The Loma Prietan - November/December 2011

Tsunami of Appeals Hits Big Wave Project

by Lennie Roberts

This was a wetland until “predevelopment farming” came along. Now the developer wants to turn it into offices and housing for the disabled. The location is entirely unsuitable. Photo: Lisa Ketcham
This was a wetland until ā€œpredevelopment farmingā€ came along. Now the developer wants to turn it into offices and housing for the disabled. The location is entirely unsuitable. Photo: Lisa Ketcham

In May the Chapter appealed San Mateo County’s approval of the “Big Wave” Project to the California Coastal Commission. The Committee for Green Foothills and three other organizations joined the appeal. Since then, the Coastal Commission has notified the developers that the project is fundamentally inconsistent with the Coastal Act and the San Mateo County Local Coastal Plan (LCP).

The Big Wave project proposes eight huge mixed-use office buildings, totaling 225,000 square feet - the equivalent of five Wal-Marts - and housing for 50 developmentally disabled adults and 20 caregivers, next to the Pillar Point Marsh. The proposed office/commercial/ warehouse buildings would double the amount of commercial space in the Half Moon Bay area, at a time when vacancy rates remain stubbornly high. The waterfront industrial zoning does not allow housing of any kind.

The project has raised widespread opposition from the very beginning because of its inappropriate location, size, and environmental impacts. Specific concerns include hazards to disabled residents, who would be living within a tsunami inundation area, adjacent to an active fault line, and dangerously close to the Half Moon Bay Airport runway. Environmental concerns include impacts from this intensive development on habitats for endangered species in the Pillar Point Marsh, visual impacts of the project’s massive 46-foot-high buildings, and 2200 additional vehicles per day choking the area’s narrow streets and intersections.

Citing inconsistencies with zoning requirements and hazards policies, Coastal Commission staff has strongly recommended that the developer revise the project to conform to the LCP or relocate the housing component to a more suitable site. Commission staff also requested more information regarding aesthetics, utilities, sea-level-rise hazards, geologic hazards, traffic and public access, airport compatibility, and sensitive habitats in the area. Although the staff does not decide issues, these staff actions are red flags indicating that there are serious problems with the project.

Separate appeals have been filed with the Coastal Commission by the Montara Water and Sanitary District, the Granada Sanitary District, and two members of the Coastal Commission. The appeals are based on the project’s lack of conformity with numerous zoning, General Plan, and Local Coastal Plan policies.

Legal challenges to the Environmental Impact Report have also been filed by Committee for Green Foothills, Montara Water and Sanitary District, and Granada Sanitary District, which cite numerous deficiencies in its analysis of the project.

The developer, Big Wave LLC, touts its project as “green,” with proposed restoration of wetlands and LEED certified buildings. Opponents point out that if wetlands on the property had not been destroyed by “predevelopment farming,” restoration would not be necessary, and no matter how “green” a project may claim to be, if it is in the wrong location, it is not green.

No date has yet been set for public hearings on the appeals at the Coastal Commission. The Chapter and other appellants continue to be interested in working with the Big Wave proponents to find a more appropriate location for the proposed housing.

Lennie Roberts is the San Mateo County Legislative Advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills.