The city of Half Moon Bay is in the process of planning for a corporation yard at the end of Stone Pine Road. Actually, it already exists and you can catch glimpses of it as you travel in and out of town on Highway 92. At the moment, it consists of an old ranch house and some storage containers that the city’s Public Works Department uses as a workshop of sorts.

Less obvious is that the city is in the process of spending $5,703,589 to spruce it up. And almost lost to time are the hundreds of thousands of dollars already sunk on these 22 acres. If you are among the millions of Americans without a $6 million garage, all that might raise an eyebrow.

So, let’s back up. In 2004, the city agreed to borrow $3.1 million from the Peninsula Open Space Trust to buy the land from Nurserymen’s Exchange. The primary purpose: a new community park. In the next few years, City Hall began to suggest there might also be room for a corporation yard on the property.

Well, that plan was plagued from the start. Neighbors in Cypress Cove complained such a park would bring traffic. The city failed to attract grant money from the state to pay for it. A design firm said it would cost as much as $14.5 million to build out an active-use park. Under all that pressure, the city sought an extension of the loan.

Meanwhile, the city faced financial disaster in the form of the Beachwood settlement. While that multimillion-dollar land-use blunder was resolving, POST kept title on the Stone Pine Road land and leased or licensed use of it to the city for its Public Works Department.

Mind you, the open space trust didn’t want the land on its books to begin with. (In 2007, POST Executive Director Audrey Rust said the city’s failure to make payments on the loan cost it $750,000 in potential interest over three years.) So, within the last year, POST closed another deal to sell it to the city, this time for $2.1 million. The city borrowed $3.2 million from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank to pay for the land and improvements. It will pay that back in $160,000 annual installments over the next 30 years.

Still with us? Little has changed on the land in 18 years except that now the city primarily wants to fix up the corporation yard and suggests the land might have some more public uses later.

And so it hired another consultant, ELS Architecture and Urban Design. We say “another consultant” because it spent $250,000 on a similar firm, Moore Iacofano Goltsman Inc., back in 2005 without ever using that work product.

Anyway, on Tuesday, after print deadlines, the City Council was expected to authorize spending $184,500 so that ELS can design a four-phased construction plan that would include storage areas, restrooms, electrical, fencing, security, etc. That’s merely design. Construction for all that would cost an estimated $3 million or so. An unscheduled, unfunded phase somewhere in the distance could also include a community garden, a solar array and a walking trail at unknown cost.

Lest we forget, the city’s sunk costs also include $39,856 to reimburse Cypress Cove residents for legal fees incurred in successfully suing over the city’s failure to provide documents related to the land.

Cities need corporation yards. Public works is a necessary branch of a functioning municipality. No one begrudges the city space for Public Works. It’s simply worth noting when costs balloon, a project changes focus entirely, and construction is measured in decades.

— Clay Lambert

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(6) comments

uffish thought

Don't forget that the Community Park, centrally located on Bev Cunha's Country Lane, was already in its final stages of detailed plans and public meetings when the City Council abruptly canceled everything to buy the Highway 92 property. Though well-intentioned, that mistake caused a fatal delay and the Community Park was never built.

Thus, a great deal of money and time has been thrown away on two sites and two planning processes, with nothing tangible to show for it. But even worse is that another generation of kids has grown up without having the opportunities we wanted for them.

I suppose all we can do now is square our shoulders and try again.... but please be sure we're better prepared next time.

George

In 2004, the City bit at the $3.1 Million price. They didn’t have the money, which leads one to wonder why the City would put their constituents at such a risk. They were forced to renege on the deal.

Now, the City once again bit, but this time for $2,1 Million (which again they do not have). My first question would be why is the City obligating its constituents yet again on the same ground? My next question would be; how many properties do we know of that are cheaper now than in 2004 … by roughly 30%!?

It is made even worse knowing, prior to the deal, that much more money would be needed to accomplish anything with that property. HMB taxpayers are already obligated to the City’s $3.1 Million borrow. As Clay notes, those payments are $160,000 per year for 30 years - which comes to $4.8 Million and that’s just getting the ball rolling.

I can’t help but wonder who/what the driving force was to get the City’s elected to place that kind of debt on its citizenry? Is there anyone on the Council now that was part of the original deal?

Good piece Clay. Thank you.

August West

Well done.

The original purchase scheme and the final purchase that went through were corrupt on a grand scale. Even for HMB politics. Add in Wavecrest too.

Audrey Rust, former President of Peninsula Open Space Trust once famously said, out loud, in a California Coastal Commission meeting in San Francisco, that they essentially "recycle" California taxpayer funds.

Her salary, and that of her successor, amounted to well over $300,000. It is essentially a hedge fund masquerading as a land trust. Sure, they raised lots of private funds, but their business is based on selling properties to MROSD and getting that sweet, sweet taxpayer money to pay off their investors.

They were unable to sell this property, inside HMB city limits, to MROSD. Same with Wavecrest. That is why POST arranged for Coastside Land Trust to get taxpayer money - something they had never gotten before. They should not have gotten it.

POST wanted more taxpayer money and got it. Corruption. Plain and simple.

John Charles Ullom

You know something August West.

Sometimes you nail it.

Yosemite

Calling Audrey Rust corrupt is all too emblematic of the descent of American political dialogue. The only thing being "nailed" here is that sad display.

August West

The entire organization is a sham. If you are the President, and you engage in this kind of transacting with public entities, it had better be squeaky clean.

It wasn't. Not my problem. Your problem.

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