Let them play - Year in Review

For many, 2021 was the year a new normal set in. That included a return to the classroom and playing fields for Coastside kids. Adam Pardee / Review

Every year takes on a character of its own. The year 1929 will forever be known as the start of the Great Depression. Everything about 1941 was dwarfed by what happened on Dec. 7. San Franciscans particularly remember 1967 as the Summer of Love. And 2021? Call it the Year of Our Discontent.

It began with an insurrection. Rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building before the year was even a week old. We watched the greatest threat to our democracy most of us had ever seen as if it were just another television show. We lived through months of grousing about “stolen elections” followed by video of mobs descending on suburban malls to smash store windows and grab whatever was at hand. All of this came amid a global pandemic that seemed to wax and wane, breathing in and out like a living thing. By year’s end, 800,000 Americans, including 1 in 100 people over the age of 65, had died of COVID-19. And a new variant was spreading like wildfire.

At its worst, 2021 was this bad: Congressional representatives posed with long guns for their family Christmas card portraits.

Most of that was not only over the hill but way over there. Things never seem that bad on the San Mateo County coast. Most here have been vaccinated for months and the worst of the pandemic was elsewhere. There was no looting or rioting here. There were, of course, plenty of things to grouse about.

As is our custom, we’ll leave pundits elsewhere to expound upon what 2021 meant in the larger world. We’ll confine ourselves to your hometown. Beginning on Page 3, you’ll find a dozen stories that dominated our pages throughout the year. We hope they help you remember a year that shouldn’t be forgotten.

— Clay Lambert


Ready for arms

A row of prepared COVID-19 vaccines during a vaccine clinic at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Downtown Half Moon Bay. Adam Pardee / Review

COVID-19 and vaccines

When the history books are written, and the pandemic gets the full treatment it deserves, 2020 will be the year most associated with the health crisis. That is the year the virus traveled across the globe and fear gripped the world.

But, as everyone knows, it continued to influence every aspect of human society throughout 2021. That was certainly true on the San Mateo County coast.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited “return to normalcy” was the reopening of local schools to in-person learning after what was, for many, a lost year of virtual schooling. After politicians and health officials agreed that the need for socialization and classroom learning trumped lingering fears in a generally improving health climate, the schools opened in August. They asked that students and staff wear masks and that teachers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Within a week, Cabrillo schools reported more than a dozen cases of the virus within the school community, but those cases were thought to have come from outside of the campuses themselves. And the schools soldiered on.

There were hiccups. One of Half Moon Bay High School’s football games had to be canceled when the opponent couldn’t field a team due to virus protocols. And the absentee rate was many times higher than usual. But the vast majority of people in the school communities said being together again was worth the effort and risk.

John Hawkley has his pumpkin weighed

John Hawkley of Napa, California cheers as his pumpkin is weighed at 1857 pounds giving him 3rd place at the Pumpkin Weigh Off in Half Moon Bay. Adam Pardee / Review

Hit or miss for big events

It was a roller-coaster year for fans of the traditional staple events on the coast. Most were scuttled once again due to the ongoing pandemic.

The annual Pacific Coast Dream Machines never stood a chance, coming as it usually does in the spring. Fish and Fleet, the annual celebration of all things Pillar Point Harbor, was off, along with many much smaller events at schools, churches and regular venues up and down the coast.

One bright spot was the Ol’ Fashioned Fourth of July Parade in downtown Half Moon Bay. After Gov. Gavin Newsom declared the state open for business again in June, organizers felt an entirely outdoor celebration was possible. Hundreds of people lined Main Street and the parade went off without a hitch.

Festival fans held out hope that there might be a Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. It too, after all, is an outdoor affair. The Half Moon Bay Beautification Committee let slip in the spring that a festival appeared unlikely given the risks. Then, in June, organizers said they would hold a “mini” version in October that would attempt (somehow) to hold down the crowds. In the end, the Half Moon Bay City Council had the final say. It denied a special events permit and that spelled the end of the 2021 event.

Perhaps most importantly, Miramar Events, the Coastside-based organization that has handled logistics for many festivals and fairs on the Peninsula for years, closed up shop. What this means for events like those on the coast remains to be seen.

Police reform remains an idea

The year 2020 wasn’t simply the year that a novel coronavirus upended life as we know it. It was also the beginning of a new reckoning over race in America, and that soul-searching continued on the coast throughout 2021.

In April, about 60 people participated in a virtual discussion of Coastside policing. San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos and others in the law enforcement community were on hand to answer questions, though answers sometimes proved elusive. How the local police agency interacts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, how it deals with mental health crises, how it uses lethal force remain difficult subjects and the answers are still evolving.

