We’re in the throes of yet another election cycle locally. One of the agencies with open seats is the Half Moon Bay City Council. Two of the five seats are available.
Let’s take a closer look at the actions of the two incumbents, Marina Fraser and John Muller, whose seats are open and are running for another term on the Council.
For this, we should probably go back in time just a bit to get as broad an image as possible. Looking back and seeing what kind of leadership they have provided may help voters decide who they want now and why.
Here's a timeline that lists the course of action taken by the two incumbents. But before I present that, it's important to understand the setting that these two were seated into.
Fraser had run before and lost. She won in 2002. So what did she step into when the dust settled, and she found herself looking at the audience from the Council side of the table?
We were in the midst of a no-growth majority rule on the City Council, the Planning Commission and the Water Board (CCWD). Litigation, multiple cases, were in motion at that time. Ailanto sued the City three times, and let’s not forget the Beachwood case that was filed in May of 2000. We also had Wavecrest litigation and the whole middle school ‘thing’ was hot and heavy, just to name some of the more costly cases. That’s probably a fair background.
Muller was appointed to the Council in July of 2006 after David Gorn, who was picked by the prior Council majority (2005) to replace Sid McCausland’s early withdrawal from his elected Council seat, quit (June) the same seat before it’s term.
Now for the timeline:
2004 - POST finances a $3.1 million purchase of 22 acres abutting 92 (south side) by Hal Moon Bay from Nurseryman’s Exchange. The purchase was illegal. There was no appraisal, nor payback model. There were 9 & 1/2 usable acres for ‘park.’ Fraser voted against the purchase. Also, that Council started an LCP Update late in 2004. It got hectic in 2005.
2005 - The LCP Update got the attention of a lot of folks and became a real resource consumer. There were times when the Council would have multiple meetings in the same week, as many as five, to revamp the LCP to a much more aggressively restrictive document limiting our rights and growth. That Update was killed in August due to very questionable legal issues contained in it.
It was also an election year and after the dust settled from the election we saw two new members on the Council (Patridge & McClung), effectively changing the Council majority away from the no growth status. Voter turnout was well over 70 percent. We haven’t seen that since.
As their last official action in 2005, HMB Council places a Conservation Easement on 144 Kelly, protecting Council member Grady’s panoramic view from the Ritz to Pillar Point in perpetuity. The City had just bought the 9600+ square lot for $500,000. Fraser opposed the action.
2006 - City spends over $500,000 for 92 "park" studies. Despite knowing the purchase was illegal and that we could not afford the $3.1 Million purchase cost, the Mayor (Patridge) guided the expenditure anyway. Fraser supported that action.
In June, Gorn announced his departure from the Council. That open seat was then filled by Council appointment after a handful of locals were interviewed publicly. Muller was picked to fill the seat. Muller, at the time, was on the Water Board (CCWD). He was also a lifelong resident of HMB, just like Fraser and Patridge. Fraser voted for Muller.
In October, we saw the exit of then City Manager Deborah Aucker and the hiring of her replacement Marcia Raines, who lived in Ocean Colony and had worked for the County. Raines tenure as City Manager would be marred by continued raises for the executives (herself included), some retroactive, while Rome burned. Both Fraser and Muller supported the raises. Aucker had been a staunch supporter of Meyers Nave. Fraser and Muller both also supported Meyers Nave. Both also supported the hiring of Raines.
2007 - Public Works Director and Deputy City Manager resigns (Nagengast). He went to Woodside to work. So did our senior planner, Sage. They are both very happy there.
The Beachwood trial (which started in July 2007 in federal court) and adverse Judgment (11-28-07) totaled $42 million against the City. Meyers Nave, the legal firm representing the City from the initial complaint filed by the applicant/developer (2000) finally concluded the case. It was the trial that never had to happen, but it did. The developer did not want to go to trial and had made every effort to avoid it by trying to settle before it went to court. Not one member of the 2006/2007 Council even picked up a phone and called the plaintiff to try to settle before the trail started. They left all communications with the plaintiff to Meyers Nave. Meyers Nave racked up $2.5 million in billable hours on Beachwood in 2007 alone, which coincidently was exactly what the City received in Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) that year; 25 percent of the City Budget.
2007 was a wild ride for us all and the actions that took place that year will strongly impact HMB for decades to come. We’ll see the impact throughout the rest of this timeline and beyond. 2007 was an election year for HMB. Like now, both Fraser and Muller’s terms were up. They filed to reclaim their seats and nobody opposed them. Their was no Council election that year; a first in HMB’s history.
2008 - City starts staff cuts, eliminating five positions, wiping $1.3 million from the Budget. POST purchases 206 acres of Wavecrest for $13.5 million, taking the property off the present and future tax roles of Half Moon Bay.
The City Finance Director resigns.Residents file suit against Half Moon Bay over Oak Park, seeking $1 million. City raises TOT from 10 to 12 percent (ballot Measure Q passes). City announces Settlement Agreement with Beachwood plaintiff (build or pay $18 million).
City fires Meyers Nave after 12 years as Counsel and hires Atchison, Barisone, Condotti and Kovacevich to serve as new city attorney.
City recovers $5 million in Beachwood legal fees from ABAG. City spends over well over $1 million in legal and lobby efforts on Beachwood; AB1991 & SB 863. Legislative relief dies, leaving $18 million payoff as only option on Beachwood.
In the midst of City cuts, Council approves executive pay raises (twice). National fiscal meltdown rocks global markets. CM Raines resigns after two years to take Millbrae CM job, right after providing herself and other executive staff yet another raise.
2009 - City hires new Interim City Manager, Dolder (February). City restructures, cutting 35 percent of staff, no administrators, shaving another $1.75 million.
