Half Moon Bay to Acquire Open Space Along Coastal Bluff

Poplar Beach Half Moon Bay. Photo by Kevin Rohrbaugh

Green Foothills applauds the Half Moon Bay City Council which voted unanimously to purchase six vacant lots in the oceanfront area just south of Kelly Avenue known as “West of Railroad” Planned Development (PD) area. We spoke up at the Council hearing in support of the Resolution of Necessity that would allow for the purchase as it would enable the City to better manage bluff/cliff retreat, protect the area’s wetlands and other sensitive habitats, and maintain public access along the Coastal Trail.

Funding for the purchase of these lots will come from a special traffic mitigation fund required by the Coastal Commission in 2008 when it approved the 63-unit Pacific Ridge subdivision. The developer was required to pay $45,000 per new residential unit (total of $2.835 million) for the acquisition of vacant parcels to mitigate the impacts of the project’s traffic on Highways 92 and 1.

The West of Railroad area includes 145 vacant lots that were created in the early 1900’s as part of the speculative land boom spurred by the construction of the Ocean Shore Railroad.  Large tracts of land from Pacifica to Half Moon Bay were subdivided by simply laying a grid across a map without much regard for topography, site planning, safety, or other concerns.

While some of these old “paper subdivisions” in the city have already been developed, many others, including West of Railroad, remain as de facto open space.  Approximately 25% of the West of Railroad PD area is already owned by Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County and the Coastside Land Trust.  Lack of roads, sewer, water, and other utilities and multiple ownerships make development of this area’s remaining properties highly problematic.

For decades, the city’s General Plan and Local Coastal Program policies have prioritized acquisition of the West of Railroad area by a park or open space agency. Recent studies of projected sea level rise have added new urgency to acquisition of this area. Without significant mitigation of current erosion, the bluffs along this scenic part of the coast are projected to recede as much as 200 feet by 2100.

We are encouraged by the city’s first step in protecting this important area, and we hope that the Dunes Beach/Surf Beach Planned Development area can also be prioritized for protection of its agricultural lands and open space values in the near future.

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