January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury 1998 Final Report: Coastside Land Use
Background | Findings | Recommendations

In 1978, the San Mateo County Planning Department prepared, and the County adopted, the Montara-Moss Beach-El Granada Community Plan. The plan recognized that general open space areas were appropriate to "strengthen the community, by preserving open space between the developed areas, and maintaining distinct urban limits" (Community Plan, pg. 10). This Community Plan was officially incorporated into the Local Coastal Program upon its adoption in 1980. These documents became part of the County General Plan, the primary planning tool of the County. Through legislative and/or court action, at about the same time, it became law that the zoning of individual parcels within an area must agree with the General Plan (Gov. Code §65860). In 1986, the General Plan was up-dated. Throughout these changes there has been little change to the basic land-use designations described in the original 1978 Community Plan. In these plans, there were various areas set aside for community parks. These "Park" areas were, and largely still are, privately held.

Two parcels, generally referred to as the "Mirada Surf property," were the subject of a complaint received by the San Mateo County 1998 Grand Jury. According to the County's General Plan land use maps, the western portion of the Mirada Surf property is designated General Open Space, and the eastern portion is designated Public Recreation/Community Park. The entire property is presently undeveloped and is zoned "Resource Management/Coastal Zone" (RM/CZ). It is generally agreed that under the present zoning, the parcels are entitled to two density credits.

The Mirada Surf properties changed hands in 1989. The price of that sale was at such a level that a change in zoning must have been anticipated or hoped for by the buyer. The assessed value was increased dramatically as a result of the sale.

The new owner proposed two separate development plans in the early '90's. There was serious community opposition to those plans. The owner was unable to obtain the necessary zoning changes so the plans were abandoned. There was a foreclosure and the ownership of the property reverted back to the pre-1989 owners.

The present owners of the parcels are now petitioning to have them re-zoned to allow residential development to include 35 houses.

The Complaint received by the 1998 Grand Jury covered a wide range of issues. Matters that the Grand Jury chose to look at closely included:

  • tax assessment history of the property
  • the processing by the County Planning Department of the current application for a planning/zoning change

After owning the Mirada Surf property for four years and making unsuccessful efforts at development, the 1989 purchaser of the property walked away. History reveals several unsuccessful attempts to develop this land. The County has a record of upholding the present zoning designation. Through a foreclosure, ownership reverted back to the pre-1989 owners. The owners requested a re-assessment, citing the restrictive zoning. The County Assessor drastically reduced the assessed value, using the commonly accepted practice of comparing it to similar properties that had recently changed hands.

After inspection of records and reviewing State laws governing assessment of property for tax purposes, the Grand Jury found no improper conduct or bias on the part of the County Assessor.

The County received an offer in 1997 from the owners to sell part of the property at a price based upon what the owner claimed was a justifiable "highest and best" use. This price was many times higher than the assessed valuation. The County rejected the offer, citing budgetary restrictions.

There is no necessary linkage between the assessed valuation of a piece of property and a price proposed or a hypothetical value discussed in negotiations prior to a sale. Therefore, the Grand Jury found no improper conduct either by the owner in making the offer, or by the County in rejecting it and leaving the assessed valuation unchanged.

There is an extreme divergence of perceived value of undeveloped properties on the coastside depending upon the current zoning and the possibility of a change in zoning. This fosters a constant state of conflict between developers and residents of the area.

A significant proportion of coastside residents oppose this new residential development. Historically, there has been strong opposition to increasing urbanization of the open space area, but there has been no successful plan developed to set aside permanently some privately held properties for parks or open space. The Mirada Surf property is primarily on the urban side of the Urban/Rural Boundary of the General Plan. Because of this, the County Planning Staff has termed it an "in-fill" area, implying its present status is temporary.

Recommendation 15: The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors should preserve the present status of the land use designations and the Urban/Rural Boundary of the County General Plan and the Local Coastal Program when called upon to approve or disapprove petitions to change or amend these documents in a piecemeal fashion.
Recommendation 16: The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors should direct the County Planning Department to report at the end of each fiscal year on the current effectiveness of the County General Plan and the Local Coastal Program. The report shall include serious conflicts with current land use.


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