Inter-Departmental Correspondence





June 1, 2009


June 16, 2009







Honorable Board of Supervisors and Interested Parties



Lisa Grote, Director of Community Development



June 16, 2009 Study Session Regarding the Coastal Commission Staff’s Recommendation on the Midcoast Update Local Coastal Program Amendments





Receive staff’s presentation and public comment regarding the Coastal Commission staff’s recommendation on the Midcoast Update Local Coastal Program amendments.



Consider possible responses to the Coastal Commission staff’s recommendation.



Accept additional staff analyses and public testimony, and provide final direction to staff regarding the County’s response, at the July 7, 2009 Board of Supervisors meeting.




Commitments: Redesign our urban environment to increase vitality and reduce congestion. Preserve and provide access to our natural environment.


Goals 12 and 13: Land use decisions consider transportation, infrastructure demand and environmental impacts. The boundary between open space and development is fixed to protect the quality of the natural environment.


The Midcoast Update contributes to these commitments and goals by: lowering the Midcoast growth rate; establishing a substandard lot merger process; preserving opportunities for neighborhood commercial uses; promoting inter-agency collaboration to improve roadway level of service; and strengthening water quality protections.




On February 27, 2009, the staff of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) released its report on the Midcoast Update Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendments approved by the Board in November 2006 and submitted for Coastal Commission certification in January 2007. The CCC staff report, which is available at, recommends denial of the amendments submitted by the County, and approval of a modified version proposed by CCC staff (Attachment 1). If the CCC adopts the recommended changes, the County’s acceptance of these changes becomes a condition of amendment certification. If the County rejects the changes, the existing LCP will remain in effect.


The CCC staff report was prepared for a March 12, 2009 Coastal Commission hearing, which was postponed at the request of the County in order to provide more time for review and coordination with CCC staff. The June 16, 2009 Board of Supervisors study session provides an opportunity for Board members and other interested parties to consider the changes proposed by the CCC staff, and to discuss possible County responses. The study session will be followed by a hearing at the July 7, 2009 Board of Supervisors meeting, at which time the Board will provide final direction to staff regarding the County’s official response. This response will be submitted for consideration by CCC staff before they release the staff report for the rescheduled hearing, which has been preliminarily scheduled for the August 12-14 meeting in San Francisco. In accordance with the direction previously received from the Board, Planning and Building staff will continue to meet with the CCC staff in an effort to reach resolution on as many of the issues as possible prior to the August Coastal Commission meeting.




Preparation of the Midcoast Update for CCC approval was initiated in 1999 and involved numerous community meetings to determine the scope and content of the Update. There were a total of twenty public hearings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to develop a final proposal. The final set of amendments approved by the Board of Supervisors includes text, policy, and ordinance changes to the LCP that:


Update the estimate of Midcoast residential buildout.


Update the estimate of Midcoast water and sewer demand.


Lower the residential growth rate limit from 125 to 75 units/year.


Prohibit new residences at El Granada’s “Burnham Strip.”


Limit residential uses to above the first floor in the C-1 District.


Revise controls on caretaker’s quarters in the Princeton Waterfront District.


Reduce house floor area and height in the RM-CZ and PAD Districts.


Propose projects to reduce traffic congestion on Highway 1.


Authorize a two-phased substandard lot merger process.


Add incentives for voluntary substandard lot merger.


Limit the amount of ground level impervious surfaces.


Improve winter grading controls.


Reserve water supply for failed wells and affordable housing.


Add incentives for affordable housing units in existing residential areas.


Require pedestrian improvements for Highway 1 projects.


Require traffic mitigation for development generating >50 trips.


Provide for future park/trail at the “Devil’s Slide bypass” property.


Update LCP trails policies and role of trail providing agencies.


Incorporate the requirements of the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program.


Provide guidance on resolving LCP policy conflicts.


Correct and clarify ambiguous and inconsistent LCP provisions.


