Last week, the San Mateo County Harbor District’s Revenue and Income Ad Hoc Committee recommended the board approve its recommendation to add $12 million to its five-year Capital Improvement Plan. Members say it’s a critical step in securing funds for Johnson Pier’s much-needed repairs.
If approved, the district would pay $10.6 million out of the $12 million existing working capital balance to fund 13 projects over the next five years. Seven of those projects involve Pillar Point Harbor and Johnson Pier, including $1.2 million for preliminary design and engineering to reconfigure the pier and replace the H-Dock and Fuel Dock, which is estimated to cost $18 million.
The total cost for “critical” projects between Oyster Point Marina and Pillar Point Harbor is $45.8 million. The committee and staff report is also recommending the board consider taking on debt to finance part of these projects. The district’s preliminary budget estimates that after five years, the available working capital would be $450,000 in fiscal year 2024-2025. If the district secures grants, that would decrease the amount it would have to borrow. Should the district opt to take out a loan, it will hire a financial consultant to make a recommendation to the board, Harbor District General Manager Jim Pruett said.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion in my mind, or the board’s,” Pruett said of selling bonds. “If we can find funding elsewhere, we won’t need that.”
The district’s staff report stated that if the district issued a 30-year bond of $27 million to pay for the two Johnson Pier projects — $18 million for the reconfiguration and fuel dock and $9 million to replace docks G, F and H — with a tax-exempt interest rate of 3.5 percent, the Harbor District would pay $1.4 million per year. But for the district to receive that $27 million in bonds, it would have to increase revenues, decrease costs or secure grant funding for another $1 million before the fiscal year 2024-2025 when the bond is due.
The committee also recommended the board approve Pruett’s decision in June to resume initial design and engineering on the pier to qualify it for grants to cover part of the environmental reviews and permitting costs.
The decision traces back to June 2020, when the board approved the district’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget and the five-year capital program. In order to balance legal obligations with costs and public safety, the district prioritized the funded and unfunded capital improvements.
The second item on that list was the Johnson Pier Reconfiguration and H-dock and fuel dock replacement project. The district had a design and engineering contract underway, but because of the project’s anticipated $15 million price tag, the preliminary design and engineering work was postponed, despite being critical for the pier to qualify for grants.
“Even if we completed it at that time, we would be in no way ready to fund it or find funding for it because of the cost,” Pruett said.
The district’s approved but unfunded projects are estimated to cost $31 million. The district’s current budget for the next five years allocates $21 million for approved and funded projects, which will improve infrastructure and public access to Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point Marina. Some of the notable developments include new public restrooms, RV park greenspace improvements, the Surfer’s Beach restoration and harbor dredge project and the West Trail shoreline protection.
In May, the consulting firm GHD identified several concrete beams at the end of Johnson Pier that were in “poor” condition due to overstressing caused by excessive loading. The consultant said they needed to be repaired within the next five to 10 years. Another beam under Fish Buyer Building was noted to also be in “poor” condition and in need of repair over the same time period.
That same month the district approved a temporary safety measure in the form of the Johnson Pier Operational and Safety Plan that limited parking on the pier and prohibits unauthorized personnel from accessing the pier when unloading operations are happening. To ensure there were no emergencies, Pruett in August authorized another contractor to investigate the pier and give weight limits and recommendations. That survey is still ongoing.
The decision to recommit funds to seven Pillar Point Harbor projects came after public feedback from the district’s Master Plan outreach. At a Sept. 9 virtual meeting, a presentation of the GHD survey flagged some of the district’s approved but unfunded projects as “very high priority,” meaning they should be done within five years. Both projects are now being recommended for the board’s approval.