OWN VOICE DISCUSSION.
[NOTE: What is a General Plan?
A General Plan and its elements are the guiding standards on which a city must base its land use and development decisions.
Pacifica’s general plan is woefully out of date, with some elements dating to the 1980’s and some in conflict with each other. The Safety element, which determines whether a development or land-use decision is safe in case of fire, flooding, and earthquakes, has not been updated since 1983 when landslides across Pacifica resulted in extensive destruction and loss of life.]
John Kontrabecki, CEO of the out-of-town development corporation behind the Vista Mar project, in his comment here on January 15, is mischaracterizing the Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan (CPUP) as well as the CEQA litigation against this project. His vision is to stuff eight 3-story luxury condos on 1.2 acres with an average 52 percent steep slope, wiping out a mature forest and evidence of a wetland, all while the city is using standards and data from more than 40 years ago to approve it.
Furthermore, as CPUP’s lawsuit argues, the city goes against its own policies that call for minimal use of retaining walls (Vista Mar proposes more than 3,000 feet of retaining walls, with some combining to be more than 20 feet high) and thorough geotechnical review (only two borings were done in 2002 for the study). Surrounding cities do not allow development to disturb a property with more than 30 percent slope.
Kontrabecki’s argument that not much has changed in Pacifica since 1980 is far-fetched. Just a few examples: In 2017, the city had to pay to demolish re-tagged apartment buildings at 310 Esplanade before they collapsed into the ocean. The Pacifica General Plan doesn’t even show the Tom Lantos/Devil’s Slide tunnels completed in 2013 on its maps. In 1982, a landslide tragically killed three young Pacificans. Climate change has only fueled and increased these risks.
Safety and conservation are not abstract concepts for Pacificans who want to know the stability of the hillside above them, the conditions of their sewage systems, and whether we can count on affordable and safe drinking water as we expand. It is important to know if our neighborhood is at high risk for fire or flood (certainly insurance providers will know if the city doesn’t tell you). Pacificans are entitled to a government that identifies and protects against risks to our safety and welfare.
It is in the best interest of all Pacificans that any development decision follows CEQA and land use law. And the law is quite clear:
(1) Analysis cannot be deferred until after project approval, no matter how amazing a developer promises that analysis will be.
The reason is simple: You can’t un-disturb a precarious hillside. You can’t reverse a wetland’s destruction once bulldozers have driven over it. Sure, one can label wetlands as “drainage swales,” call landslides “superficial debris flows,” or a forest “saplings,” but experts in four different fields provided testimony that Vista Mar would have potentially adverse impacts and therefore an Environmental Impact Report is called for. See CEQA Guideline 15064(a)(1).
(2) The Pacifica General Plan is 40 years old.
State Senate Bill 379 requires that after 2009, in updating its housing element, a city must also update safety and conservation elements to address climate change issues such as flooding risks. The City of Pacifica has not complied with this requirement. The California Supreme Court stated that there is an implied duty to keep the General Plan current. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research must notify a city that its general plan has not been revised within eight years and must notify the California Attorney General if a city has not revised its general plan in 10 years. See also Government Code Section 65103 (a) and Devita, 9 Cal. 4th at 792.
Pacifica historically has been one of the most affordable cities in the Bay Area, where housing prices were accessible compared to surrounding cities. Pacifica’s dreams were never in making housing prices skyrocket by way of soulless gentrification — which has never taken hold since the city was founded, like it or not. Nor does Pacifica dream in images of urban sprawl and big-box stores. Instead, the Pacifica city website advertises clear views toward a clean ocean and open natural spaces. People come to Pacifica to enjoy our natural resources, the beaches, the wildlife, the trails, the open spaces. And yet, for a vocal minority, economic revitalization remains the false promise for development whose numbers never add up — the truth is that new development saddles the city with infrastructure costs (sewage, utilities, street maintenance, public works salaries, etc.) many times more than it provides in tax revenue.
The law compels the city to understand and protect the safety, welfare, and resources of Pacifica for all Pacificans first and foremost. You can help by donating to CPUP at http://www.cpup.org.
~ Summer Lee, Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan (CPUP)
You can help by donating to CPUP at http://www.cpup.org.
JANUARY 21, 2021
Pacificans Sue the City of Pacifica Over Violation of CEQA and California’s Planning and Land Use Laws
DECEMBER 21, 2020