As part of the Board’s deliberations, serious consideration was given to the form in which these amendments would be submitted to the CCC. Local governments have the option of submitting LCP amendments for a simple yes or no vote, or in a manner that provides the CCC with the option of suggesting modifications necessary to reach an approval. The Board elected to submit the Update in a form that allows the Commission to propose changes to the amendment, but indicated its desire that such modifications be kept to a minimum.


Following submittal of the Update to the CCC in January 2007, the Planning and Building Department has spent a significant amount of time responding to the CCC staff’s requests for additional information, and has met with CCC staff on numerous occasions. On February 27, 2009, the CCC staff filed the amendment submittal as complete, which triggered a 90-day timeframe for final action. On March 20, 2009, the Commission extended the timeframe for action for up to one year after the initial 90 days, which established a May 28, 2010 deadline.




The following sections of this memorandum describe and analyze the changes proposed by the CCC staff, and provide a preliminary recommendation regarding how the County should respond. After obtaining the input of the Board of Supervisors and interested parties on this preliminary recommendation, the proposed response will be refined for final consideration by the Board at the July 9, 2009 Board of Supervisors meeting.



Revisions to Annual Growth Rate





As approved by the Board of Supervisors, the Update proposes to limit the number of new Midcoast dwelling units to 75 per year, not including affordable housing units and secondary dwellings. This represents a 40% reduction in the 125 units currently allowed by the LCP. The County-approved amendment also repeals an existing LCP provision that allows the Board to approve up to 200 units per year if certain findings are made.


CCC staff’s Suggested Modification 2 replaces the 75 unit annual limit proposed by the County with a maximum population growth rate of 1%, and applies this limit to secondary dwellings (i.e., “granny units”). The modification also states that the 1% limit shall be in effect until the County develops a comprehensive transportation management plan, sewage overflow problems have been resolved, and the growth rate is revised via future LCP amendment.





The number of new residences permitted in the Midcoast has averaged 49 units per year since the LCP was certified in 1981. The most development that occurred in one year was in 1987, when 133 units were built. (This is the one and only time the Board of Supervisors adopted the findings necessary to allow more than 125 units.) Over the past five years (2004-2008), an average of 38 units have been approved annually. During this five-year period, the maximum number of new units developed in one year was 50 in 2004, and the lowest number was 24 in 2008. (There has been a steady decline in the number of units constructed per year since 2004.)


The CCC proposal to establish an annual maximum population growth rate of 1% reduces the number of new residential units allowed per year from 75 (as proposed by the County) to 40, based on an average of 2.78 persons per household (as determined by the 2000 Census) and an estimate of 3,950 existing units. This will be more difficult to administer because the number of new units allowed will need to be periodically revised to reflect population changes.


An important question that remains unresolved is how the CCC staff’s proposed growth rate relates to the new policies they have proposed that prohibit new development until the adequacy of public services can be demonstrated. These policies, which are discussed in more detail in Section 3 of this report, establish a moratorium on new development until traffic and wastewater collection (among other service and infrastructure) issues are resolved. It appears that these new public service policies would supersede the growth rate policy and render the allowed growth rate moot.


The proposal to reduce or prohibit new residential development until infrastructure and service capacities are increased does not consider the role that new development plays in implementing such improvements. Existing fees for new development help fund recreation projects, stormwater programs, and roadway improvements. In addition, new development provides elements that address regional needs such as sidewalks, trails, and drainage infrastructure. Tying the growth rate directly to existing service capacities further impedes infrastructure improvements by widening the divide of public support for projects that enable growth.


CCC staff’s proposal to apply the growth rate limit to second units also conflicts with the County’s interest in meeting its regional housing needs, in a manner that complies with Department of Housing requirements and maximizes opportunities for urban infill. It also raises issues of consistency with Section 6585.2(a)(2) of the Government Code restricting the application of quotas to second units.


