Responding to the cancellation of the sale of the Moss Beach Park to a Pacifica developer, the Montara Water and Sanitary District hopes to acquire the park. Such an acquisition would represent an expansion of the responsibilities of the water board into “parks powers.”
MWSD currently has responsibility to supply water and sewage services in Montara and Moss Beach.
At their last meeting on August 29th, the board of the MWSD heard public comment related to the park and floated the idea of taking on responsibility for the parcel. Members of the governing board have also expressed a willingness to pay the back property taxes of approximately $8,000, although these comments were not well publicized and were made before the owners of Sam’s Chowder House also offered to pay the tax bill.
An broadly-worded item has been placed on the MWSD agenda for their meeting this Thursday, the day after County Supervisor’s meeting about Moss Beach Park at Farallone View Elementary School.
Contrasting park ownership by MWSD versus park ownership by the county, Kathryn Slater-Carter, a director on the board of MWSD, highlighted the value of local management:
MWSD is local. Our meetings are held in the community, at night, so residents can easily attend. We do not have parking meters [Editor: like the county’s parking deck] to penalize public participation. Our meetings are broadcast on Pacifica TV and are available as video on demand. Our staff is in Montara/Moss Beach. Our directors are responsible to the concerns of the folks who live here, because we do, too. We are selected by the voters here, not from anywhere else.
This new option of MWSD ownership is in addition to the existing two possibilities: That the park revert to its former ownership by the non-profit Coastside Preservation and Recreation or that San Mateo County take over the park.
All three options pose difficulties.
The board of Coastside Preservation and Recreation appears to be all but dormant. It was the failure of the non-profit to pay its property taxes (in addition to its failure to maintain its post office box and to file papers with the IRS to continue its non-profit status) which begat the local crisis.
Transferring the park to San Mateo County would eliminate the problem of paying property taxes in the future but residents have pointed out that it was San Mateo County’s failure to provide any recreational parks for the residents of Montara and Moss Beach that required the citizens to form a non-profit to provide those recreation opportunities on it own.
MWSD, for its part, presented a major difficulty and outright opposition [see this May 2009 article and video] to installing a bathroom and running water at the park. That opposition was eventually overcome (see June 2009 MWSD Resolution 1450) and the bathroom is nearing final approval.
A water and sewer authority may seem an unlikely candidate upon which to bestow parks powers but MWSD is not the first to attempt to enlarge its portfolio in this way. The Granada Sanitary District is making its second attempt to do so and, with little public awareness, is nearing approval to gain parks powers.
The legal authority for water boards’ expansion into park management seems to exist as a result of the California water code, which states:
31130. A district may use any water or land under its control for recreational purposes and in connection therewith may construct, maintain, and operate any works or facilities appropriate or ancillary to such recreational use; provided, that recreational use of water shall be subject to the approval of the public health authority having jurisdiction.
In addition, the law gives MWSD the power of eminent domain to pursue these responsibilities.
In the case of the Granada Sanitary District their board has, with very little press coverage (see here and here for what appears to be the full list of substantive coverage), been holding hearings and making progress toward parks responsibilities. They appear close to approval. GSD’s plans seem to include using the Burnham Strip as a parks area.
MWSD, however, has a more difficult challenge. Without the Moss Beach Park it is not clear what parcels are available to turn into parks under their jurisdiction. A tract of land behind Montara owned by CalTrans, formerly intended for a highway project that was eclipsed by the new Devil’s Slide Tunnel, offers one possibility. Another possibility is a tract of land adjacent to Farallone View Elementary School, formerly owned by developer Ken Menasco, though that parcel is steep in parts and contains a main channel of storm water flow.
Update: this two-page pdf of the minutes from a September 2002 Midcoast Community Council subcommittee meeting demonstrates the long-standing interest by MWSD in assuming parks powers.