Normally, the big waves that draw crowds to the San Mateo County coast are those breaking offshore. But at the county Planning Commission hearing on Nov. 17, more than 250 area residents turned out to support or protest the “Big Wave” development that could rise not far from the famous surfing mecca known as Mavericks.
“This is one of the biggest projects that’s ever come before the commission, and it really deserves deliberation,” Commissioner Gail Slocum said of the 300,000-square-foot development proposed for a site bordering sensitive marshland near the Half Moon Bay Airport.
Development on the coast has long been a contentious issue, and the larger-than-ordinary size and scale of this project resulted in a five-hour, often-heated hearing at El Granada Elementary School. Roughly 70 people spoke either in favor of the potential office park and wellness center for developmentally disabled adults, or in opposition to the traffic, environmental degradation and airport conflicts they fear the project could bring.
The Planning Commission held the evening hearing to consider public comments on a recently completed Environmental Impact Report. Commissioners had intended to vote on whether to certify the report, an assessment of possible changes and impacts to the ecosystem and community that California requires of major projects. But as midnight approached and the crowd thinned, they decided to postpone a decision, scheduling a special meeting for Nov. 23.
The commission also must decide whether or not to issue a number of permits and approve a development agreement. Project planner Camille Leung said San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors and possibly the state Coastal Commission are likely to have the final say, because the planning board’s actions can be appealed.
A narrow majority of speakers at the hearing supported the Big Wave project, focusing on the need for coast-side housing for the developmentally disabled and emphasizing plans to restore wetlands, create an organic garden and recycle waste water.
The supporters included families with developmentally disabled children. “We designed the wellness center to provide meaningful lives for our … children,” said Jeff Peck, property owner and project co-developer. He is also president of the nonprofit Big Wave Group and father of a daughter with disabilities. Some supporters accused the detractors of harboring a “not in my backyard” attitude toward the project.
Many residents of neighboring communities, such as Pillar Ridge and Seal Cove, expressed concern that the multi-story buildings would impact both the marshland and their views. Perhaps a bigger concern was the traffic that the office complex, with its 640-space parking lot, would attract to an area already suffering from traffic jams.
The local conservation nonprofit, the Committee for Green Foothills, emphasized that it has supported affordable housing developments in the past, but criticized Big Wave in its current incarnation. The group’s legislative advocate, Lennie Roberts, raised concerns that the project was zoned incorrectly, and that many elements such as the water and parking systems hadn’t been properly thought out.
Like others, she said that the “real gorilla” was not the wellness center for the disabled, but the giant office space.
“I can understand the appeal and I think there’s a project there somewhere,” Roberts said in a later interview, “but I think they could scale it back.”
Pilots from the nearby Half Moon Bay Airport also worried that the project would conflict with the area’s zoning, create safety problems and compromising the airport’s ability to receive future funding.