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April 20, 2014


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Well, I'm anti-additional-development for anyplace that is as badly overpopulated, ecologically beat up, and unsustainable in terms of natural resources as Pacifica. The city doesn't even control the supply of the most fundamental resource for life, namely water. It's one thing to become part of urban parasitism of the greater landscape when you are young, uneducated, and stupefied by the heavily preached growth ethic, but it is another entirely to insist on continuing mistakes after numerous shortcomings have been experienced and documented.

That aside, it is always worth remembering the first week of January 1982, when any project is proposed at the base of a hill in Pacifica. Over the years, the city has been a particularly poor learner when it comes to geologic hazards. Two new houses were built on the 1982 property where three died. Elsewhere, the naivete exhibited where development on coastal bluffs is concerned is nothing short of dumfounding. One question is whether any geologic matters involving further development on Gypsy Hill will be studied thoroughly and objectively, with risks realistically assessed, or if a rent-a-geologist will be chosen for their ability to justify whatever the city and developer wish, all the better for getting the next consulting job down the line.

At this early stage, one must keep in mind the common developer tactic of coming in unrealistically high, then making a big show of compromising down slightly to what they wanted all along, even if that, too, is badly over-reaching.

PB, zoning limits are not a given. The Planning Commission has the discretion to limit lot height coverage and the aesthetics of ANY proposal brought before the commission regardless of staff report findings. There are no agreed-upon laws, just zoning.

"Try to take a step back, try to be objective and let the planning process work"....

Pacifica has a Hillside Preservation District ordinance. Why is it you large landowners and would-be developers always wanted more than allowed under agreed-upon law?

I actually did meet an anti-development person in Pacifica. She was able to articulate her reasons very well, but I don't think anyone else I have met is opposed to any and all growth or development in this town. The "Gang of No" label has been the primary tool for discounting citizens' legitimate concerns. If the word "gang" could rightly be used in reference to one person, I could say, "I met that 'Gang of No' gal." But the opposition to this bad idea, like the opposition to so many bad ideas before it, comes from a great many individuals with a wide variety of perspectives, who (for their various reasons) are finding problems with this unfortunate plan. I am a creative person myself. I would have to say that most of my ideas never see the light of day as I am very picky (I'm sure some would say "not picky enough") about where I'm going to invest my time and money. Please do pay some attention to the specific objections to this project without first casting the speaker as a member of the dreaded "Gang of No."

I've always considered BJ Nathanson as level-headed when she served as a planning commissioner. But my impression of the above article is that it's inflammatory to the point of bordering on the naive. One of her comments that she got "directly from an inside source: The Campagnas do not have the money to develop this project. They hope to get all permits in place so they can sell to some outside company that will obviously build it to make a profit." ...?????????
Are you just now getting this revelation about our capitalist system? Do you think this is illegal or unethical for people to make their property more marketable? Do you think it's illegal or unethical for anyone to sell property for a profit?
You make it sound as if this project will bypass all the environmental and engineering reviews that would normally be required of a project in Pacifica. I think you should know better than that.
My impression is that you either were pressured or need to curry favor with an anti-development faction in Pacifica.
Try to take a step back, try to be objective and let the planning process work. I'm sure it's become ever more stringent, not less.

Housing demand is at an all-time high; if by "best and highest use" you mean "most possible compensation," I think you got the picture. This is about cash compensation, not scenic beauty or human safety.

I happened to stumble upon this site after doing some research on this development. As a community member in the Sharp Park area, I am deeply concerned about this potential project. I'm glad that there are others out there who have taken notice and are equally as concerned. Hopefully there is a large community turnout next Monday.

It's really too bad that you're no longer on the Planning Commission, B.J. It sounds like Pacifica was in good hands during your service.

Steve Smith
Talbot Avenue Resident

Local residents who are concerned with conserving our community profile can thank former Planning Commissioner B.J. Nathanson for the “heads up” on the evolving Gypsy Hill development proposal.
It’s widely known that any Gypsy Hill development will need a variance from the Hillside Preservation District (HPD) ordinance. The HPD exists for the purpose of protecting the local hillsides from any more Daly City-San Bruno types of developments that scar the hillsides and permanently mar/alter the physical profile of the community.
In considering the Gypsy Hill proposal, the Planning Commission will also have to consider any significant, irreversible environmental effects associated with the proposal; any terracing of the hillside cannot be reversed once it happens. Additionally, the commission will have to weigh mitigation measures needed to minimize any significant effects that are generated by the proposed development. In this case, it is known that potential slope failure is associated with the slope gradient/angle of Gypsy Hill. Clearly, a CEQA EIR and
a public hearing on the DEIR are required for this proposed project.

