (as well as HMB resident George Muteff) went to San Luis Obispo to defend the permit before the Coastal Commission.

Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills and Mark Massara of the Sierra Club spoke against the permit.

In the end, as it become clear that the commission was likely to turn down the permit, the applicant withdrew their request.

Thanks to Darin Boville of Montara Fog for downloading and editing this from the Commissions gavel-to-gavel video.

 width= Introduction and Commission’s summary   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= Consultant for the Applicant makes his case   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= Mayor Patridge defers to McClung; Vice-Mayor McClung speaks for Half Moon Bay   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= George Muteff | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= HMB Planning Commissioner Tom Roman   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= Additional citizen voices   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= The applicant’s consultant rebuts   | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= The Commission deliberates and votes | Quicktime | Flash |

 width= The video in its entirety for die-hard fans of local politics   | Quicktime | Flash |

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Mr. Dall as the applicant’s attorney. He’s a consultant.

George Muteff posted his view of the meeting on the Review’s site.

Despite the picture Mr. Muteff paints, he, council members Patridge and McClung, the planning department staff and consultants were not fighting this out for the little guy, but instead using Gale’s project as a Trojan horse to overturn HMB’s long-established Local Coastal Plan that prohibits building in wetland buffer zones. This was the slippery slope the city, under the current council majority, wants to take us, and from which the Commission saved us. On such trifles the $30 million Beachwood lawsuit and Wavecrest foundered in the past.

The Coastal Commission is doing its job, folks, the one they were set up to do by an overwhelming majority of voters, not just the development lobby that holds sway over the rest of California.

In 2005 at a council meeting (extraordinary because of the hour Gale’s lawyer was permitted to present her case), Gale’s counsel argued that he should not have to follow the planning commission’s ruling, that he build a two-story, instead of a one-story house and avoid going into the designated wetland buffers on his property. Her various reasons boiled down to property rights claims and the freedom to do as one pleases.

The planning commission’s ruling necessarily followed from the fact HMB’s LCP, a law certified by the Coastal Commission, states that no one can build in a buffer zone if there is a “feasible alternative.” The city went so far as to provide such a design. The LCP does not say that someone has to like the alternative—aesthetics and personal preference are not a part of the law.

Council members were sensitive to Gale’s plight, and wanting to avoid a denial, offered to work with him within the system to amend the LCP, so that he would not have to begin over again. But Gale and his lawyer demanded an up or down vote that night. With that, council members carefully queried the city attorney about their ability to approve or deny the appeal, and he told them they had only one choice, which was to follow the law and deny the appeal. Marina Fraser wanted to back Gale, but after questioning Lindgren extensively, voted with the others to deny it unanimously.

Gale subsequently sued the city. This was an interesting decision because instead of trying to build a home within a finite amount of time, and with the city’s help, he opted to fritter away his time in a wrong-headed lawsuit.

continued . . .

second part . . .

If you read Muteff first, you saw his paranoid reference to local “snakes” and perfidy. Permit me to wonder in turn how Gale became the cause celebre for the development crowd? Could it be that Mr. Gale was purposely misguided and sorely misused by our city in the risky enterprise of suborning its own law? This council majority and its retooled planning commission imagine that the law is, or should be, permeable. Their feelings about this do not substitute for sound arguments, however, so carry little weight with the Coastal Commission.

Muteff wonders how the Coastal Commission that certified our LCP could be so in-the-know about it? This is hilarious, assuming one has a sense of humor. First for the fact that Muteff thinks the crime is being ratted out, rather than what the council attempted to perpetrate.

Second, the staff’s document covering Gale’s appeal is 185 pages long and contains the relevant text from HMB’s law certified by, remember who?

Muteff zanily posits snakes, but his sinister snakes are an unnecessary hypothesis. The incompetence of HMB’s deluded council majority is clearly on display in this sad case of abuse of the public trust that, so far, has been an enormous waste of time and taxpayer money.

Those who have been paying attention to City affairs might have noticed a pattern developing: appeals of City planning decisions are becoming an increasingly common occurrence.

Now why do you suppose that is?  Is it all part of a vast conspiracy, or is there something fundamentally wrong with the City’s planning process? People can decide for themselves.

February 2007, Local appeal of Cunha Middle School CDP

May 2007, Several anonymous local appeals

May 2007, Coastal Commission appeal of project near sensitive habitat on Pullman Ave.

June 2007, Coastal Commission appeal of project near wetlands on Terrace Ave.

July 2007, Local appeal of project on Miramontes Avenue

July 2007, Local appeal of project on Church Street in historical downtown district.
(no link available yet)

Thank you for opening the thread, Ken. I had to reply to the same post, in which Georg eclaimed that the last Planning Commission had been very disrespectful of this applicant.

This is the second time that such a baseless charge was leveled at the prior Planning Commission (recall that then-CCWD President Chris Mickelson’s claimed without evidence at a City Council Meeting that the commission had “disrespected” the District’s water engineer, and the accusation was seized on by the ladies of the City Council as justification for removing the prior Planning Commission).

A responsible party making such a claim would back it up with facts. I await the details from George or Chris about a specific incident involving a specific action of a specific commissioner to support either claim. I am all for public courtesy and accountability, and stand ready to apologize for any action that I took. Absent such evidence, I feel George, Chris, ladies of the City Council have a similar responsibility to issue the members of the former Planning Commissioners a apology of their own.

I’m sure that the City officials who traveled to San Luis Obispo to support the incursion into the 100-foot buffer will let us know whether they were reimbursed for travel expenses. I just hope it was not my tax dollars at work.

Jimmy, hoping for fair play from the gang running HMB and Mr. Muteff and friends is a non starter. They say whatever it takes to knock their opponents down be it fair or unfair. Call it what it is, a syndrome, but it is their rule of engagement.

Regarding the Gale appeal, you wrote eloquently about it Friday, so I copied part for this thread. This regards Mayor Patridge’s commissioner Roman’s claim that Gale having to build a two-story house to reduce his project’s footprint is not a “feasible alternative.”

JB: “OK, I took a quick glance at the report, and noted that Planning Commissioner Roman (pp94-96 of the CCC report) floated an argument that based on the City Attorney’s opinion (which he would take pains to have distinguished from law) that to be feasible, a project must meet most of the applicant’s objectives. Tom defines the applicant’s objectives (paraphrasing here) as

(1) a useable and active rear yard area for a safe play area,
(2) a useable and active rear yard area for the family’s privacy and relaxation,
(3) normal setbacks to allow reasonable landscaping,
(4) a desire to avoid a two story design for family health reasons, and
(5) sufficient floor area to support the family of four and two home businesses.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having an ambitious list of objectives. But . . .if feasibility can be so subjectively defined, then the laws mean nothing; I can define a project with so many objectives that the buffer area limitations are certain to conflict with them. The idea that I can defeat a setback requirement by demanding that I need lots of square footage but that I can’t build a two-story house is transparently hostile to any setback.”

The planning commission’s Orwellian treatment of “feasible alternative” disappeared like Alice’s Cheshire cat. Fortunately for us, the Coastal Commission doesn’t like fantasy.

Following up on my comment above that mentions the Church Street appeal: the appeal hearing will take place before the City Council this Tuesday, July 17.

See agenda item #7 on the meeting agenda

The case involves a proposal to build a 3400 square foot, two-story residence within the City’s historical downtown district.

The City’s zoning code and downtown specific plan says that new structures must be similar in size and style to the predominant older structures in the immediate vicinity. The structures in the immediate vicinity are small, historic 1-story cottages the average around 1000 square feet in floor area. 

The project was continued numerous times with requests for major redesign. But in the end, the project was approved by a vote of 4-2, with one Commissioner (myself) absent due to work-related travel.

The project is grossly inconsistent with the City’s zoning code and downtown specific plan and will serve to significantly degrade the historic character of the area, in my opinion. My comments on the project, which are part of the public record, can be found at the link below

City staff is recommending denial of the appeal.

Ah, perhaps Mr. Lansing can give me a clue as to the identity of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) from whom I received a rather shrill email about this very project.

What made it appear shrill was the lack of paragraphing and that may not have been the fault of the sender but a feature of using to communicate with others. At any rate, it made it difficult to read, so I quit part of the way through, although I did scan to the end to see if the sender had signed a real name. (They didn’t)

This was what coastsider appended to the end of the email, and I thank Barry for that:

This message was sent to you through your account at:
If you do not wish to receive further emails you can disable this
preference in your member profile page.

