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Largest Infrastructure Project in Coastside History Handed Over to Planning Commission

City of Half Moon Bay's interim planning director denies the Highway 1 Trail Extension and Roadway Improvements application at Tuesday's meeting.

When I heard from a friend that the City Council was going to approve a light at the intersection of Terrace Avenue and Highway 1 on Tuesday, June 19, at 4:30 p.m. at a Planning Director Meeting, I was a bit surprised.

So I checked the City of Half Moon Bay's website and pulled up the Council Agenda. It was not there, but that wasn’t good enough. So, looking further, I noticed that there was also a Planning Director Meeting on the same day at 4:30 p.m. Could it be?

I clicked the link and sure enough, there it was: Item No. 2 titled “Highway 1 Trail Extension and Roadway Improvements” with seven attachments. Now, the title is innocuous enough, but seven attachments? I opened them, one by one, and was stunned — seven attachments totaling 341 pages!

As I read through them, it became quite obvious that we weren’t talking about a few trails and bicycle lanes. What I was reading were the staff reports for the largest infrastructure project this Coastside has ever seen — by a bunch.

Starting at the El Granada/Half Moon Bay border and working south to Miramontes Point Road at the very southern tip of town was a project that included trails, bicycle lanes, multiple third lanes (for turning off and on Highway 1), and three new stoplights.

This was a master plan for the Circulation Element of our Local Coastal Program (LCP) — a very big deal. Not only that, but the installation of the three lights came with the widening of Highway 1 from two lanes to four lanes in all three locations: Roosevelt, Terrace Avenue and Poplar Avenue.

I had seen these plans before going back as far as 2005. Even still, in 2006, at a Council meeting, with Naomi Patridge as Mayor, I recall a packed room of residents at the Adcock Center opposing a light at Terrace, which was proposed by the Alianto Project. Alianto, formerly known as Pacific Ridge, initially in the mid-80s called for 228 homes situated above and around the high school but after multiple law suits, the project was reduced to 63 homes, 5,000 square feet in size and closer to Highway 92 through Settlement Agreements with the City and the Coastal Commission.

The required and much anticipated Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that the Ailanto Project was required to undertake for that light had just gone public. It clearly demonstrated that a light could not be placed at the Terrace Avenue intersection because of wetlands that abutted Highway 1. The applicant was required to fund a light, to the tune of $2.5 million, and you know the City was anxious for the funds; but it was not to be.

There were, and still are other major concerns with a light in that location, but the presence of wetlands was all that was needed for the Mayor to take the wind out of everyone’s sails when, within the first five minutes of the meeting, she announced that there would be no light at Terrace Avenue, but that the applicant should still provide the $2.5 million in the event that circumstances changed over time.

Patridge got the applicant to agree that the City could spend the funds any way they wanted to, so long as they didn’t come back for more for a light. It was agreed to by both parties right there. The money will be given to the City when the final Occupancy Permit is issued for the 63 mega-home project.

Now, back to this past Tuesday’s meeting. It was in the Sun Room, which holds maybe a dozen people comfortably, and it was packed with Interim Planning Director, Pat Webb, at the forefront. When the item came up, so did the speakers. One by one the attendees got up and said their piece, including me.

I explained that I found it highly irregular that the largest infrastructure project in Coastside history was being entertained at a Planning Director Meeting at 4:30 in the afternoon. I went on to request that the item be placed in front of the Planning Commission for public input — and there is sure to be public input.

Others spoke and good points were made by all. It was easy to see that our new director was listening and conflicted. She was in a very awkward spot. The applicant, Half Moon Bay Public Works Director Mo Sharma, was anxious to get the CEQA Report and the CDP approved so he could apply for grants for parts of the project. But to do that with the way it was laid out, Webb would have to approve the entire project.

In the end, Webb listened, conferred with the City Attorney, Project Planner, Public Works Director, and audience and made a decision. She apologized to Sharma as she denied the application and forwarded the project to the Planning Commission.

I was impressed and grateful. Impressed that she listened, weighed all the testimony and made the right decision. Grateful because by doing so, she saved a bunch of resources that most surely would have been expended with the flurry of appeals to the City Council and Coastal Commission that would have followed.

This item is now planned to be on the Planning Commission Agenda in three weeks from today. It is my hope that the project is broken down, separating the trails from the highway improvements.

As it was, it provided another example of a “gun to the head” urgency approach providing the temptations of corner cutting that has long been the Half Moon Bay way and is the reason the City is paying through the nose from lost litigation. Litigation like Beachwood, that takes $1.127 million right off the top of our $10 million annual budget every August for another 27 years. After this August, this will be our third payment.

