Publication Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004
More hearings set on open space district expansion
More hearings set on open space district expansion
(March 17, 2004)
By Marion Softky
Almanac Staff Writer
The strident debate over whether the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District can expand its activities to protect open space in 220 square miles of the San Mateo County Coastside will continue through at least two more public hearings until well into April.
Confronted with a volatile crowd of close to 200 people in Half Moon Bay on March 9, and 91 requests to speak, San Mateo County's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) backed off. It decided to prolong the hearing process to allow more discussion before it decides the controversial issue.
LAFCo Commissioner Rich Gordon, also a county supervisor, suggested another hearing on the coast, and then a further hearing in Redwood City. "It will give us additional time to work with staff," he said.
LAFCo, a county agency that rules on changes in local government boundaries, will hold its next public hearing Wednesday, March 17 at 2:30, p.m. in the Supervisors Chambers, 400 County Center (corner of Bradford Street and Hamilton Avenue) in Redwood City.
Mid-Pen -- as it is called on the coast -- has been building a case for its Coastal Protection Program for the last six years, with committees, meetings, and an advisory vote in the new area -- which came out favorable, except for parts of the South Coast.
Founded in 1972 in Santa Clara County, the open space district has acquired and protected almost 50,000 acres of land on the Bayfront, in the foothills, and in the mountains, from San Carlos to Los Gatos. Land once planned for subdivisions and development now is permanently protected for open space, habitat and natural resources, agriculture, and low-intensity recreation.
The proposed Coastal Protection Program would allow Mid-Pen to operate in a similar manner to help prevent sprawl and inappropriate development on the coast. The proposal would expand district boundaries by 140,000 acres west to the Pacific Ocean, from the southern boundary of Pacifica to the Santa Cruz County line. It proposes to acquire or manage close to 12,000 acres over the next 15 years, to help preserve the unique agricultural and historic heritage of the Coastside.
Support for the expansion appears to be growing on the Bay side of the district and in the Mid-Coast. Seventeen of the 19 cities in the district support it, as do many public officials and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group.
On the Midpeninsula, Redwood City, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Portola Valley and Atherton support the program. Only Menlo Park and Woodside have so far not taken a stand. The Menlo Park City Council did not think it knew enough about the issue, said Councilwoman Mickie Winkler. Woodside did not oppose the annexation, but wanted to resolve some local issues with the district.
Councilwoman Winkler has written a letter to the council requesting that the issue be put on the agenda, possibly March 23. Her most pressing concerns have been met, she said, such as pending legislation to remove the district's power to take private property, and new agreements with a local fire authority and a school district to make up in part for potential tax losses.
Coastside still seething
A major advance for the expansion came when the San Mateo County Farm Bureau endorsed it, after the district agreed to two conditions: It would sponsor legislation to eliminate the power of eminent domain in the expansion area, and it promised to work with the Farm Bureau on devising individual plans for agricultural property it acquires.
Also supporting the expansion are the City of Half Moon Bay, the Midcoast Community Council, and the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce.
The Pesdcadero Municipal Advisory Council still opposes annexation. "We are not threatened by overdevelopment. We are already overrun by open space," said member Meg Delano at last week's hearing.
While some of their concerns are being met, many of the people who live in the forests and canyons and terraces of the Coastside still feel threatened by another government agency, no matter how benign it claims to be, coming over the hill and exercising some influence over their lives.
Fifty-seven people spoke in Half Moon Bay March 9. Thirty-two opposed the annexation; 23 supported it; the others were neutral.
Opponents had objections ranging from perceived fire danger and influx of tourists, to loss of tax revenue, and the district's record of protecting the lands it already has. Egged on by cheers, jeers and applause, many were purely emotional.
"You're violating the Constitutional rights of people who own private property," charged Mario Pellegrini of El Granada. "You're taking away not only my land, but my freedom."
Andy Kallman of Montara countered that any claim the district will take over land is wrong. "This is not straight talk," he said. "The district is not a governing body. It only administers land it owns."
On Wednesday, March 17, LAFCo will continue the public hearing on expansion of the open space district to the coast. The hearing is set to start at 2:30 p.m. at 400 County Center (corner of Hamilton Avenue and Bradford Street) in Redwood City.
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