The Sewer Authority Mid-coastside lawsuit now involves over $6 million in disputed capital costs for the Intertie Pipeline System, plus an estimated $680,000 of Half Moon Bay legal fees, likely headed toward $3 million for all three agencies if it goes to trial, which is where it appears to be headed.

There are two key facts about this lawsuit many do not understand. First, the SAM system was designed to join together three separate areas, each of which previously had its own sewer treatment plant and collection systems. Second, Montara wanted no part of it, an opinion perhaps best explained by Robert Magnasco in a May 17, 1976, meeting of the old Montara Sanitary District. To wit: "Mr. Robert Magnasco was appalled that a sewer plant functioning at 50 percent capacity would be abandoned and the raw sewage would be pumped nine miles for treatment."

Magnasco knew something, even before the lawsuit, and the creation of an IPS, which would suffer over 100 sewer spills in recent history. It would be expensive to move that sewage, and risky. And that IPS is what the city doesn’t want to help fund.

But here we are, with an IPS that costs money to replenish as the assets inevitably age, and which was part of a devil's bargain the county forced on Montara. In fact, Half Moon Bay hasn't wanted to pay its share since the early 2000s. Half Moon Bay delayed SAM maintenance on the IPS beginning then, back when the Beachwood lawsuit was threatening to be a $40 million hit for the city. It appears the city was strongly motivated to cut costs, and not paying for SAM's IPS maintenance was a convenient target, compared say, to a new library.

The IPS was always part of the integrated sewer system designed back in the ‘70s, and it benefits Half Moon Bay in four ways:

1. It allowed the city to afford replacing a failing sewer plant at less cost than doing it themselves.

2. The IPS also serves all parts of the city north of the SAM plant, including the "cherry stem" up to the Pillar Point Harbor. Thus parts of the city are served by Granada Community Service District sewers and the city is suing its own residents there.

3. It gives Half Moon Bay protection against severe wet weather events, when SAM plant operators can turn off the flow from the north and hold the sewage in wet weather storage tanks upstream. Half Moon Bay can use 100 percent of the plant's capacity, which has happened at least twice in recent years.

4. The tanks in the IPS allow SAM staff to perform maintenance on the plant by shutting it down. As the city has no sewer storage, tanks in the IPS can be used to hold sewage back at the pump stations until work is done. This has occurred more than once when the Force Main had to be fixed.

In July 2017, the city filed a lawsuit against MWSD, GCSD, and SAM claiming continuing investments in the IPS should not be paid by HMB. HMB now approves expenditures for certain IPS-related projects only under protest, subject to repayment pending the outcome of the lawsuit. If the city wins this unjustified lawsuit, it will pay none of those costs. Which means that MWSD and GCSD will pay an extra $3 million above their combined 50 percent share of SAM ownership.

Collateral damage from this lawsuit is the issue of recycled water, which is something Half Moon Bay could really use with the Bay Delta Plan threatening a two-thirds cutback in water during drought years. That partially designed recycling project was put on hold by the lawsuit, in spite of the need being ratified as far back as a 2009 Coastal Commission staff report.

I'm aware that truth and justice do not always prevail, so I'm not making bets on the outcome of this lawsuit. Montara lost a perfectly good sewer plant it hadn't even finished paying for; hundreds of sewer spills related to the IPS have occurred; the city got a more modern and compliant sewer plant, but has to pay for a share of an IPS; recycled water efforts have been sidetracked; all residents are paying legal fees over this lawsuit; and there's a $6 million (and growing) sword hanging over all our heads. All because the county insisted on this jury-rigged sewer system when it could have just let Montara move its outfall and let Half Moon Bay and Granada pay for their own new sewer systems.

Maybe the county should be the one paying for this mess, because it seems like San Mateo County caused it.

Gregg Dieguez lives in Montara and is a member of the Midcoast Community Council.

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(19) comments


Old saying: "If a small town has one lawyer, they'll do OK; if there are two lawyers, both will be driving Cadillacs."


From court docs, it appears HMB has two (2) attorneys on this case: (sorry for the format/paste problem). PLUS SAM attorney is also dragged in. Plus attorneys for GCSD and MWSD. Case #17CV316927


Catherine C. Engberg, City Attorney

City 0f Half Moon Bay











Michael G. Colantuono

Pamela K. Graham

Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley,PC















John Charles Ullom

"Do we know who the mastermind is behind the lawsuit?"

This guy: --

Condotti convinced the HMB CC that he was right and that Northern confederation lawyers were wrong. The lawyers, all of them, have been cashing in since July 2017.

Now that it is going to trial, the fees will increase exponentially, (almost), until somebody cries Uncle or a jury makes the call. We are going to pay for a lot of pony lessons and orthodontics work of a lot lawyers kids. Condotti should be able to score a new Porsche.

Check out his response put forth by the City of Half Moon Bay: --

The real reason? The people who represent us and those that represent them can't get along. I went to a Water Board meeting once. Every single elected made fools of themselves and acted like children. I left when Kathryn Slater Carter started banging the gavel and had the room cleared. It was embarrassing.


