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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