The city of Half Moon Bay sponsored a similar gathering in August and residents’ views were mixed. Some wanted big changes in the way deputies interact with the public and perhaps an alternative to 911 for some emergencies; others worried that any change could weaken Sheriff’s Office response and embolden criminals.

Meanwhile, the City Council considered a draft ordinance that would change the way deputies make arrests, deal with altercations and conduct traffic enforcement. However, a majority of the council was less than enthusiastic about changing the rules of engagement in the middle of the existing contract with the Sheriff’s Office. The city sent word in September that it planned to renegotiate a new contract with the Sheriff’s Office in 2022.

The City Council is also looking into a “community responder” program that could be a new resource for first responders and the community that would eliminate some of the more mundane police calls as well as those that deputies are ill-suited to handle.

Some suggested that the way to change Sheriff’s Office policy was at the ballot box, where Bolanos will be a candidate for the elected position again in June 2022.

The return continues

Monday was the first day back for students at Cabrillo elementary and middle schools. Adam Pardee / Review

Kids return to school

As the pandemic continued into a second year, many worried most about school-age children. What were they missing by not being in school, in person, with friends and teachers who could help them socialize and learn in traditional ways?

In the Cabrillo Unified School District and the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, students began returning to classrooms in April. It was a tentative, deliberate process that began with the youngest students and continued until all students were invited back in the fall.

Key for many was the availability of vaccines for school staff. By November, those vaccines were available for kids 5 to 11, and ever-more people in the school community began to make peace with a full return to school and extracurricular activities.

It hasn’t been without fits and starts. A Half Moon Bay High School football game was canceled due to COVID-19 cases at the opponent’s campus. And local schools have reported cases of the virus throughout this year.

Work to keep everyone safe evolved throughout the school year. This fall, CUSD students were tested in pools — students’ swabs tested together — in a more efficient, less costly manner. And more recently, the district outsourced its contact-tracing work.

All along, there have been troubling signs about the effects the pandemic has had on kids across the country, and specifically here on the coast. Many worry about the mental health toll the virus has brought to kids suddenly isolated for months at a time. Students surely lost some learning opportunities and fell behind in some studies. And in October, the Review reported that chronic absenteeism soared during and in the wake of virtual learning.

Making room

Accommodations haven't changed much since the former Coastside Inn operated as a private hotel. Adam Pardee / Review

A new temporary home

One of the most important stories of 2021 actually came to fruition in December 2020: the first-ever transitional housing for the unhoused on the coast.

San Mateo County purchased the 52-room Coastside Inn at 230 S. Cabrillo Highway in advance of a year-end deadline to spend federal CARES Act money. It became one of other such purchases around the county, all designed to get people off the streets and into a bed. It was also part of a larger effort to transition people from the streets to long-term housing.

The hotel, near downtown Half Moon Bay, was purchased for $8 million from KN Properties of the Coastside. It was not without controversy as some worried about public safety around the complex and others complained that the city would lose vital transient occupancy taxes from the hotel.

In February, the county and city entered into a memorandum of understanding over the operation of the facility. It suggested that the estimated 230 homeless from Pescadero to Pacifica would have priority and that the city could empower an advisory committee to comment on how it is run.

In April, the county chose LifeMoves, which already operates four shelters in the area, to manage the facility day to day. LifeMoves estimated the annual cost of running the site at $1.7 million and said it expected clients to transition out of the facility and into more permanent solutions within 120 days. LifeMoves had the endorsement of Abundant Grace, an established Half Moon Bay nonprofit that has worked with people on the coast in need of housing for a number of years.

How is it going? In December, LifeMoves reported that 19 households had left the shelter for more permanent housing.

ADA lawsuits surprise

For some local business owners, 2021 may well be best remembered for a letter from an attorney stating that they were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such cases have proliferated around the country — and not always because of blatant discrimination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to ensure that persons with disabilities are treated equally when attempting to use public accommodations. Violations of the act run the gamut from parking spaces that can’t accommodate everyone to the height of countertops.

While nearly everyone would agree that disabled people should be able to conduct business like everyone else, some don’t understand the myriad rules while others are lost in the particulars. That allows attorneys to profit from businesses that don’t meet the letter of the law.

Over the summer, several Half Moon Bay businesses were warned they needed to come up to code or face large judgments for failing to do so. According to court records, the Main Street businesses and organizations being sued included Jungletraders, Cottage Industries, Abode, Cafe Society, Half Moon Bay Bakery and the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows.

In response, the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau held a unique gathering at Mac Dutra Plaza in July to introduce an expert in ADA compliance and to brainstorm ways to accommodate disabled people, avoid lawsuits and better understand the law.