It is understood that the approved growth limit will be in place unless and until it is revised by a future LCP amendment, at which time the CCC will consider service capacity issues. Prescribing specific components of future amendments, such as the Comprehensive Traffic Management Plan called for by Suggested Modification 39, may create unnecessary obstacles to appropriate growth rate revisions if traffic issues are resolved through an alternative and equivalent process. It also places an emphasis on traffic and wastewater collection issues, whereas there may be other issues of equal or greater importance when and if the County proposes to revise the growth rate.


Finally, CCC staff’s proposed 69% reduction to the LCP’s existing growth rate is an unnecessary and inappropriate response to an amendment that reduces the allowed growth rate by 40%. The reduced growth rate adopted by the County was subject to an extensive public review process, and will improve the ability of public service and infrastructure improvements to keep pace with a level of new development that will help implement such improvements.


The County and other service providers have initiated a number of projects and planning efforts intended to address CCC staff’s concerns regarding the ability of infrastructure and public service capacities to accommodate the growth allowed by the LCP. These include the Midcoast Mobility Project, Midcoast groundwater studies, the Countywide Transportation Plan Update, Midcoast storm drain improvements, and the El Granada Sanitary District’s proposed wet weather storage project. In light of these efforts and the concerns raised above, it is premature and unnecessary for CCC staff to revise the County adopted annual growth limit.



Preliminary Recommendation


Request CCC staff to delete Suggested Modification 2. Rather than imposing a change to the County adopted growth rate, CCC staff should participate in the infrastructure planning efforts that will allow public service capacities to keep pace with the modest rate of infill development allowed by the County and envisioned by the LCP.


In the event that CCC staff is unwilling to delete this modification, Planning and Building Department staff suggests that the County request CCC staff to revise the modification to:


Establish a maximum annual growth rate based on a number of units rather than a percent of the population;


Clarify the relationship of proposed public service policies to the growth rate;


Exclude secondary dwelling units from the growth limit; and


Eliminate language that hinges future growth rate changes on a Comprehensive Traffic Management Plan and resolution of wastewater collection issues.



Water Quality Protection





CCC staff’s Suggested Modification 3 deletes a new County policy that requires compliance with the Countywide Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program (STOPPP)1 and references minimum requirements that will be attached as an appendix to the LCP. In its place, Suggested Modification 4 proposes seven new policies that provide detailed stormwater control and treatment standards. These policy changes apply throughout the County’s Coastal Zone, and are not limited to the Midcoast project area.





Suggested Modifications 3 and 4 abandon the use of the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program (SMCWPPP) as the primary method for protecting water quality. This program has been created in accordance with the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (RWQCB) National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, and provides a uniform way for protecting all of the County water bodies.


The replacement of SMCWPPP with LCP specific standards will result in the application of different standards for the Coastal Zone, and thereby create an artificial divide between bay and ocean waters that deserve equal protection. Although these standards have been designed to be consistent with SMCWPPP where possible, they also include some significant additions that mimic the RWQCB’s proposed new Municipal Regional Permit requirements, which have yet to be adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board and are the subject of much debate.


In addition, the CCC staff’s proposed replacement of SMCWPPP with LCP specific standards creates administrative issues beyond those associated with different standards for projects that require coastal development permits.2 As proposed by the County, the reference to SMCWPPP allows the County to apply state of the art best management practices and pollution control designs and technologies that become a part of this program, without having to amend the LCP. Under the modifications suggested by CCC staff, the County will have to amend its LCP anytime it wants to update the very specific measures prescribed by the new policies.


Finally, many of the technical and detailed standards proposed by Suggested Modification 4 normally take the form of implementing regulations and permit conditions, not policies. Policies are purposefully broad in nature, and provide the basis for the more specific implementing codes and regulations. The technical standards proposed by CCC staff as new LCP policies are inconsistent with this framework, and incompatible with the scope of other LCP policies. They are also redundant to each other and unclear in many areas.



