image - old harbor
Some in the Pillar Point Harbor community say money being spent at Oyster Point Marina could be put to better use at the Coastside harbor. Kyle Ludowitz/Review

Nearly a dozen Coastsiders attended a San Mateo County Harbor Commission meeting earlier this month to protest a proposed agreement between the San Mateo County Harbor District and the city of South San Francisco, stating in various ways that the arrangement would not be favorable to the district. 

After more than two hours of discussion on Nov. 14, the five-member board elected to approve the agreement. Commissioners Robert Bernardo, Tom Mattusch and President Virginia Chang Kiraly voted to approve the agreement while Commissioners Sabrina Brennan and Ed Larenas voted against it. 

Under its current arrangement, the Harbor District owns and manages Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton and manages the Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco. 

A 1977 agreement between the district and the city of South San Francisco is not set to expire until 2026. However, citing a lack of clarity on responsibility in the previous agreement along with changing concerns such as sea level rise, district staff said that revisiting the agreement early might not be such a bad idea. 

“We did not set out to win,” said San Mateo County Harbor District General Manager Steve McGrath during his final meeting before his retirement from the district. “We set out to reach a fair, comprehensive, clear agreement that would properly delineate the responsibilities (and) provide clear procedures for exiting the agreement at certain points or under certain circumstances.” 

One adjustment was in the length of the term. The new agreement would hold for 15 years with the option for two, 10-year extensions whereas the old agreement was set for 49 years, noted McGrath. 

It also seeks clarity on responsibilities, and outlines that the city of South San Francisco would be required to address issues surrounding sea level rise, water quality and landfill subsidence.

While sewer mains would be the responsibility of the city, sewer laterals would be managed by the district. 

As part of the arrangement, the district has agreed to embark on a $5 million dock replacement project at Oyster Point with an eye toward a completion in 2024. General management and maintenance of the marina area and land immediately to the east of it would be the district’s responsibility as well. 

As a measure to protect the district’s interests, the city of South San Francisco would be required to pay the district the depreciated value of the district-paid assets — such as the docks — in the event of a termination of the agreement.

The two dissenting harbor commissioners and members of the public expressed a variety of concerns. Some stated that it was a step in the right direction, but general consensus among the public was that South San Francisco appeared to be the clear winner in the agreement. 

A recently released district-commissioned report offered a management contract  alternative to the agreement that would require the city to pay the district a small fee to manage Oyster Point and that the city would take on the cost of improving its own property and capital improvement projects. Many, including Brennan, viewed this as a favorable option.

“Did they reject the idea?” Brennan pressed the question to McGrath at the meeting. 

McGrath said that city staff showed no willingness to entertain it. 

“Here’s the issue,” McGrath said. “We have been operating this since 1977 and we operated with both the enterprise funds and our existing stream of public revenues, our tax dollars.” McGrath stated that, without those tax dollars, South San Francisco would need to find another way to make up the gap. 

A few people in public comment expressed disappointment that the alternative had not been explored in greater depth. Others, including Commissioner Larenas, claimed that the current proposal was not clearly written and that the agreement was being rushed when there was no need. 

Celine Gerakin who lives on her boat in Pillar Point Harbor stated that it seemed unfair that Oyster Point would be getting a $5 million dock replacement when the Pillar Point Harbor docks remain in such poor condition. 

“I’m jealous to see what’s happening at Oyster Point and not at Pillar Point,” Gerakin said. “When it’s foggy and misty ... it’s so slippery that I pretty much almost fall all the time.” 

The city of South San Francisco has the agreement on tonight’s agenda.

An earlier version of this story misstated the responsibility of the $5 million dock replacement at the Oyster Point Marina. The San Mateo County Harbor District will be responsible for the dock-related renovation.  


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