One has to wonder how this could happen, again. I keep up with City matters and the first I’d heard about the CEQA report was after the comment period. This type of activity has got to stop, and I am very grateful to all that showed up today despite the stealth City approach and very grateful to Webb for being smart enough to listen, ask the right questions and provide the right next step.

Now it’ll be up to the public; but at least now they’ll have a legitimate chance.

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Jimmy King June 21, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Great editorial. We surely need to stop the bleeding and get our city officials to stop being self-serving and to represent our great town responsibly
Laura McHugh June 21, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Thank you for revealing this upcoming project. I would like to see safer exiting off Hwy 1 at Poplar because everyone behind me nearly runs me off the road. I also think better control at these intersections (including Filbert) would reduce the possibility for pedestrians to be struck. However, all interested parties should have a voice in this process, so I welcome the opportunity to do so with others, at upcoming meetings. George - your watchdog efforts are to be commended.
Dee June 21, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Transparency, transparency, transparency. When will HMB officials get that this is the way of the future and that closed-door self-serving dealings are OUT? Thank you for a great opinion piece and bringing this to light.
George Muteff June 21, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Thank you all for the kind words. As to my watchdog efforts, well...I just can't help myself. I do not like to see folks get taken, and this has all the markings of such. My intimate background and knowledge of HMB comes in very handy at times. I have always been troubled with the complete lack of transparency in government, particularly our local government. I view it a little differently than some. The way I see it is simple: every stitch of everything City belongs to us! Simple. Every structure, every position, every paper clip, every study -- everything; we pay for it all. I take offense when I hear comments like 'you don't understand', or 'we know what's best' or other comments in that vein. We're all adults here and although it's been my experience that nobody enjoys bad data, everyone at least appreciates full disclosure. How else can the public make informed decisions if we don't/can't get all the data (that we've paid for mind you) of every issue? The scary part is that it seems our government doesn't agree and continues to do the same things the same way, expecting different results. Isn't there a word for that?
Cid Young June 22, 2012 at 12:55 AM
George- Good Work, watchdog. I saw this on Palo Alto Express.http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=25814 I suggest that you Watch the CSUD too. Now that they have $81 million dollars. They are at tonight's meeting declaring several parcels of land surplus.
Tyler Durden June 23, 2012 at 10:37 PM
why doesn't the Review have a story about this pray tell?
Jerry Steinberg June 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM
Back in 2006 the HMB Review did post info on the DEIR wetlands. Link: http://talkaboutwidget.hmbreview.com/topic.php?t=133&c=1&d= Also check out www.stoptrafficlight.com for more info on trafficlight at Terrace Avenue Jerry Steinberg
George Muteff June 28, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Jerry was one of the speakers at this meeting. In fact, he may have been the first one. He brought out some of his visual aids, showing the Terrace Ave/Hwy 1 area and how Golden Gate could/should be the collector street, to exit onto Hwy 1 at Bay View (paper street as of now, in the Beachwood property) or Grand View. Jerry has been very good in his analysis of the area; but the City has not yet taken any of his advice. If it makes anyone feel any better, the City hasn't taken anyone else's advice on that area yet, either. Maybe that will change now that this will become much more public. We'll see. Thank you Jerry for all your time, efforts and for keeping up with it. I would urge folks to look at the DEIR that Jerry has provided. It will give you a glimpse into one facet of why this should not have come forward as it did, and for the need for public input - not just on this particular aspect of the 'project area', but for the entire project and each project within the entire project area.
George Muteff August 18, 2012 at 11:45 PM
I thought it appropriate to follow-up on this item. In this week's Review (08-15-12), there was a Public Notice. That Notice, also found in my mailbox yesterday, notices the meeting of the Planning Commission on 08-28-12. Item #2 addresses this project, however, there have been some changes. The 'original' project, the subject of this piece, has been broken into at least 2 parts. The Item that will appear in front of the Commission on that Tuesday evening is on "the construction of additional segments of the Class 1 bicycle/pedestrian trail along the highway." There is an asterisk following that, and at the bottom of the Notice we see notice that "The project has since been split and will be considered individually;" it goes on to say that the "Highway 1 Traffic Safety and Congestion Mitigation Plan will be considered at a later date and will be noticed separately." It would appear that the Interim Planning Director listened to reason and has taken the suggested and correct moves. Squeaky wheel does get the grease -- from time to time, I guess. I did send Ms Webb a document, to be included in the PC Board Packet, suggesting the 'project' be broken into multiple elements, as each will require and receive public input and dialog. She has taken the low hanging fruit, the trails part, and will tackle that first. I'd do the same thing. Looks like a potentially bad situation (that never should have been) is turning into something good. I hope so.

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