December 23, 2020


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

John Kontrabecki, CEO of the out-of-town development corporation behind the Vista Mar project, in his comment here on January 15, is mischaracterizing the Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan (CPUP) as well as the CEQA litigation against this project. His vision is to stuff eight 3-story luxury condos on 1.2 acres with an average 52 percent steep slope, wiping out a mature forest and evidence of a wetland, all while the city is using standards and data from more than 40 years ago to approve it. Furthermore, as CPUP’s lawsuit argues, the city goes against its own policies that call for minimal use of retaining walls (Vista Mar proposes more than 3,000 feet of retaining walls, with some combining to be more than 20 feet high) and thorough geotechnical review (only two borings were done in 2002 for the study). Surrounding cities do not allow development to disturb a property with more than 30 percent slope.

Kontrabecki’s argument that not much has changed in Pacifica since 1980 is far-fetched. Just a few examples: In 2017, the city had to pay to demolish re-tagged apartment buildings at 310 Esplanade before they collapsed into the ocean. The Pacifica General Plan doesn’t even show the Tom Lantos/Devil’s Slide tunnels completed in 2013 on its maps. In 1982, a landslide tragically killed three young Pacificans. Climate change has only fueled and increased these risks.

Safety and conservation are not abstract concepts for Pacificans who want to know the stability of the hillside above them, the conditions of their sewage systems, and whether we can count on affordable and safe drinking water as we expand. It is important to know if our neighborhood is at high risk for fire or flood (certainly insurance providers will know if the city doesn’t tell you). Pacificans are entitled to a government that identifies and protects against risks to our safety and welfare.

It is in the best interest of all Pacificans that any development decision follows CEQA and land use law. And the law is quite clear:

(1) Analysis cannot be deferred until after project approval, no matter how amazing a developer promises that analysis will be. The reason is simple: You can’t un-disturb a precarious hillside. You can’t reverse a wetland’s destruction once bulldozers have driven over it. Sure, one can label wetlands as “drainage swales,” call landslides “superficial debris flows,” or a forest “saplings,” but experts in four different fields provided testimony that Vista Mar would have potentially adverse impacts and therefore an Environmental Impact Report is called for. See CEQA Guideline 15064(a)(1).

(2) The Pacifica General Plan is 40 years old. State Senate Bill 379 requires that after 2009, in updating its housing element, a city must also update safety and conservation elements to address climate change issues such as flooding risks. The City of Pacifica has not complied with this requirement. The California Supreme Court stated that there is an implied duty to keep the General Plan current. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research must notify a city that its general plan has not been revised within eight years and must notify the California Attorney General if a city has not revised its general plan in 10 years. See also Government Code Section 65103 (a) and Devita, 9 Cal. 4th at 792.

Pacifica historically has been one of the most affordable cities in the Bay Area, where housing prices were accessible compared to surrounding cities. Pacifica’s dreams were never in making housing prices skyrocket by way of soulless gentrification — which has never taken hold since the city was founded, like it or not. Nor does Pacifica dream in images of urban sprawl and big-box stores. Instead, the Pacifica city website advertises clear views toward a clean ocean and open natural spaces. People come to Pacifica to enjoy our natural resources, the beaches, the wildlife, the trails, the open spaces. And yet, for a vocal minority, economic revitalization remains the false promise for development whose numbers never add up — the truth is that new development saddles the city with infrastructure costs (sewage, utilities, street maintenance, public works salaries, etc.) many times more than it provides in tax revenue.

The law compels the city to understand and protect the safety, welfare, and resources of Pacifica for all Pacificans first and foremost. You can help by donating to CPUP at http://www.cpup.org.

The Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan (CPUP) has filed suit against the City of Pacifica to reverse the approval of the Vistamar townhouse project and to force the city to update its General Plan. CPUP is using its opposition to the Vistamar project as a cudgel to try to get the courts to force what it has not been able to achieve through the political process. Instead of petitioning the City Council, it is petitioning the Superior Court of San Mateo County. This is an improper use of the litigation process and is destined to fail.

CPUP complains that the Pacifica General Plan is out of date because it was originally passed in 1980. Although the law does not require this, CPUP says that the General Plan should be updated every 10-years. General plans are updated when events occur within a city that call for rethinking the direction of land use provided by the general plan. What has happened in Pacifica since 1980 that would warrant so drastic an attack on the city through the courts to try to force a General Plan update? In reality, not much.

Since 1990, Pacifica’s population has grown only 2.6% by about 1,000 residents. The population in 1990 was 37,670 and in 2019 was 38,674. During this time there has been very little economic development in the city. There have been a few small residential projects, like Vistamar, but no new office buildings, shopping centers, big-box retail, or recreational developments. There has been one hotel project at Rockaway Beach. If you want to go to Trader Joe’s, Costco, Target, or Whole Foods, you have to go to one of the adjacent cities because they are not found in Pacifica. Other than increased traffic on Highway 1 coming from Half Moon Bay, nothing significant has happened in Pacifica to warrant an immediate emergency update to the General Plan.

