Has the site for the proposed Big Wave project always been farmed?
Jeff Peck, the project’s developer and most vocal proponent, claims that it has been farmed since the 1930’s. This claim gives the impression that the land presents no environmental concerns in terms of habitat destruction–where tractors routinely plow the Earth a natural habitat certainly cannot form.
The evidence, from the efforts of prior owners to build on the property and from aerial and satellite imagery, does not appear to support the claim that the Big Wave property is established farmland. Instead the photographic evidence indicates that farming only began on the property to any significant degree within the past five years. Peck and Barber purchased the property in 1999.
According to local residents, in the 1980’s a former owner of the Big Wave property, J.L. Johnson, also had plans for a commercial development on the site. He took to farming in an apparent effort to eliminate environmental concerns. In 1988 he sued San Mateo County and won a ruling stating that “routine agricultural activity” on the property was exempt from both Coastal District Regulations and County Grading Regulations. Johnson farmed for a year or two before letting the land fall fallow.
Later Johnson was jailed after defrauding investors in his development projects on the coast.
After Jeff Peck and Steve Barber purchased the property they too proposed a large commercial project (Big Wave) and commenced farming the lots and reaping controversy. Neither owner is a farmer in his own right. Local farmers are hired to farm on the property.
The attorney who worked for J.L. Johnson, Mike McCracken, is also on the Big Wave leadership team.
In 2006 the owners had at least seven commercial trucks bring in dirt to fill and grade the property, bringing a legal challenge from local residents concerned that the importation of dirt had little to do with actual farming and was instead an attempt to destroy habitat in preparation for the Big Wave office complex. The County allowed the filling and grading to continue after citing the 1988 Johnson case, saying that this was routine agricultural activity. Pumpkins were said to be planted on the site for Half Moon Bay’s Pumpkin Festival but it does not appear that any crops have been harvested at the site. There have been reports that some crops that did grow were left on the ground, unharvested, and later plowed under.
Historical imagery does not show any obvious signs of farming on the property (such as plow lines) until after it was purchased by Peck and Barber.
This first image is from 1956 (all images in this article are available in hi-res versions). It shows the area of Big Wave property (circled in red) and the surrounding land. Immediately north of the circled area is the airport. The harbor is at the bottom right, the site of the future Pillar Ridge Mobile Home Park is just to the northwest of the circled area.
Note the farmed land north of the airport.
This is a close up of the same image. The property does not appear to have any plow lines or other visual indications of farming activity.
This image is from 1970. Again, you can see the airport and surrounding area. The Pillar Ridge community is now in place. The land that will become the Big Wave property looks essentially unchanged.
A close up shot of that same image appears to show established trails through the property.
In this 1981 image the property again appears unchanged:
Here is the detail from the 1981 image:
The next series of images are taken from Google Earth’s archive of historical satellite imagery. The first image is from 1993, then from 2002 to 2008 we have yearly updates. Note that in the 2002 and later images the plot of airport property just above Airport Road is being farmed which gives us an informative comparison to see what a farmed field looks like from space.
From this series it appears that the Big Wave site was farmed in a significant way only in the past five years, after the property was obtained by Peck and Barber.
Editor’s note: I will likely be making minor adjustments to the date of these images. You’ll note that the date at the top, on the slider control, is different than the date in small type at the bottom left of the image. I believe that the small print date is the correct one and will be making the changes to the red text later tonight. These changes are minor in nature and do not change the order of the images or their interpretation.
(Imagery date July 2002)
(Imagery date Oct 2002))
(Imagery date Feb 2004)
(Imagery date October 2004)
(Imagery date October 2004, 2005)
(Imagery date Feb-May 2007)
(Imagery date June 2007)