So, for the time being it’s important for the community to attend the study session on Monday evening, April 21, to learn about the proposed development, and to let the Planning Commission know how they feel about any development on a potentially unstable slope that requires a variance from HPD.

BJ, I misunderstood your original post/article. I thought you had seen this while sitting on the planning commission, not as a friend who could offer advice.

My best guess is that the Campagnas have met with an architect/urban planner who gave them what they believe, in their professional opinion, is the highest and best use, and will offer what I hope is a quality housing development that will attract middle-income and local workforce types. Again, I'm just guessing and hoping.

From what we can see, their plans call for single-family and multifamily (all residential), and if they have done their due diligence and gotten the soils report first, they may have some bedrock to anchor the structures to. This is not an uncommon practice, and if it is done the right way, it will be safe and can be done without stripping the hillside and blending the architecture. But until the final plan is known and all of the due diligence is completed, it is hard to judge just the two or three sheets presented here and in the study session at the Planning Commission.

Thanks, Avril, for the landslide article. It has to be noted that we are right on the San Andreas fault line, as well as having had a history of mudslides on that hill. When I was on the Pacifica Planning Commission, I was constantly hearing about how modern technology can make a hill even more stable, but I always found it hard to argue against such hubris. And does that mean hideous retaining walls? What will the water drainage be? One empty lot in the middle of Brighton was well known for gushing water from the hillside every winter (when we had winters). I don't believe this was disclosed to the people who bought the lot, built a house, and the first year were flooded and had to do major refitting.

The house is still there and the gushing has stopped, but this is one house below the hill. What happens when everything on top of the hill is disturbed? It is clear to anyone who has lived on Brighton for any length of time (before the drought) that there is a tremendous amount of runoff in the winter. Anyone who is not concerned about that has his or her head in the sand (or mud).

Less than a year ago, several of us were invited to be shown the property and the drawings that they had at that time. There were no specifics (such as soils reports, etc.), only a general sense of what they were planning on doing (which, as it turns out, is much more than we were shown). Along the ridge line are large single-family houses, and farther down the hill toward Clarendon are two 4-plex (or maybe more now) units for below-market housing, as required. Not mixed use (this is residential) and the hillside itself is part of the Hillside Protection District.

BJ, can you tell us when you saw the previous application; how many years has it been? Did it include any soils reports? I'm certain they would be required as part of the permitting, but am wondering if they have been done prior as part of the proposed development plan. As you have an inside source, do you know if this new proposed project is single family or multi-family or both?

If they are proposing a larger development, there may be some economic reason other than to make more money (less expensive overall in the development costs, thereby allowing for 16 less expensive homes, rather than 5 or 6 multimillion-dollar homes), or they may have had a geo report and the report indicates they would be better to build farther down the hill and then develop the rest by terracing up the hillside to stabilize. The proposed architecture might be really nice and have the homes kind of disappear into the hillside, and they wouldn't be obvious to the neighbors across the ravine, but it may be too early to know.

I'm just thinking out loud, and I can't be there Monday night, so hopefully someone can ask these questions for me and report back here (please). I only ask that we keep an open mind; it might be really nice, it might be crap, but let's hear what they propose and lets work with the Campagnas rather than rejecting their plan out of hand. Once the details are known, it may not be as horrible as one might think; at least I'd like to think so at this point.

Interesting article from the Sunday paper. http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25555167/landslide-prediction-risky-venture-who-will-move-first

Eureka Square is empty -- put houses in Eureka Square -- making it a mixed-use housing development in an area where there is already development and easy access to public transit.

Don't build out our hillsides with out-of-town/out-of-USA money that does not care about a sustainable, livable, scenic Pacifica -- but only cares about financial gain -- at any cost to those who live here.

Oh great. Another poor idea that defies common sense and safety. Yet those of us who disagree will be painted once again with the "Gang of No" brush.

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