By Samantha Weigel, Daily Journal
For the first time since its formation more than 40 years ago, the California Coastal Commission paid San Mateo County a visit to review project sites and see what Half Moon Bay, Princeton and Montara have to offer.
The 12 coastal commissioners along with staff and San Mateo County supervisors Don Horsley and Carole Groom, who is also a coastal commissioner, joined the public Wednesday to tour the Montara Lighthouse Hostel, the Princeton shoreline, Surfer’s Beach just south of Pillar Point Harbor, the proposed Big Wave housing development site and the new Devil’s Slide recreational trail.
Founded after the passage of the California Coastal Act in 1976, the commission is a state agency that seeks to protect coastal access and resources while providing development and planning oversight.
The commission takes field trips to various sites several times a year and Wednesday provided an opportunity to see project sites that will require permits, and take note of some of the recreational resources the commission seeks to promote, Groom said.
“We often have field trips when we’re in various places, especially if it’s kind of a new place for the Coastal Commission to visit and if there are places of particular interest that the commission may be taking up in the future, it’s always good to take a look at them,” Groom said. “I thought it was fabulous, we could share what a beautiful coastline we have and how we’ve really protected it, kept it clean, kept it active. And everyone enjoyed their visit here, they really did.”
Protecting the coastline
The county, Half Moon Bay and Caltrans are working on a joint project to protect Highway 1 from coastal erosion at Surfer’s Beach and create a connection of the fragmented coastal trail.
“It’s always helpful to have the decision makers at the Coastal Commission actually see the projects they will be voting on. The Surfer’s Beach project, for example, is crucial to the safety, quality of life and recreational resources of our coast,” Horsley wrote in an email. “Without repair, Highway 1 will inevitably fail at that point and become a regional catastrophe. It is immensely helpful for coastal commissioners to see the seriousness of the situation firsthand.”
The project seeks to restore the current seawall, build a stairwell for safe access from the road down to the beach and repair about 400 feet of the coastal trail just north of Coronado Street. The effort will require various permitting, including approval from the Coastal Commission.
Ongoing projects for review
Horsley is also heavily involved in Plan Princeton, a comprehensive update covering land use, policies and standards for the coastal community between Pillar Point Harbor and Moss Beach.
“[We] took a good hard look at the harbor. Don is working on the Princeton forward plan and it’s a good time for them to see because it’ll come to the Coastal Commission eventually,” Groom said. “The Princeton harbor is a beautiful little neighborhood and could be even better and I think everyone’s excited about the Princeton forward plan.”
Development along the coast and in environmentally protected areas can be strictly regulated by numerous state agencies. One of the commission’s visits was to the Big Wave site where a controversial mixed-use development has been proposed. The 20-acre agricultural and wetlands location north of the harbor on Airport Street is being sought for housing for developmentally disabled adults as well as commercial and office space.
The Board of Supervisors approved the project in 2011 but was ultimately appealed to and shot down by the Coastal Commission in 2012.
Now, a scaled down version of the project is being proposed and could ultimately return to the commission, Groom said.
“It’s coming back at sort of a junior size, smaller version and that was just to refresh their memories and they’d never seen the site,” Groom said. “It has to make its way through the Planning Commission, but if someone appeals it, it’ll come through the Board of Supervisors and could be appealed to the Coastal Commission.”
The Montara Lighthouse off Highway 1 served as an excellent example of ways to provide low-cost recreational coastal opportunities, Groom said.
“A very important part of the Coastal Act is that there be low-cost visitor services and obviously a hostel is one way to do low-cost visitor lodging,” Groom said. “And we’re having a workshop at the December [commission] meeting to discuss low cost, so it was a perfect time.”
The commission also visited the Devil’s Slide trail, which opened in March after the completion of the Tom Lantos Tunnel, and provides a 1.3-mile stretch of pristine coastal views and is the county’s newest park.
“It’s a lot easier to discuss and vote on things when you’ve actually seen them. Google Maps and photos are really good these days, but it’s always nice to visit things in person and there’s 12 people and they’re from different parts of the state,” Groom said. “It was wonderful to have the Coastal Commission meet here. I think it was great. We showed the coast off and everybody enjoyed themselves.”