It’s rather humorous to think that they would send this to me, a non-resident of HMB, who has been accused of running with an unsavory crowd!

(Barry, did you use the same program for the pictures of the folks at the top of this article that I used for my picture?)

Sorry about the anonymous emails sent via Coastsider to four users, including Mary—and me.  I don’t know who this person is.

The email wasn’t malicious, but I don’t like propagating anonymous email and the potential for genuine abuse is unacceptable.

I’ve changed the system so that only trusted members—the 150+ users who use their real names and can post without moderation—are able to send email via the site.

Just to close out my comment above about the Church street appeal which was heard tonight June 17.

The City Council denied the appeal 4-1. Jim Grady was the only Council Member who stood up for enforcing the letter and intent of the law.

The direct quote from the law says that new structures in this historical downtown district “shall be similar in scale and style to that of the predomominant older structures in the immediate vicinity” (which are 1000 sq. ft. historic cottages).

The City staff and the four other City Council members said it was ok to build a 3400 sq. ft. monster house (with a dominating 2 car garage) right in between these small historic cottages.

Their reasoning: the proposed house was similar to some NEW structures located A COUPLE STREETS OVER. I’m not making this up.

The original City staff report from November 2006 actually recommended denial of the project precisely because it failed to meet the historic neighborhood compatibility rule. But wait, it turns out that the applicants are long-time residents who have friends on the City Council. It also turns out that the City plannner who recommended denial no longer works for the City. Interesting.

Another interesting fact is that the historic area with the small cottages is called the “Spanishtown” section of downtown HMB. Council member Marinia Fraser is the President of the Spanishtown Historical Society (see link below)

Well, esteemed Councilmember Fraser voted to allow the building of a 3400 sq. ft. monster house right next to these small cottages in the historic Spanishtown district. Go figure.

Mayor Naomi Patridge argued that the City Council could not deny the project because the zoning code did allow “mixed-use” projects. To qualify as a “mixed-use” project, the proposed monster house included a tiny amount (140 sq. ft.) of public commercial space. But it otherwise looks and functions just like a monster residential house.

Jim Grady correctly pointed out that the Mayor’s argument was not relevant because you can still design a mixed-use project that fits into the historic neighborhood. Jim did not convince the Mayor to change her vote.

What started this thread was the issue of appeals to the California Coastal Commission. If this is the kind of decisions we can expect from our local decision makers, is anybody surprised that local approvals are being overturned by the Coastal Commission?

Kevin states “the proposed monster house included a tiny amount(140 sq. ft.)of public commercial space,” but I think Patridge said 740 sq ft.

I queried Adam Lindgren, the city’s attorney, after the meeting about his ruling on the wording in the codes like “similar size” and “immediate vicinity,” that he said the project complied with and that were too subjective to serve as barriers to the project.

(Before going on, I am not arguing on either side, I just was curious about how Adam thought about it.)

He said that because there were buildings like the Turner building and others within a block or two, or just around the corner, that they were in the vicinity. The code didn’t say “within the same block.” The word “similar,” then, melts away for the same reason.

Thanks, Kevin, for speaking up last night and at least giving the audience and viewing public some perspective about the process by which our town is changing. You were clear and concise as usual.

The 140 sq. ft. of public commercial space is a trick that allows the thing to be so darn big because it then qualifies as “mixed use” and not residential. There is also a home office which is considered private commercial space—-bringing the so-called total commercial space up to arond 740 sq. ft.

But the project still looks and functions like a monster residential house.

I elaborated more on this here:

Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. That’s somewhat different from what Naomi described Tuesday night. I wonder what business they’ll run out of the 140 square foot first floor room?

If they put a Dutch door in they could sell candy and sodas to kids walking by after school. The kids would learn to look at the house with a fondness the adult neighbors might disdain.

Why all of the background colors in the pictures? Is it made to look cartoonish, and is this real journalism?

>>Why all of the background colors in the pictures? Is it made to look cartoonish, and is this real journalism?

I like the colors. Gives a sort of festive feel to the whole affair. You would prefer black and white?


Comment 15
Sat, August 25, 2007 11:16am
Ray Olson
All my comments

somehow I don’t think you meant this to be a festive piece of journalism.