Pacificans Sue the City of Pacifica Over Violation of CEQA and California’s Planning and Land Use Laws.
Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan and Responsible Planning (CPUP)
Note: See Pacifica Voice August 2020 Edition for the original article on “A LETTER ON DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Author Summer Lee”
Pacifica, December 21st, 2020 — Kristin Cramer and the Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan and Responsible Planning (CPUP)* filed litigation today against the City of Pacifica to force the City’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California’s Planning and Land Use Laws regarding the proposed Vista Mar development on Monterey Road. The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Brian Gaffney APC in conjunction with Lozeau | Drury LLP.
The development consists of 8 luxury condominiums on a 1.2 acre property with a 52% slope and a history of landslides. The project would require clearing 57 trees, paving over a probable wetland, and excavating 6,453 cubic yards of soil. At City Planning and City Council meetings, neighbors voiced concerns about environmental degradation, as well as increased risks of landslides and erosion on a hillside that already struggles with flooding on an annual basis.
Four experts from the fields of biology, hydrology, air quality and geology supplied testimony that provided substantial evidence of environmental consequences that are not adequately mitigated. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), such expert testimony requires an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to be performed before development can occur. Despite these laws, the City Council voted to approve the project at the appeal hearing on November 23rd.
“We are community members on a journey of unfortunate discovery. In the beginning we thought the City didn’t understand the problems of the Vista Mar project. We went to great lengths to research and present the technical problems with the site and to our surprise were faced with a City that wasn’t listening and was using a type-written document from 1980 to base its decision-making. We banded together with our collective resources to support what is our last-resort — a legal remedy to compel the city to keep its citizens safe,” said Summer Lee, an artist, who is co-founder of CPUP.
The lawsuit will also focus on the City’s failure to comply with their General Plan, which has not been comprehensively updated since 1980, making Pacifica’s one of the oldest in the state. The General Plan is the set of documents that detail the guiding standards on which a city must base its land use and development decisions. The lawsuit contends that as it stands, the document is legally inadequate, fatally out of date, and internally inconsistent. For example, the Safety Element of the General Plan was altered in 1983, after an El Niño event resulted in over 475 landslides in Pacifica, large-scale evacuations and the unfortunate loss of life. Despite this, the city’s landslide and erosion maps have not been updated to include the City’s most common type of landslide (“debris-flow” slides), which have been recorded on the Vista Mar property. Additionally, the Vista Mar project is inconsistent with numerous General Plan policies which promote protection of significant trees, creeks and riparian habitats, prohibit development on slopes over 40%, maintain natural open space between areas of development, and discourage mass grading and terracing.
“It is shocking to find that the City has not updated its General Plan Safety Element given the technical information in the reports that they themselves commissioned. We are genuinely concerned with neighborhood safety given the history of landslides and flooding on this hillside and we do not have adequate scientific information on which to base the planning review of the project. The 1980 General Plan calls for thorough geotechnical investigations and somehow the City has allowed the project to rely on only two shallow soil borings, neither of which were done where the buildings are proposed,” said Christine Boles, a neighbor and licensed architect.
In reaction to the events of the Vista Mar project approval, CPUP, an unincorporated organization, was formed to address a wider pattern of similar decision-making throughout the City. CPUP believes this state of affairs is enabled by a General Plan that has not been brought up to date to consider the current state of scientific data and the city’s infrastructure, and asserts that until the General Plan is updated, all other development that raises the same issues in regard to the General Plan should be put on hold.
*CPUP is a project of Pacifica’s Environmental Family, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports environmental stewardship and education in the City of Pacifica. For more information, go to www.CPUP.org