Local merchants learned that often these cases are settled for tens of thousands of dollars rather than going to court.

The prospect was a particularly difficult one for officials at the Odd Fellows Lodge, which exists to build community. The lodge has recently spent more than $500,000 on building upgrades, in part to meet ADA requirements that were never met before.

“We’ve been very supportive of (accessibility rights),” said Lodge President Joe Brennan. “So, it’s just such a crushing thing to be involved in this aspect of it.”

Point of Pride

A crowd gathered on the 700 block of Main Street in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday for the formal opening of the new CoastPride Center, which promises to be a hub of services for the LGBTQ+ community. Politicians and others spoke of the significance of the opening, which occurred on the first day of Pride Month. Adam Pardee / Review

CoastPride welcomes everyone

It’s been two years since a new organization known as CoastPride held its first fundraiser at Sacrilege Brewery on Main Street. This year the nonprofit — dedicated to improving the support, visibility and awareness of LGBTQ individuals and their families on the coast — reached a major milestone, moving into a permanent location, right across the street from that early fundraiser.

The first move was to offer support groups to people who might otherwise feel alone. It has hired its first employee, leveraging county money with its own fundraising. CoastPride has added distinguished local board members in hopes of furthering an ambitious plan of promoting inclusion on the coast.

At the end of November, the organization sponsored a series of events around World AIDS Day. Local residents offered their memories of the beginning of the epidemic and how it has affected them in the years that followed.

CoastPride was also the site of one of the more memorable scenes of a year in which so many events were canceled. In July, the new Fancy Pants Costume Shop held a grand opening that included a ticketed event to benefit CoastPride. There was a fashion show, a DJ and entertainment that went beyond the usual downtown offerings.

CCWD Drought Poster

The Coastside County Water District is considering drought-time rates that would force customers to pay more unless they conserve water during dry months. Adam Pardee / Review

A drought drags on

“Spring” was a misnomer for the usually verdant months following winter 2021.

In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put San Mateo County on a list among 50 California counties designated as a “primary natural disaster area” due to drought conditions. That same month, the California State Water Resources Control Board asked local water boards to prepare for drought impacts. The U.S. Drought Monitor listed the county as affected by “extreme drought.” Most of California was dry.

Despite ominous signs and an obvious lack of rain, the local water districts took a wait-and-see approach early. As the summer began, officials from the Coastside County Water District said they didn’t anticipate any mandatory cutbacks. That has proved prophetic so far, but there have been increasingly urgent calls for voluntary conservation. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which relegates most of the available water on the Coastside, declared a water shortage emergency in November. It called for customers to cut back by 10 percent.

At this writing, local water districts were awaiting their allotments for the remainder of the fiscal year and many were expecting less water. That could bring the lack of water to the forefront heading into 2022.

There have been a couple of silver linings. The Bay Area was largely spared another disastrous fire season this year. And an October deluge began to fill diminished reservoirs, but until late December mostly dry conditions held.

Affordable housing elusive

California’s housing crisis is nothing new, but the cries for more affordable housing reached a new crescendo in 2021.

Most of the change came from the state. Lawmakers passed a pair of bills that together promise to transform the single-family housing neighborhoods that have defined the American Dream for generations. Senate Bill 9 allows a landowner to build a duplex or subdivide property into two lots and build a maximum of four housing units on land that heretofore would only allow for one unit. Senate Bill 10 essentially waives the need for environmental reviews for some development near transportation hubs.

Cities — including Half Moon Bay — complained that the top-down state mandates stripped away local control and meant local elected officials would have little recourse against speculators overbuilding in sensitive areas.

The city made its complaint in the form of a letter to legislators despite claiming the need for affordable housing among its top priorities. In November, the City Council and Planning Commission held a lengthy discussion about housing issues and concluded that the greatest need was for low-income housing in the city. While no firm plans are in place, city leaders said they would look hard at building low-income housing on properties it already owns — at the end of Stone Pine Road and on Kelly Avenue, near the Ted Adcock Community Center.

Meanwhile, local school districts — including Cabrillo and La Honda-Pescadero — continued to discuss building staff housing on surplus property. On its face, such proposals promise to address another ongoing crisis — the fact that many teachers can not afford to live in the communities in which they work.

Terry Andreotti at the new Andreotti Farm Stand

Terry Andreotti helps customers at the new Andreotti farm stand after their century old barn burned down in February. Adam Pardee / Review

Fire damages iconic spots

Separate fires destroyed or damaged a pair of historic buildings in Half Moon Bay.

First, a spectacular blaze lit up a cold Friday night in February. Soon, the historic Andreotti barn — a structure that for some was as iconic as any other on the coast — was gone.

