OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez.
Maybe if I were herding kittens, or were in charge of the Chinese Communist Party, I would have run the Connect The Coastside (CTC) meeting last weekend just the way the County did. But I’m a resident who wants necessary solutions at a fair price, and not a bureaucratic boondoggle. I apologize that this article will require thinking. To hold your interest, let’s break things up into sections:
- Define the real problems,
- Review the fatal flaws with the CTC,
- Expose the County’s Mind Control games,
- and finally, Assess the implications for action.
The Real Problems:
Traffic. Too much of it, all the time. Also, the extreme vulnerability of Coastside residents to natural disasters: fire, tsunami, earthquake, and the escape therefrom. Like when CalTrans closed the Tunnel for days when there was no power for the fans that are never used because we have, like, wind out here. Dangerous bureaucratic incompetence which will cost lives.
Population: More residences and ADU’s mean more people and more people mean more traffic, less water and open space per person, and more burden on all infrastructure.
And Visitors. The increase from 2 to 3 million a year in coastal visitors projected down in HMB is already apparent to those of us near the beaches and the tunnel that makes it safer and easier for visitors to enjoy the Coast with us. It’s their right, endorsed by the State, to do so. It does mean we residents have to Shelter In Place on every good weather or holiday weekend from March through November though. And it means that we won’t be able to reach safety during the next natural disaster.
Now those are OUR problems. There are some other problems the County authorities face.
Money at Risk: The county granted $5.5 million in non-recourse loans to a $2 billion “non-profit” named Mid-Pen so they’d cram 200-300 people into a polluted former Navy site to be called Cypress Point. Of course, the site has asbestos and high lead levels, will be accessed by an extremely narrow no-shoulder road, and will tie traffic in knots and put neighborhood kids at risk walking. Then there’s the risk to water supply and sewer systems. Oops. That will be OUR problem.
Reputation at Risk: The County gets brownie points for building “Affordable” housing. It’s a state mandate to keep adding population to a state without enough water as we enter the next mega-drought. Also, Supv. Don Horsley doesn’t want to get yelled at in any more public meetings, so he hired consultants allowing County staff to avoid rambunctious citizens in order to get these housing projects shoe-horned in by upgrading the road system – even though the traffic study showed problems that would NOT be fixed.
Financial Disaster: The County had a $3.5 billion pension liability, last I looked, before the stock market crashed. In addition, COVID-19 has thrown the economy into a tailspin, and likely eroded the reserves of every government agency around. But the County wants to plunge ahead, tantalizing residents and visitors with a vision of the Big, Bright, Beautiful tomorrow they’ll build “us” for $150 million.
Funding: Of course, they don’t know where to get the money for this – except for $15.7 million to be paid by “new joiners” (maybe, while the county carries debt in the meantime). For the rest, the County plans to get money from the “fair share” YOU, dear resident, will have added to your tax bill (estimated at $5,978.83 per household for new joiners – not specified for residents) – and any grants they can get at state or federal levels. Residents are already upset about paying increased rates for essential water and sewer systems; how are they going to enjoy paying more taxes for sidewalks and biking trails and traffic controls which slow them down? But the County is not going to spend its money, it’s going to spend Someone Else’s money, and that’s YOURS dear taxpayer. The idea that the Federal government will have funds for discretionary projects like these, as green as they may be, is nonsense on stilts – with more essential infrastructure crumbling all over the nation, plus a Climate Crisis.
Priorities: Based on current local resident comments, what we really need here are: more health care clinics/hospitals, a reliable sewer system, a fully funded water system, improved school facilities, etc.. It would seem $150 million could make a dent in some of THESE priorities, leaving traffic until after we have time to assess the COVID-19 effect.
The Fatal Flaws:
COVID-19: It may have decimated the economy, but it has solved the traffic problem – except for the visitor part. They’re still coming. But we could be witnessing a cultural shift of working remotely which will permanently reduce commuter traffic Coastside. It sure is reduced now. We’ll have to wait a couple of years to know for sure. The current CTC was based on outdated 2014 traffic data conducted by a discredited consulting firm in the pocket of the county. The County didn’t even conduct a peer review on a traffic study leading to $150 million in proposed expenses. When residents paid for a Peer Review of the CTC traffic study, it surfaced glaring flaws in the DKS work product. We need new, relevant data to made the correct decisions.
The Real Problem is the Newcomers: Reduced resident traffic is going to make it obvious that the existing traffic controls are adequate, if not ideal. It will make it obvious that increased visitor traffic, more ADU’s, and high density residential complexes are the real causes of any traffic “tipping point” which is going to need to be solved. And that should make it obvious that our “fair share” of any costs to mitigate that traffic is ZERO, and the visitors and newcomers should pay the full cost for any enhancements. However, growth almost never pays for itself, as evidenced by state, county and local debt in almost every jurisdiction nationwide. The costs are passed on to taxpayers while the profits are taken by the real estate and financial services firms creating the crowding.
