The Oct. 19 public hearing, where an ill-conceived development of eight condominiums on Monterey Road, known as Vista Mar, was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission, tells us clearly not to waste our time thinking about the city of Pacifica’s General Plan.
Neighbor opposition to this project is fierce because it is on a very steep site (52 percent slope) and will pave over a wetland and remove 57 trees, six of them heritage. The hillside has experienced 10 documented landslides, four of them on the property. The dangers of subsequent landslides and flooding are great, especially given the inadequate city stormwater infrastructure here where Hickey Boulevard and Monterey Road converge.
The 1980 General Plan has very specific requirements for this part of Pacifica:
“A large steep area along Monterey Road … has been planned and zoned for low density residential development. Each site proposed for development should have a thorough geotechnical investigation. In recognition of the high visibility of the area, innovative design solutions should be proposed which minimize height, building mass, and retaining walls to the extent feasible.”
It quickly became clear that neither the city planning staff, planning director nor the Planning Commission bother to consider consistency with the city’s general plan in their review. No thorough geotechnical review was done, and the buildings will tower at the maximum height of 35 feet on top of an additional 18 feet of fill for a total of 57 feet rise above the street. Massing will dwarf existing homes in the area, yet the Planning Department did not even require an overall front elevation drawing of the project. A literal sea of retaining walls is proposed, some over the 3-foot maximum height allowed in the front setback, others visible from the road, towering 20 feet high between the buildings with another 26 feet of stepped walls behind them. Grotesque amounts of grading and soil removal are proposed, basically eradicating the natural topography. Does this meet the General Plan? Compliance was not even discussed at Monday’s hearing.
Planning staff, commission and council members who reviewed a very similar project on the site proposed by the same applicant, Javier Chaverria, in 1991 adamantly said “no.” The General Plan is the same. What appears to be different today is the undue influence that developers and the San Mateo County Association of Realtors have had on our planning staff, City Council and Planning Commission in these 30 years.
Our current General Plan is 40 years old. Updates for more sustainable development were proposed back in 2014, but stalled due to opposition, mostly from these same pro-development groups.
It is time to take back our city for Pacifica residents. Please support the neighbors fighting this project as we appeal to the City Council, and please take the time to research council candidates and who endorses them. I encourage you to consider voting for Mayra Espinosa (District 1) and Marj Davis (District 4).
Christine Boles is an architect in Pacifica and a member of the Vista Mar Preservation Alliance.