The fire on Kelly Street, not far from Francis State Beach, grew into a two-alarm blaze and flames could be seen from Highway 1. Eight fire engines and 35 firefighters responded, but it wasn’t enough to save the structure.

The barn was a popular stop for many. Proprietor Terry Andreotti sold local produce there and the family has been part of the local agricultural community for decades.

“The barn, it’s almost like losing a family member,” said Dawn Andreotti on Saturday morning. “It’s pretty devastating.

Two months later, an overnight fire at the San Benito House in downtown Half Moon Bay required firefighters to rescue people inside. Eleven were in the building that includes a popular deli and bar as well as the upstairs inn at the time fire broke out in an upstairs closet at 2:30 a.m. Three had to be rescued and one person suffered minor injuries.

“I pulled up and I saw two people hanging out of the window,” said Cal Fire firefighter Tom Newt on Twitter. “I immediately grabbed the ladder, threw the ladder to the window and got those people out of the building.”

The business was closed for months and the deli relocated to Shoreline Station, where loyal fans of some of the best sandwiches on the coast continued to congregate. By the end of the year, the building had been rehabilitated and the deli moved back into its old digs.

Highway 92 closed due to flooding

Highway 92 was closed at Main Street in Half Moon Bay for about 10 hours on Monday. Flooding east of the city limits, in the vicinity of La Nebbia Winery, was the main problem. Adam Pardee / Review

December brings flooding

Even amid historic drought, rain managed to create trouble on the coast. On Dec. 13, a storm originally described as relatively mild, brought torrents of rain that overtopped the banks of the Pilarcitos Creek to create havoc throughout Half Moon Bay.

The National Weather Service reported that Half Moon Bay received 4.87 inches of rain in 72 hours. That’s less than a half-inch from what the city normally receives in all December, one of the wettest months of the year.

The result was standing water in many places. Perhaps most significantly, a pond developed on Highway 92 near La Nebbia Winery causing authorities to close the east-west thoroughfare for hours. The traffic troubles were compounded by the closure of Highway 84 and Pescadero Creek Road to the south.

The rain washed through normally manageable coastal outflows like the Seymour Ditch, and the flow at Poplar Beach made the critical steps down to the beach all but impassable. It also affected area businesses in low-lying areas. The San Mateo Credit Union was swamped despite the best efforts of Coastside Fire Protection District firefighters who helped to push the water out.

The rain also was cause for alarm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where fire in 2020 left a scar that threatened to become a mudslide at any minute. Several areas of northern Santa Cruz County were evacuated for a time.

Still, most welcomed the rain. Though it didn’t come close to ending the drought, it did soak the landscape and perhaps eased the threat of wildfire … for now.

Crews inspect power lines

Crews inspect power lines heading into Pescadero recently after shutting down power to parts of the South Coast. Adam Pardee / Review

Power was on many minds

One of the features of living on the coast is dealing with regular power outages. 2021 was no different. In fact, it may have been worse.

That is because of new PG&E protocols known as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings. Reeling from accusations — often with merit — that its equipment has sparked devastating wildfires throughout the state during wind storms and heatwaves, the regional power company has simply turned off

power at times of high concern. This year it made its trip wire for such shut-offs particularly sensitive. Consequently, power was out along the South Coast and as far north as Ocean Colony in Half Moon Bay repeatedly throughout the fall.

Meanwhile, contractors for the company continued months of work modernizing underground pipelines in the area. They disrupted life throughout downtown Half Moon Bay and in December announced they would need to periodically close Highway 92 for weeks during daylight hours. City leaders, who said they weren’t warned in advance of the work just east of town, asked that the work be done at night, to no avail.

In another power-related storm of sorts, the Half Moon Bay City Council debated provisions to phase out gas appliances to homes and businesses in the city. In so doing, the Coastside town would join larger metropolises including San Jose, Berkeley and New York City. The idea is to take one small step toward a more livable planet by eliminating some of the city’s carbon footprint.

Opponents complained bitterly that, taken alone, the move would do nothing to reverse climate change and could cost residents thousands of dollars to retrofit their homes to fully electric appliances. In their last meeting of the year, the City Council delayed some provisions, focusing on commercial properties in the beginning.

(1) comment

Scott McVicker

Months ago, at least some of us concluded that the disease we were fighting was Fear. "Case" numbers, ever increasing death counts (due mostly to lack of early treatment), the flawed, single-minded focus on "vaccines" and the steady diet of gloom and doom messaging all contributed. This far in, one might expect that you would shift to a more hopeful tone as part of an effort to draw the population out of the grip.

That said, I do appreciate that you have permitted some of my counterpoint to be posted in your comments areas.

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