Half Moon Bay Just Dropped Out: At the meeting, County staff announced that Half Moon Bay, at its request, was withdrawn from the CTC plan. The January draft had about $12 million for two roundabouts on Hwy 92. How can you plan a transportation system that leaves out the major source and destination of traffic Mid-Coast?
A Voice and A Choice: Sure, better trails and road safety improvements will benefit some residents. But you’re not being given the costs up front, so you can decide whether you’d vote for those additions at those costs. A whole bunch of ‘stuff’ is being combined into a $150 million package without telling YOU what YOU will have to pay for your “fair share”. This project smacks of career bureaucrats taking a valid initiative, mandated by the Calif. Coastal Commission, and turning it into career-inflating boondoggles well beyond the scope of the CCC’s requirements. To that point, in 2016 the MCC wrote the county regarding well-considered actions which can be taken to improve land use: citing three policy changes that cost very little and would avoid future population distress, including lot merger & retirement programs. At least the 1/15/20 CTC draft did acknowledge that a full build-out was impossible, and accepted some of those policy proposals, but it seems the County is prioritizing spending money over changing policy.
Mind Control and Voter Suppression
Now, back to those Kittens. The county hired consultants to “engage the community” and “facilitate the meetings”. Members of the MCC saw the manipulation coming. Some warned we were being gamed or channeled. They couldn’t understand a valid purpose for the smooth PR consultants, nor for their process. And sure enough, it was on full display at last Saturday’s CTC meeting. Other participants noted that there were 62 to 64 attendees and OVER HALF were County officials or consultants. A pro from Stanford – together with county staff – consumed much of the time presenting an updated version of the plan, and announced HMB had backed out. With no discussion of that incredibly major fact. She led polls with questions THEY wanted to speak to, rather than letting residents raise points. Then they transitioned attendees into ‘breakout groups’ where citizens were isolated and could not hear the issues raised in other groups. And they again consumed (wasted) a great piece of that breakout time with procedural rules, county-directed polls, and introductions. I got to speak for under two minutes and – unlike an in-person meeting – had zero dialog with others. There were two (2) other citizens in my session – along with 3 county officials and facilitators. Elected members of the MCC, whose views were likely recognized in advance from prior meetings, were shunted into “breakout groups” where they were the ONLY citizen among a bunch of county staff and facilitators, or one of only TWO. My comments were NOT typed in the on-screen record during the meeting, and in spite of the HMB Review report that “Faulkner sent out a survey to participants as an additional opportunity to share thoughts on the meeting format and on the plan itself.” – I never got a transcript of any feedback, and I never got that survey – though I did receive a public notice of the next meeting.
The smooth Stanford mind control expert who herded the cats said “it was designed to maximize public participation and discussion and that breakout sessions were not recorded to make participants feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.” The first half of that sentence is a lie: it was designed to MINIMIZE residents voicing concerns. And the second half of that sentence is precisely the opposite of what we the public want. We want to learn from the comments of others, in real time. The County is NOT going to share a transcript until ALL meetings are completed, so we don’t have time to band together on specific points before the NEXT meeting – where we could then raise concerns and objections. The entire design of the process serves to suppress your voice, and quell dissent.
If you want an example of an open Zoom public meeting, look no further than last night’s MWSD rate increase hearing/protest. It had even more citizens, and much less staff. It was contentious and 5 hours long. But it was honest feedback and real education. Minds were changed among both the Board and public. Messy, but real.
I’ve been in facilitated workshops before, in large rooms with up to 100 attendees from many departments of multiple organizations. Rooms with wall-to-wall white boards, covered in sticky posts and filled with flip charts, where a mere two (2) facilitators took up to two DAYS to gather constructive input and either build a consensus, or document issues for further research and resolution. Those sessions were about REAL fact-finding, problem-solving, and plan development. Those sessions addressed major projects where the daily operational lifeblood of the organizations involved was going to be impacted. And those sessions, with the participatory processes which followed, led to successful company mergers, or installation of revolutionary new computer systems. It is no less critical when our open space, traffic, water and sewer systems – our very quality of life on the Coast – is involved, to have real participation and problem-solving. The last CTC meeting, and I suspect the following meetings, are the equivalent of a show trial in a totalitarian dictatorship.
