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OPINION: Who Wins in the Kehoe Ditch Decision?

Half Moon Bay resident George Muteff shares his opinion on how the court ruling will affect the city and its residents.

On April 23, 2010, Casa del Mar resident Jimmy Benjamin filed a seemingly benign lawsuit against Half Moon Bay over cleaning the Kehoe Ditch (Case # CIV494372).

Benjamin, a former member of the Half Moon Bay Planning Commission, was appointed in 1998 by city council member Dennis Coleman. He was one of the 'no' votes on Beachwood (1999) and has either stopped or appealed numerous projects in Half Moon Bay. He instigated the Saso Gale saga, opposed the Boys & Girls Club from being built just south of Casa del Mar, pitched a fit over the tsunami sirens (and still complains about their testing at volume) and has had a particular bone to pick with the Kehoe Ditch. Heʼs called it a "stream," an "intermittent stream," a "creek" and just about every other environmental tag one can think of for years now.

The Kehoe Ditch has taken the run-off from the hills to the ocean for decades and used to be maintained on a regular basis, until the no-growth council that appointed Benjamin stopped it at about the same time they denied the Yamigawa (Beachwood) project.

Stopping the maintenance allowed the ditch to develop hydric soils, thus qualifying it as an environmentally sensitive habitat area. That move — although clever by no-growth advocates — created destruction for the 22 homes that abut the ditch. With debris collecting in the ditch, the flow of run-off was redirected and was flooding and taking the backyards of the abutting homes.

The stoppage of maintenance created a health and safety issue for those homes. The owners of those homes understandably pleaded for years to have the ditch cleaned to protect their property and lives.

The ditch was cleaned in February 2009 when Half Moon Bay brought in the California Conservation Corps to clean the ditch. They cleaned approximately 2000 ft. and had the job done in four days; three to start and came back once to finish. Because of the prior Council actions, a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) should have been issued for the project. It was not. This generated the litigation against the city.

Michael Dolder was Interim City Manager at that time and was the one responsible for the CDP, with the buck stopping at the City Council. Half Moon Bay issues CDPs all the time. In fact, the Planning Director has the ability to issue a CDP at his discretion, yet one was not issued. One has to wonder why not?

The trial ended on August 29, 2011. However, a decision was not forthcoming from the judge until November 10, 2011. That decision might well be the straw that breaks Half Moon Bayʼs back financially, but at this time is too ambiguous to know for sure. The judge scolded the city for “knowing and intentional violation of the Coastal Act,” but also said the impact “was not substantial,” and called for a minimum penalty of $1,000 for each day the violation persists per statute (the ACT).

Nobody can figure out what that means. Does it mean a fine of $4,000, or does the clock start from the cleaning date, with each sunrise adding another $1,000? If itʼs the latter, that adds up to over $1,000,000 and counting!

So, who wins? Nobody wins. Benjamin will not receive any of the fine, which goes to the State. Benjamin will never recover all his expended resources and the residents of Half Moon Bay will pay out yet again.

This type of acrimony, self importance and hurtful foolishness is killing what most feel is a very special place — and for what? Why?

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