Preliminary Recommendation


Request CCC staff to retain the approach proposed by the County that establishes a policy that requires new development to protect water quality by complying with SMCWPPP, and that attaches minimum requirements as an appendix. If there are gaps in the minimum requirements established by the County proposed appendix, CCC staff should limit their modifications to the minimum needed to fill these gaps.


To the degree CCC staff determines that it is necessary to amend or supplement the appendix, the suggested modifications presented in the staff report prepared for the postponed March 2009 meeting should be revised to:


Eliminate redundancies (e.g., between 1.36a and 1.37c(1), 1.37b(5) and 1.37(d)1, 1.39b and the preceding policies);


Define “small collection strategies” and “micro-detention” in proposed Policies 1.36b and 1.37c(1);


Describe how the County is expected to “reduce pollutants associated with vehicles and increased traffic resulting from development” (Policy 1.36f);


Recognize that disconnecting downspouts may not always be a best practice (1.37c(1));


Acknowledge that sewer connections for swimming pools and other listed facilities are not available in rural areas (1.37(d)); and


Describe how the need for additional treatment measures will be determined (Policy 1.39a).



New Policy Requiring the Demonstration of Public Service Capacities





As described above, CCC staff is concerned about the ability of existing infrastructure and public services to support the total amount of development allowed by the LCP referred to as “buildout.” These include concerns about the impact of traffic on coastal access; the ability of the wastewater collection system to handle increased flows; and the adequacy of local water supplies to sustain additional growth.


CCC staff attempts to address these concerns, among other ways, by adding a new policy (Suggested Modification 6) that prohibits the approval of new development unless it can be demonstrated that there are adequate public services. Services that must be addressed during the coastal development review process include, but are not limited to: water; wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal; storm drainage; fire, emergency, and medical response; police protection; transportation; schools; and solid waste collection and disposal (as applicable to the project). With regard to water and sewer services, the policy requires evidence that there is adequate capacity within the system to serve the development and “all other foreseeable development that the system is committed to serving.”





There is no question that the adequacy of public service capacities is an essential consideration in the review of development applications. The new policy proposed by CCC staff does not, however, provide a clear, reasonable, or effective method for addressing this issue. This is because the proposed policy is unclear about what constitutes adequate levels of service; does not identify the specific information needed to demonstrate such adequacy; and only applies to a very limited segment of new development that is not exempt from coastal development permit requirements by virtue of the existing Categorical Exclusion Order.


The policy proposed by CCC staff identifies over eight types of public services that must be addressed prior to the approval of any coastal development. However, there are only two areas in which adequate levels of service are defined. The first is in the area of water and sewer facilities, where the policy states that “adequate capacity (including transmission, collection, treatment, and disposal) exists within the system to serve the development and all other existing and foreseeable development the system is committed to serving.” The second is in the area of transportation, where the Commission staff suggests that a Level of Service (LOS) D at peak commuter hours, and LOS E during peak recreation periods, be considered as adequate along State Route 1 and Highway 92.


These thresholds present a number of unresolved issues. The first has to do with the requirement to demonstrate that water and sewer service is not only adequate to serve the proposed development, but all other development the system is committed to serving as well. It is unclear what constitutes a commitment to serve, such as whether an assessment levied by a service district for future service equates to such a commitment, even if the levy was assessed for a service that cannot be provided in a manner consistent with the LCP (such as for water or sewer treatment service outside the urban boundary). It is also unclear what is required to determine the full scope of existing service commitments, who will bear the burden of accurately making this determination, and how such commitments may preclude the establishment of Coastal Act priority land uses.


The second has to do with the feasibility and appropriateness of using roadway levels of service (LOS) as the threshold for circulation adequacy. Currently, there is no data available regarding LOS during peak recreation periods, which means that a new monitoring program will be needed to address CCC staff’s recommended threshold. More generally, it is important to consider whether the presence of commuter and weekend traffic present an appropriate basis for a moratorium on development, particularly in light of the role that it plays in financing needed circulation improvements and addressing the region’s jobs to housing imbalance.


