Half Moon Bay bill passes committee after Speaker intervenes

A controversial bill to approve a legal settlement between the city of Half Moon Bay and a developer passed the Assembly Local Government committee by a 5-2 vote on Wednesday, with a little help from Fabian Nunez.

The vote followed a decision by Nunez, D-Los Angeles, to seat Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, on the committee in place of the ill and absent Assemblywoman Nell Soto, D-Pomona. Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Martinez, widely considered a stronger environmental vote than Galgiani, had filled for Soto at several Local Government hearings, including the last two. Galgiani's staff confirmed Wednesday was the first time she had filled in for ailing Assemblywoman Nell Soto, D-Pomona on the Local Government Committee.

The Speaker's press secretary, Richard Stapler, noted that DeSaulnier is hardly the only Assemblymember asked to fill in for Soto on the Local Government Committee. Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, sat in several times last year, while Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has also filled the roll at times. During some meetings, Stapler said, the seat was not filled.

"It was more a scheduling issue than anything else," Stapler said of Galgiani's presence.

And now, right on schedule, AB 1991 moves on. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, has raised the ire of numerous environmental groups. Nineteen of them, including the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sent an opposition letter to Local Government Chairwoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas. The April 24 letter criticized the "indefensible" bill for exempting the agreement between the city of Halm Moon Bay and developer Charles "Chop" Kennan from "every applicable environmental protection law."

Mullin, the city and its supporters say they need the bill to stay solvent. In November, developer Charles "Chop" Keenan won a $36.8 million judgment against the city for denying him the right to build on a 24-acre-parcel known as Beechwood. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the wetlands of Beechwood, which served as the city's rationale for denying Kennan's building permit, were created by the city itself, and therefore constituted an illegal taking.

With court fees, the judgment totaled $41.1 million, or about four times the city's annual budget. AB 1991 would let the city out of the judgment in return for allowing Keenan build on Beechwood and a nearby parcel called Glen Cree. The bill would simplify the settlement deal by taking agencies such as the Department of Fish & Game and the Coastal Commission out of the loop.

If the bill does not pass, the settlement agreement calls on the city to buy Beechwood from Keenan for $18 million. In agreeing to the settlement, city officials chose to forgo any chance of a legal appeal.

"If I were on the city council, I would have done the same thing," Mullin said when testifying for his bill in front of the committee. He added, "I would like to remind the committee, there are no other options available."

"Even an $18 million debt would devastate the city," Half Moon Bay mayor Bonnie McClung told the committee.

Pete Price, an environmental lobbyist who testified against the bill, took issue with this characterization. He noted that the city would then own the land, and could recoup at least half the money by selling off 30 home parcels-a far smaller number than Keenan had proposed for his two tracts.

"They will not be out $18 million," Price said.

After the vote, Price also noted that environmental groups had requested the bill be referred to the Natural Resources Committee, but were denied.


Stapler also defended the decision not to send AB 1991 to the Natural Resources Committee: "We are running up against policy and fiscal committee deadlines," he said.

DeSaulnier said that he had a great deal of respect for Mullin, and hoped that the city and environmentalists would be able to negotiate a solution. While he said he did not know how he would vote once the bill gets to the Assembly floor,  he did say that he would have been inclined to vote in down in its current form.

"I don't think I would have voted for it," DeSaulnier said. "I understand Half Moon Bay is in a tough spot, but I tend to agree with environmentalists on this."

Assemblywomen Lori Saldana and Cathleen Galgiani at a Local
Government Committee hearing on Wednesday.

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