Yup, the animosity and disrespect goes WAY back, but from what I've observed it derives from HMB's unwillingness to pay their 50% share of expenses. It's not just personalities, it's personalities reacting to bad behavior over time. But just on the merits, HMB is wrong with this suit.

August West

HMB is not responsible for 50% of capital improvements for the IPS system that does not benefit HMB. Especially not since you folks think BECAUSE WE SAID SO.

None of you are attorneys and none of you are going to move this along.

John Charles Ullom

When the IPS leaks and fines are issued, HMB pays its share.

Why? Why would HMB pay fines for broken infrastructure it claims it does not have to pay to maintain?

August West

Once again Ullom mixes up subjects and tries to evade.

HMB is not responsible for capital investments in the IPS. Trying to tie fines to the capital investments is an old comical attempt to cajole the leaders to just "go along." Thankfully they haven't. The Ric Lohman's of the world can continue to spread misinformation all they want - does not change facts.


Please read the article. The IPS does benefit HMB and its residents DIRECTLY.


Thank you Gregg for writing the article. Do we know who the mastermind is behind the lawsuit?

Your article in CoastsideBUZZ provides additional information.

"Collateral damage from this lawsuit is the issue of recycled water – which is something HMB could really use with the Bay Delta Plan threatening a 56 to 68% cutback in SFPUC water during drought years.[7] That partially designed project was put on hold by the lawsuit, in spite of being discussed as far back as a February 27, 2009 Coastal Commission staff report. An additional benefit would be that each community could use its own recycled treated water as a resource for protecting its watersheds."

I guess we will be able to return the favor and sell OUR MWSD water when HMB is running dry during the next drought. How about $10 per gallon to cover all the legal fees etc that will be paid by the rate payer... What a mess.

August West

More falsehoods. No wonder nothing can get done on the Coastside.

John Charles Ullom

Do you ever say anything other than accuse people of lying? What was false? What is the truth?

If all three agencies use the sewer plant, and if two of them temporarily store wastewater in the IPS so as to allow HMB full use of the sewer plant during heavy rain events, how is that HMB does not benefit from the IPS?

Simple questions August. You can stomp your feet and toss spit wads as that would that would be par for your course. Say something useful. Try contributing.

August West

Are you okay?


You might have some credibility if you could point to an inaccuracy in that article. HMB is clearly at fault here, and the damage is mounting.

Jim Larimer

Gregg Dieguez’s guest editorial puts in plain view the “us” versus “them” nature of the Coastside sewer dispute. The Coastside from Montara to Half Moon Bay is a continuous urban development that supports a small urban population of 25,000. The Coastside has a common fire department, school district, library, and police force. People here use the same local hardware, grocery, and drug stores for day-to-day needs. We use the share the same parks, beaches, coastal trail, and community theater. The entire community is involved in supporting two major regional festivals. Yet when it comes to water and sewers we behave more like the Palestinians and the Israelis in endless battles and finger pointing at the failings we imagine of our neighbors.

Dieguez points out that we have experienced more than 40 years of this “us” versus “them” warfare.

Currently we are fighting in the Courts to decide who should pay to fix our sewage system. While this court battle continues only emergency repairs are being made. And these mostly in response to the potential and real fines from State regulators for not responsibility treating our sewage.

Never mind that these many sewage spills has put the health and safety of all Coastsider’s in peril. The legal bills to continue the “us” versus “them” court combats may even equal to the cost of some of the needed and overdue repairs. Regardless of who wins, nothing will be fixed.

There have been suggestions over many years to consolidate these sewer districts into a single Coastside sewer district. This is the Lafco recommendation every time they formally review sewer agencies on the Coastside. If we did that, consolidated, “we” might actually fix this problem. What a novel and clearly impossible idea. We have put people in charge of our waste water infrastructure who see only "us" and "them".


Well, given the facts of the case laid out in that article, why would anyone North of HMB want THEM as a partner in consolidation?

Ric Lohman

Thanks Gregg for this historical comment. Montara was forced into this agreement. Then it had to pay its share of the pipeline expense to ship the sewage all the way to HMB. Now HMB refuses to pay its share of the 40-year contract and wants to stick the North Coastside for millions of dollars. I'm curious to hear from HMB residents what they think about this move by the HMBCC. HMB residents in Miramar and Frenchman's Creek are going to get stuck with huge sewer increases. The Chamber and other "Repair the Coast" groups are trying to bring us together to get our economy going again. How is the City Council lawsuit going to help that?

August West

This is all entirely false rhetoric. Not surprising from someone who sued CCWD over the size of a life-serving pipeline.


GCSD has spent $200k on legal fees. MWSD unknown, but likely twice that. Thus we're at about $1 million legal fees now. $3 million in legal fees seems high, but then I've never been to trial... 'You win or lose in the Jungle; everyone loses in Court".

Ric Lohman

Please talk to the HMB City Council about this waste of Coastside money

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