A third issue has to do with the limited geographic area in which this standard will be applicable, and the resulting impediment it will create for commercial, mixed-use, and multi-residential infill projects that can help reduce traffic by creating walkable communities with a better jobs to housing balance. Single-family residential development will continue to be excluded from coastal development permit requirements throughout the urban exclusion area, and thereby exempt from the requirement to demonstrate adequate public services. Meanwhile, other uses that provide a greater degree of community benefit will be put to a much more rigorous test and at greater risk of being able to obtain the service capacities that are being consumed by single-family residences.


Finally, as discussed in Section 1.b above, the thresholds for determining the adequacy of roadway and wastewater treatment capacities appear to create a de facto moratorium on new development until peak traffic issues and wet weather overflow problems are resolved. This, in turn, creates impediments to implementing the infrastructure improvements needed to provide adequate service capacities.





Request CCC staff to delete Sections a, b, g, and h of proposed Policy 1.18.1. Instead, CCC staff should work with the County through future LCP amendments to develop more specific and objective criteria that facilitate rather than hinder land use priorities.



Prohibition of Wells and Septic Systems





Due to concerns regarding the sustainability of groundwater supplies, Suggested Modification 6 also proposes to prohibit private wells and septic systems be prohibited within the Midcoast urban area, unless they are consistent with a groundwater management plan approved by the Commission via future LCP amendment. The proposed prohibitions are reinforced by Suggested Modifications 17 and 26.





A precautionary approach to individual wells in the urban area is warranted given outstanding questions regarding the safe yield of Midcoast groundwater basins.3 The proposal to develop a groundwater management plan is also appropriate given the various land uses, service districts, and natural habitats that depend on a sustainable groundwater supply.


While such a management plan is being developed, there may be instances where individual water supply and/or wastewater treatment systems warrant an exemption from the CCC staff’s recommended prohibition because they will have either no adverse impacts on the basin, or will benefit groundwater recharge. It would be appropriate to allow exceptions to the prohibition in such instances.


It is also important to clarify that the prohibition applies only to new wells and septic systems. This avoids existing wells from becoming non-conforming, which would present obstacles to their ongoing use and maintenance.



Preliminary Recommendation


Request CCC staff to work with County staff on a revised version of Suggested Modifications 6, 17 and 26 that: describes the limited instances in which wells and/or septic systems will be allowed; identifies the specific documentation and findings needed to approve wells and septic systems; and addresses the ramifications of this policy on existing wells and septic systems.



New Policies Regulating the Size of Public Works





CCC staff’s Suggested Modifications 8, 11, 20, 25, 28, 29 and 33 propose policies that require the capacity of public works projects to be limited to that which can be effectively served by other existing or reasonable foreseeable public service capacities. For example, the capacity of roadway projects would be limited to serving a population that can be accommodated by existing or foreseeable water supplies and wastewater treatment capacities. Similarly, the capacity of water supply projects would be limited to serving a level of development that could be sustained by existing or foreseeable roadway and wastewater treatment capacities.





CCC staff’s suggested modification creates an unreasonable expectation that all types of public works projects will move forward in tandem. As a case in point, it is unrealistic to assume that a project to improve traffic flow on Highway 1 will be able to predict the future capacity of the area’s water supply within the timeframe that such roadway improvements are needed. Although there are a range of options available to help address the area’s water supply needs (such as improved conservation and groundwater management, reuse of recycled wastewater, and desalination), it is not possible at this point in time to identify a “foreseeable” supplemental water supply. As a result, the policy recommended by CCC staff would restrict roadway improvements to the minimum level needed to serve existing levels of use, which would be neither an efficient nor effective method of addressing long-term transportation needs.