Pacifica is a coastal community, much like Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. These cities have been booming with all sorts of new high-quality developments that are raising the standard of living and bringing new employment and housing opportunities to their communities. The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay is a good example. These cities have used the tax revenues from this prosperity to revitalize their downtown areas and public buildings and facilities. None of this has happened in Pacifica because the tax revenues are insufficient to support it.

Since there is little new economic development in Pacifica, where is this pattern of unsustainable development about which CPUP complains?

CPUP has attacked the City of Pacifica for approving the Vistamar project. CPUP says a full Environmental Impact Report is required. The city planning staff hired an outside consulting firm to evaluate the project for CEQA compliance and an outside law firm to evaluate the project for legal compliance. Both consultants said the Vistamar project as approved fully complies with the law. CPUP complains that Vistamar will pave over wetlands (it is really a drainage swale) and cut down 57 trees (51 of which are saplings). The city conditioned its approval of the project on the Army Corp of Engineers, California Fish & Game, and the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board evaluating the swale and issuing approvals. As for the 57 trees, the project sponsor agreed to replace every one of them with healthy trees more suitable to Pacifica’s climate. As for the six heritage trees to be removed, the sponsor agreed to first consider moving and replanting them and, if this is not possible, then replacing them with 18 trees of large size that are more suitable to this location. Finally, CPUP says there are geotechnical hazards on the site from superficial debris flow landslides. There is no evidence of this on this site for more than 30 years. Here too the sponsor agreed to have a geotechnical engineer conduct a site stability study, subject to review by both the city engineer and an independent outside consultant hired by the city, and will implement their recommendations. For every concern raised by CPUP, the city listened, fully investigated the issue, and fashioned an appropriate response through a transparent, open process. That is why the project received approval from the Planning Commission and the City Council. But this was not acceptable to CPUP.

Perhaps the members of CPUP should try talking with the City Council rather than using litigation to achieve the changes in the General Plan they would like to see. The courts are not the proper place to craft public policy.


The lawsuit against the City of Pacifica for the Vista Mar project on Monterey Road was filed on Monday. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this, but we have truly exhausted all other options. At the appeal hearing on November 23, three out of five City Council members did not listen to the many neighbors or the environmental and legal experts we hired. Thank you to our previous Mayor Deirdre Martin and Mayor Pro Tem Mary Bier for understanding that the General Plan calls for thorough geotechnical investigations prior to planning approvals for hazardous sites. Per prior agreement with the city, the developer will be responsible for the city’s legal expenses.

"The vision of our group is for an enlightened Pacifica to understand the warnings of homes falling into the ocean, that the duty of the City of Pacifica is to protect our safety. The city’s job is to ensure our infrastructure -- sewage, seawall, drainage, and hillsides are safe -- and that is the law. The moment of blank block books, landslides occurring where the city say none occur, hiding expert reports with inconvenient data, mysterious rezoning, superficial environmental reviews, all should be left to the days of darkness." (Summer Lee, Pacifica resident and co-founder of CPUP, the coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan and Responsible Planning)

For more information and to support and donate to our cause, go to www.CPUP.org

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Red Rocks, Colorado and Utah

  • IMG_0955
    By John Maybury riding Amtrak

Southeast France

  • 30-Sainte Agnes
    Photos by John Elk

Viva Mexico

  • Mexico 01 Mexico City Cathedral
    Photos by John Elk

Snow Train

  • IMG_0830
    Photos by John Maybury, onboard Amtrak's California Zephyr


  • 7-Samakand
    Photos by John Elk


  • 12-Chateau de Commarque sunset
    Photos by John Elk


  • 5-Cado
    Photos by John Elk

Canyons, Cliffs & Clouds

  • IMG_0714
    Photos by John Maybury


  • 44-Ravello
    Photos by John Elk

Australian Rainforest

  • 2016_0529reunionfamily0032_opt
    Photos by Joel Maybury

Pacifica Shorebirds

  • 20110819_7165.2
    Photos by Paul Donahue


  • 20-San Agustin painted statue
    Photos by John Elk


  • 27-Okavango elephant
    Photos by John Elk


  • 16-Etosha rhinoceros
    Photos by John Elk

Scary Pumpkins

  • Unknown-16
    Photos by Ray Villafane

Big Sur

  • P1030837
    Photos by Dave Yuhas

Joshua Tree Natl. Park

  • Img_0815
    Photos by John Maybury

Gray Lodge

  • IMG_0985
    Photos by John Maybury

Yachats, Oregon

  • IMG_1044
    Photos by John Maybury

Bagpipes on the Beach

  • Img_0258
    Photos by John Maybury

Tucson Botanical Gardens

  • Img_0794
    Photos by John Maybury

Pima Air/Space Museum

  • Img_0758
    Photos by John Maybury

Desert Springtime

  • Img_0839
    Photos by John Maybury