The California Coastal Commission did the right thing last week when it voted down the Big Wave development project. (See story, 1A.) Now it’s time for the rest of us to do the right thing. Now it’s time for all of us to work together and find affordable living arrangements for people like Mathew Cadigan-Hearn and Elizabeth Peck and Devon Yoshimine and Harrison Mahler.
All of them spoke their minds before the Coastal Commission and a packed, hushed house in the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors chambers on Aug. 8. It was heart-wrenching testimony that took place over several hours and you could not hear it without being moved.
It was an intimidating venue for anyone, but Cadigan-Hearn, Peck, Yoshimine, Mahler and a half-dozen others with developmental disabilities spoke eloquently about a project they see as necessary for them to continue to live full lives on the San Mateo County coast. Many of their parents worried openly about what would happen to their loved ones once they weren’t able to care for them. They wondered why there was land for luxury hotels on the coast, but not for a project that, in part, would provide housing for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Good question.
The truth is Big Wave was doomed from the start. It was too big, too speculative and just plain too audacious to have ever survived the realities of Coastside politics. It lacked the support of local water and wastewater agencies, it was in the tsunami inundation zone, and it was bigger than any similar commercial project for miles around. None of that excuses the truly hurtful suggestion that Big Wave proponents were using their children’s problems as camouflage for a moneymaking scheme. What a terrible thing to suggest. In this instance, some of our leading citizens used “environmentalism” as a shroud that barely hid their own ugly nature.
So, what now? In the wake of another bitter Coastside land-use fight, what have we learned this time?
For one thing, that San Mateo County and the Coastal Commission are miles apart on strategies of development and coastal protection. How can one body unanimously approve the project while another unanimously rejects it — when both are supposedly using the same criteria? What an incredible waste of precious tax dollars and supposed expertise.
But more important than that, what is the answer for Coastsiders like Mahler, Yoshimine, Peck and Cadigan-Hearn? People on both sides of the Big Wave battle said they would support affordable housing on the coast for adults with developmental disabilities. So let’s put as much energy into that positive outcome as we did grousing about a patch of dirt behind the airport.
Imagine what could be done if the same representatives of the Sierra Club and the Committee for Green Foothills got together with staff from San Mateo County and the Coastal Commission to identify property that would be perfect for such a housing complex. What if they held a joint fundraiser of some sort? What if the county waived some permitting fees and moved the project ahead of other more crass development? What if someone in a position to make things happen finally stood up and did the right thing — instead of the usual thing?
I know. That’s not the way it normally works. Normally, we ignore the Mahlers and the Yoshimines and the Pecks and the Cadigan-Hearns. We mutter, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and go about protecting our precious “viewshed.”
We can go about our business as normal. Just don’t expect to look Mathew, Elizabeth, Devon and Harrison in the eye anytime soon.
— Clay Lambert