It also creates a situation under which the current status of public works projects, rather than the level of development that can be accommodated consistent with the protection of coastal resources, determines the level of development allowed by the LCP. It is inappropriate to limit potential future development simply because a particular service needs to expand its capacity, without evidence that such an expansion would harm coastal resources.



Preliminary Recommendation


Request CCC staff to delete the Suggested Modifications referenced above. Otherwise, they should be revised to limit the capacity of public works to that which will serve the buildout allowed by the LCP.



Other Significant Issues Requiring Further Evaluation and Coordination


In addition to the issues addressed above, there are a number of changes proposed by Commission staff that raise concern and require further evaluation by the Planning and Building Department as well as other departments, agencies, service districts, and interested parties. These include concerns regarding policy modifications that require:


Deletion of a policy that would enable the County to resolve conflicts between LCP policies in a manner that is on balance the most protective of significant coastal resources (Suggested Modification 5);


Reservation of transportation capacity for priority uses (Suggested Modification 9);


Formation or expansion of special districts to be prohibited until public service capacity issues are resolved (Suggested Modification 12);


Recycled water to be used only for the Ocean Colony Golf Course, agricultural uses, and Coastal Act priority uses (Suggested Modification 14);


Limits on the ability of water supply projects to provide service to development that currently relies on a private well only after all existing capacity has been consumed (Suggested Modification 20);


Processing of an LCP amendment before any type of desalination project can be approved (Suggested Modification 21);


Monitoring the relation of new residential construction to levels of peak commuter and recreation traffic levels and the provision of annual monitoring reports to the CCC (Suggested Modification 32);


The County to accept portions of highway that will be relinquished by CalTrans upon completion of the Devil’s Slide tunnel access improvements, open and operate the trail and facilities 365 days a year, and incorporate these facilities into the County park system, unless and until another acceptable management agency is identified (Suggested Modification 36);


CalTrans to construct recreational trails and Highway 1 crossings in conjunction with any new or improved roadway project (Suggested Modification 36);


Traffic Impact Analysis and Mitigation Plans for all new development that will generate a net increase in vehicle trips on Highway 1 or 92, except single-family residential land visitor-serving development (Suggested Modification 38);


Deletion of a proposed incentive to provide affordable housing units (Suggested Modification 43);


County pursuit of a grant or funding to conduct a Coastal Trail alignment study, with a specified scope of work, within two years of amendment certification (Suggested Modification 44);


Designation of the Devil’s Slide bypass alignment as a Linear Park and Trail, rezoning this area to Community Open Space, and pursuit of a grant or funding to complete a linear park and trail in partnership with CalTrans and other affected agencies within two years of amendment certification (Suggested Modifications 55, 58, and 59);


Designation of a Park Overlay District on the Burnham Strip (Suggested Modification 57); and


Deletion of temporary roadside stands as an allowable use on the Burnham Strip, and restricting outdoor art centers on the Strip to temporary uses only (Suggested Modification 63).


An analysis of the above changes, and a preliminary recommendation of how the County should respond, will be provided at the June 16, 2009 Board of Supervisors Study Session.




County Counsel

Environmental Health

Parks Department

Public Works




The County has committed significant staff and financial resources towards developing the Midcoast Update and completing the Coastal Commission certification process. A timely and successful resolution of the issues identified by this report, as necessary to obtain certification of the amendments, is needed to realize the objectives of this investment and avoid further strains on limited County staffing and financial resources.





CCC Staff’s Suggested Modifications


Letter from Midcoast Community Council


Letter from Big Wave Project

1 STOPPP has been renamed to the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program (SMCWPPP). Information regarding this program is available at

2 As previously noted, much of the Midcoast area is within an area where single-family residential development has been categorically excluded from coastal development permit requirements, and thereby exempt from the LCP policies proposed by CCC staff.

3 See Midcoast Groundwater Study and Staff Summary at (,2151,5557771_18409674,00.html)