I’ve always thought of a boring public meeting as a sign of functioning government. Yes, occasionally a controversy comes along to spice things up, but that’s an exception, not the rule. Elected officials should project thoughtful competency, and that good decisions are being made with minimal drama. Ideally, watching a dull local meeting should work as a lullaby for late night insomnia.
Unfortunately, that is not the case with our San Mateo County Harbor District. The last 17 minutes of the April 15 meeting is a primer on the subject of dysfunctional governance. If you wish to see it for yourself, the longer unedited version may be viewed on YouTube. I caution you that it is not suitable for children to watch.
Forget the details of how badly this went, or where the fault falls for this feculent farrago. The Harbor District has a three-decade history of troublesome dynamics on its board; the responsibility for that may be distributed broadly. We should be more concerned now about what happens next with the governance of our harbor at Pillar Point.
County Supervisor Don Horsley understands that the Harbor District as it is now is problematic. At his urging, the Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to have the Harbor District reviewed by the Local Agency Formation Commission. LAFCo’s review will undoubtedly recommend that the district dissolve; it has pushed that option in years past. Horsley has suggested that the district’s responsibilities could then be absorbed into the county’s bureaucracy, with ultimate authority and decision-making resting in Redwood City.
Pillar Point Harbor is critical to the Coastside’s commerce, tourism and identity. It is a working harbor, with local people and businesses depending on it for their livelihoods. As with our farms and open spaces, the best ideas and decisions often come from the folks who live with a resource every day. Does it make sense to govern our harbor from a county seat that’s 25 miles away?
There is a better solution.
Let’s retain local control by managing our harbor through the city of Half Moon Bay. The city already borders the harbor, with functions and responsibilities that overlap the district. The city has managed its own coastal resources for years, and has an exceptionally capable staff in place. The city can provide experienced planning, engineering, environmental, recreational, public works, legal, and fiscal support to this vital part of our Coastside. It’s a great fit that leverages the local talent we already have here.
This would mean splitting the district in two by dividing the management of Pillar Point harbor from the county’s other harbor in South San Francisco. I believe that makes a lot of sense. As we face the ocean and they face the bay, the focus of both facilities is often different. And, whenever a specific initiative is of common interest, both harbors could continue to collaborate.
On the governance side, the path is straightforward. With LAFCo we would form a new Harbor District encompassing the entire Coastside within its boundary. Then the City Council would form a Harbor Commission similar to its Planning and Park and Recreation commissions. Newly appointed commissioners would be drawn from the greater Coastside, not only from within the city limits.
A locally appointed Harbor Commission offers the advantage of a smooth transition, while breaking from the disruptive dynamics of the past. We could attract smart, knowledgeable candidates with a commitment to Pillar Point and its mission. These Coastsiders would be making the decisions affecting our harbor and its future, with city and harbor staff support, and local oversight in place.
Under a better governance model, that bizarre behavior we’ve seen on YouTube would vanish ... and our Harbor District will once again return to hosting effective and boring public meetings. That would be music to the Coastside’s ears.
Roy Salume serves as a director of Coastside News Group Inc., which owns the Half Moon Bay Review.