We have worked to protect this coastside jewel from inappropriate development for more than 25 years. These 2.4-acres of coastal prairie in Moss Beach host rare plants and provide spectacular views of cliffs and intertidal reefs that are enticing to developers. In 2016, in response to pressure from Committee for Green Foothills and others, Vallemar Bluffs landowners agreed to build only four of six planned homes on seven lots, and to fund habitat restoration on the remaining three lots. These changes preserve much of Vallemar Bluffs’ coastal prairie habitat, scenic views and public access. We continue our vigilance to ensure enforcement of these permanent protections.
A Long History of Debate
For decades these idyllic bluffs have been at the center of debate between developers, neighbors and environmentalists. Several attempts to build there before the early 2000s were unsuccessful mainly due to a lack of access to water. When land use consultant Owen Lawlor submitted plans in late 2015 on behalf of Moss Beach Associates, LLC to build six homes atop Vallemar Bluffs, we immediately expressed our concerns to county planners. The bluff top was divided into seven lots by the county in 1990, a move that has been criticized by Committee for Green Foothills and others for possibly violating zoning requirements. Our concerns about the proposed development, for which we urged the county to require an environmental impact report, included harm to rare coastal prairie, proximity to eroding cliffs and obstructed views. Our voice in opposition to the development was joined by many others participating in standing-room-only public meetings about the proposal.
Coastal prairie is the most species-rich grassland in North America, and one of the most endangered. Its unique palette of native grasses, sedges, rushes and wildflowers evolved over millions of years to thrive in coastal areas with summer fog. Committee for Green Foothills has been pushing for the permanent protection of all coastal prairie on Vallemar Bluffs, home to four rare plants including one found nowhere else on earth. Botanist Alice Eastwood first identified the coast yellow leptosiphon blooming across acres of coastal prairie in Moss Beach in the early 1900s. Today, the bright yellow wildflower is only found clinging to the edge of Vallemar Bluffs. On December 8, 2016 the California Fish and Game Commission approved the coast yellow leptosiphon as an official candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. With developers promising restoration of Vallemar Bluffs’ coastal prairie in their revised plans, our attention shifts to whether the management and monitoring of this rare habitat will be adequately funded and enforced.
Vallemar Bluffs are perched along the dynamic edge of land and sea where erosion is inevitable, particularly in a time of climate change with rising sea levels and stronger storms. San Mateo County’s Local Coastal Program and the California Coastal Commission require new development to be set back far enough to avoid projected bluff erosion. The developer’s consultants estimated Vallemar Bluffs could erode 28 feet over the next 50 years. Committee for Green Foothills’ independent evaluation found it could be twice this distance, with accelerated erosion due to sea level rise and wave run-up over time. As a result, Committee for Green Foothills and the Midcoast Community Council both recommended the proposed homes be set back even further from the ocean, near existing roadways. We were gratified by the developer’s agreement to our recommendations. Vallemar Bluffs are an example of how Committee for Green Foothills’ decades of diligence and pro-active engagement with receptive applicants help shape appropriate development while preserving precious open space and natural resources.