City commits to $16.4 million in bonds after getting a AA-rating, $10.6 of it in Build America Bonds.
Kehoe Ditch maintenance is ordered, without a CDP. Coastside Family Medical Center abruptly closes.
City (Dolder) creates two new admin positions: Assistant to the City Manager and Administrative Officer. Neither position existed prior. City provides executives two more pay raises, while significantly reducing staff, killing any hope of Sacramento Beachwood bailout money.
City transfers $18 million to Beachwood plaintiff fulfilling the Settlement Agreement (August); proceeds from the bond sales. The payback of that debt require a payment of $1.126 million per year for 30 years totaling, approximately $34 million, with the first payment coming in August 2010.
There was also another City election that year. We were repeatedly told by the incumbents that we were in the best fiscal shape in Half Moon Bay’s history. Three seats were open. Patridge was re-elected. Neither McClung nor Grady ran for re-election. Those seats were filled by Rick Kowalczyk and Alan Alifano, with the complete support of Patridge. They were seated in December of that year.
2010 - Just three short months (February) after the 2009 election, we found out that the City was not in the best fiscal shape we’d been confidently told during the campaign. We saw that Half Moon Bay was $2.1 million in the red; that was well over 20 percent of our annual budget.
Benjamin files suit against Half Moon Bay over Kehoe Ditch.
The City installs solar parking meters at Poplar Beach, but we don’t get enough sun to keep the meters working. Staff has to alternate batteries.
The City went searching for new revenues. That search settled on a one cent rise in sales tax, to stretch over seven years. After spending a bundle on “research” and consultants, and declaring a “fiscal emergency” to lower the passage bar to a simple majority, the measure failed. Both Fraser and Muller were strong proponents of the measure. It failed. Council members were angry in defeat and bad mouthed their constituents; particularly Muller, Fraser and Patridge.
Snideman was appointed City Manager at year end.
2011 - After the failure of the proposed sales tax increase, City Council then talked up parking meters for downtown Half Moon Bay. Both Fraser and Muller were strong supporters of the idea.
That idea did not go over well with Half Moon Bay voters. The City pulled the idea, after spending more on consultants that were kind enough to tell us how we needed meters and they were here to help (for a fee).
At the very meeting that the City abandoned the meter idea, another sales tax increase was brought up and discussed by at least several Council members, but Patridge led the charge.
City closes Ocean View Park Playground. Seems the funds to maintain the kiddy park aren’t in the General Fund. Parents come to the rescue.
The Kehoe Ditch litigation went to court. Half Moon Bay lost (again). Exact penalties and fines to be determined, but could exceed $1,000,000. HMB needed, but did not have a CDP for the project. Half Moon Bay can issue their own CDPs.
The EOC (the old Police Station) was approved and the project was started. Fraser and Muller voted yes. Some think the EOC is redundant and another poor expenditure.
A week earlier, the Half Moon Bay police department was disbanded and replaced with San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. At the same meeting, the Council eliminated our Park & Rec Dept. and farmed that out, too. Fraser and Muller approved the action.
The Council voted 3-1 (Muller and Fraser voted yes) to give the Peninsula Humane Society $165,000 per year for four years ($666K total), and did not get one question they had answered. Muller even held his nose as he voted - and voted yes anyway.
City charges downtown merchants $136 each, on top of their already paid business license, to set up a table in front of their business during the Pumpkin Festival.
2012 - City hires more consultants such as a public relations company to handle their media relations, at a cost of $83,675. Both Fraser and Muller approved the action and expenditure.
A settlement is reached between the City and Benjamin over the Kehoe Ditch matter. Among other conditions, the City will pay Benjamin’s legal fees of $300K. This, of course, does not include our legal expenses in the matter. The buck stops with the Council.
The Council announces a settlement with the Feds over the misuse of the Build America Bonds money. That was the first we’d heard about any investigation. That settlement tacked on, in fees and penalties, another $1.5+ million to the already $34 million payback.
Cunha’s, a downtown landmark with over 80 years behind, it closes.
The City puts together a “Newsletter” just in time for the election campaign. We foot the bill again.
The Council introduces another sales tax increase and votes to put it on the ballot. Muller votes yes, Fraser votes no (she was the lone dissenter). She voted yes in 2010 for a larger increase spread over more time, but this time around, which happens to be an election year, she votes no.
The Council votes to create two new administration positions at City Hall. They say we’ve turned the corner; just like they said in 2009; but still want more tax revenues.
Since the 2006 appointment of Muller (Fraser was already on the Council), Half Moon Bay has had four new City Managers alone. That does not consider any other positions or departments. It has been a revolving door at City Hall, but it tends to favor consultants and administrative personnel versus the staff.
Half Moon Bay as gone from eliminating positions to eliminating entire departments, then contracting out some of those services: Public Works, Park and Rec, Code Enforcement, law enforcement, and more have either been eliminated or contracted out.
The Council, this year, hired another consulting firm to evaluate our Planning Department, which is transpiring right now. I would not be at all surprised if those consultants were to come back and advise the Council to eliminate the Planning Department, too, and replace that work with yet more consultants.
Little by little, I feel as though I’ve been witness to the dismemberment of Half Moon Bay, and of the small town “charm” it used to carry; and it is all because of poor decisions by our Council, in my humble opinion.
While the Council has placed yet another tax increase on this November’s ballot, I have to wonder: is it the revenue side we’re having issues with, or is it the expenditure side coupled with questionable decisions compounding the fiscal problems.
This "list" of actions is by no means complete; but it sure is a good start.
Is it time for change? What do you think?