Meeting online
The county held a virtual gathering over the Connect the Coastside plan over the weekend.

Public discussion on the proposed “Connect the Coastside” transportation plan kicked off on Saturday. Hosted by San Mateo County over the Zoom video conferencing platform, it was the first of a series of public meetings intended to give residents a chance to voice their thoughts on the draft, which addresses mobility, safety and land use along the highway 1 and 92 corridors on the unincorporated Coastside.

After an introductory presentation, the more than 50 participants divided into breakout groups for discussion, with county staff taking notes to capture the feedback.

Some of the main themes of discussion included concerns about cost, feasibility, safety for residents of all ages and the effect of planned development projects like the Cypress Point project, which proposes 71 new units in Moss Beach. Also discussed was how to create a safe walking and biking environment while addressing traffic concerns — both gridlock during rush hour and high speeds during off hours. Finally, the effect of the current shelter-in-place order on mobility on the Coastside was a major theme. Residents noted a decrease in traffic on main arteries while side streets have become busier.

Katie Faulkner and Joe LaClair, county planners on the project, were available to answer questions. They clarified that the Connect the Coastside plan will be implemented incrementally over decades. They said that project prioritization depends on community demand, immediate safety and traffic needs, feasibility and cost.

“These projects won't happen all at once,” Faulkner said. “... We want to update this priority list to integrate the feedback we receive at meetings like this.”

Some participants asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic and government budgets will affect the plans. LaClair said, while the cumulative effects aren’t yet clear, he doesn’t expect a massive loss of investment in transportation infrastructure.

“There will still be funding for transportation projects,” LaClair said. “In the short run, it will likely be diminished slightly … but it’s difficult to predict how lasting those effects will be.”

Since its release in January, the draft plan has prompted extensive discussion at community meetings, including recent Midcoast Community Council meetings. The draft prompted the MCC to draft a letter to the county this month asking any decisions be delayed due to changing financial conditions and the necessity for virtual meetings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. LaClair said at last week’s meeting that the county has decided to continue moving forward with the project despite the pandemic.

Also presented at the meeting were the results of the Midcoast Transportation Survey, which found that residents prioritize reducing traffic and improving access and safety along the state highways. The survey, developed by the county and the MCC together, also showed that residents care about preserving the rural character of the Midcoast.

Some participants also voiced concerns about the format of the meeting, saying they wanted the breakout sessions to be recorded and shared. Debbie Schechter, who facilitated the meeting on the county’s behalf, 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. She said that the 25-minute breakout sessions, each with three to four participants, can allow for more discussion time than the 2-minute presentation time typical of public meetings.

“What we’ve tried to do with the format we’ve chosen is try to replicate as much as we can what we would do in a real meeting,” Schechter said. “... This type of meeting allows people who are more quiet to share their perspective.”

Schechter said while virtual meetings can be challenging to set up and facilitate, they can sometimes allow people who wouldn’t be able to make an in-person meeting participate.

“In some ways, they can be more convenient because people don't have to travel and are generally more available,” Schechter said.

Following the meeting, Faulkner sent out a survey to participants as an additional opportunity to share thoughts on the meeting format and on the plan itself. The next two meetings, planned for June 15 and 25, will focus more specifically on two main geographic areas of the Midcoast. Faulkner said county staff will then release a report summarizing comments they’ve received from all platforms before moving forward to update the plan accordingly for eventual review by the County Planning Commission and County Board of Supervisors.

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