You remember Horsley’s MCC comments that he didn’t want to get shouted at, and wanted to get these projects going? Well, the new total mind control solution is giving him that. The MCC requested that the County hold off on the project until COVID-19 had receded to the time where we could have in-person meetings. And of course, the traffic and financial impacts of the virus also tell us to wait. But the County is plunging ahead, in spite of resident/taxpayer requests for a more visible, participatory process. They are hiding in plain sight, and then they are going to claim they’ve ‘gathered and responded to Community input’. NO, they pushed the agenda that the County staff (and campaign contributors?) wanted.
At least two things are going on here: both monied and bureaucratic interests have combined to push for more population density on the Mid-Coast. They realize that the traffic situation after adding dense projects would be untenable. And they know they’ll face local opposition to those projects. So, they’re using Mind Control Techniques to suppress resident voices – not ‘participation’, but voices. The County doesn’t want to assess the full cost of the many required mitigations – which will otherwise overload our entire infrastructure – to JUST the new projects . So, they’re trying to sugar coat their over-population power play in million$ of feel-good transportation projects and get residents to swallow a bitter pill of cost and inconvenience without noticing that the medicine tastes bad.
I can write articles all day, but they don’t mean anything if people don’t agree, and agree help to motivate our elected officials to change. Here are some thoughts about what we could do, and I welcome your comments on the appropriateness of these, and other actions you may suggest:
1. Attend the next CTC citizen review meetings. Speak your mind, if they give you a chance and unmute you. And if you find yourself channeled and railroaded, report back here. Here are the next ZOOM virtual meetings:
Montara & Moss Beach Focused Meeting
Monday June 15th, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Register at https://smcgov.zoom.us/j/97338364187
Princeton, El Granada, & Miramar Focused Meeting
Thursday June 25th, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Register at https://smcgov.zoom.us/j/99738401567
2.Demand publication of an updated plan – one not yet visible on the CTC website – with explanation in advance of the costs and fees/taxes to be borne by both Coastside and all County residents and taxpayers, and a detailed rationale thereof. Demand an explanation of why HMB can be LEFT OUT of a “Coastside” traffic plan. Demand a delay to any projects related to CTC until: a) a new traffic study, post-COVID, substantiates the current problems, and ISOLATES the incremental impacts of new population expansions and Visitors on our traffic infrastructure, and b) until the costs and funding sources for each CTC project are finalized and put up for citizen review. Perhaps, demand a ballot measure on the completed CTC before any monies are wasted.
3. Sign a Petition supporting measures you believe are required (examples above), and suggest here what other measures you believe are required for a viable CTC plan. I will find a way to draft and distribute such a petition if we have sufficient community support.
4. Write the MCC with your concerns about CTC, or just post a link to this article if you support its position. MCC council member emails can be found HERE.
5. Write EVERY member of the SMC Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commissioner, the County Manager, and/or the Transportation Planner with your concerns. Write State Senator Hill; write to the Coastal Commission. I suspect people in other areas of the County would find ways to spend $150 million, if given the chance, and the other Supervisors would like to know if you feel that money is not a priority here. Their emails are in this footnote 
6. Your Ideas Here: Suggest other actions
All over the country, people are standing up for what they believe is right and just. There is no reason we here Coastside have to lay down and take what the County wants to burden us with. Help shape our future, properly.
County unfunded pension liability
San Mateo County Pension Liability: https://www.pensiontracker.org/agencyViewDetails.php?id=559
The lack of comprehensive County financial impact assessments in advance of approval of major projects is a long-standing failure of County financial management and fiduciary responsibility. It allows money to be spent and get things going to the benefit of monied and special interests, without providing accountability and controls for the broader impacts on residents. Then they pretend to wake up and tell you they have to raise your taxes to pay for the school, transportation, or public works infrastructure they just overloaded. It doesn’t have to be this way – there is a process for Sustainable Development followed in European countries – heck, even in Vermont for the past 50 years – which brings together disparate agencies for an holistic view PRIOR TO project approval. But hold on, that will be another article.
The CTC plan on their website still has the Jan. 15th version with HMB items in it. The slides at the meeting had changes not yet shown here.
Supervisor Dave Pine
Supervisor Carole Groom
Supervisor Don Horsley
Supervisor Warren Slocum
Supervisor David Canepa
Phone: (650) 363-4572
County Manager: Mike Callagy
CTC Planning Manager: Joe LaClair
Phone: (650) 363-1865
State Senator Jerry Hill < who has been responsive to Coastside issues, like Hwy falling apart.
Phone: (650) 212-3313
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin
Phone: (650) 349-2200
His Email link (click)
Table 26 on page 79 of the Jan. 15, 2020 draft of the CTC.
Mr. Dieguez is a semi-successful, semi-retired MIT entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy in the Coastside. He lives in Montara. He loves to respond to comments.