January 28, 2004 Ken Jones, President, and Members of the Board Cabrillo Unified School District 498 Kelly Avenue Half Moon Bay, CA 94060 Dear President Jones and Members of the Board: The purpose of this letter is to express the Coastal Commission staff's concerns regarding your consideration of the "Firehouse site" on Higgins Canyon Road for the construction of a new middle school, as noticed on the agenda for the January 28, 2004 special Governing Board meeting of the Cabrillo Unified School District Board ("School Board"). As stated in your meeting agenda, this site is part of the Johnston Ranch property, which is owned by the Peninsula Open Space Trust. As you are aware, the Firehouse site is designated as prime agricultural land and is currently in agricultural production. As such, the proposal to construct a new middle school at this site raises several significant issues under the San Mateo County Local Coastal Program (LCP) and the California Coastal Act. First, please note that any exemptions that may limit local government authority to regulate the development of schools do not apply to coastal development permitting requirements under either the Coastal Act or a certified LCP as these are state law requirements. The Firehouse site is located in the San Mateo County Coastal Zone, and is regulated under the County's certified LCP. As such, construction of a school at the Firehouse site would require approval of a coastal development permit by San Mateo County, and County action on a coastal development permit for this project would be appealable to the Coastal Commission. The fundamental issue presented under the County LCP by the Firehouse site is that this site is designated as prime agricultural land as that term is defined under the LCP. The land uses allowable on prime agricultural lands under the LCP are specified both in LCP Policy 5.5 and Zoning Code Section 6352.A. Schools are neither a permitted use nor a conditional use allowable on prime agricultural lands under these policies. Construction of a school at this site would also conflict with a number of other LCP policies, including Policies 1.7, 1.8, 5.7, and 5.8. Simply stated, the proposal to construct a school at the Firehouse site is prohibited by the County's LCP. In theory, the LCP could be amended to change these policies and accommodate the project. However, for the reasons stated below, Commission staff views approval of such an amendment to be unlikely. In accordance with LCP Land Use Policy 1.31, such an amendment would first require a four-fifths vote of the County Board of Supervisors to place the amendment on a ballot for consideration in a countywide election. If approved by the Board of Supervisors and subsequently by a majority of the voters, the amendment could then be submitted to the Coastal Commission for certification. Commission certification would require a determination that the amendment would conform to the resource protection and public access policies of the Coastal Act, including Coastal Act Section 30241, which states: Section 30241 The maximum amount of prime agricultural land shall be maintained in agricultural production to assure the protection of the areas agricultural economy, and conflicts shall be minimized between agricultural and urban land uses through all of the following: (a) By establishing stable boundaries separating urban and rural areas, including, where necessary, clearly defined buffer areas to minimize conflicts between agricultural and urban land uses. (b) By limiting conversions of agricultural lands around the periphery of urban areas to the lands where the viability of existing agricultural use is already severely limited by conflicts with urban uses or where the conversion of the lands would complete a logical and viable neighborhood and contribute to the establishment of a stable limit to urban development. (d) By developing available lands not suited for agriculture prior to the conversion of agricultural lands. (e) By assuring that public service and facility expansions and nonagricultural development do not impair agricultural viability, either through increased assessment costs or degraded air and water quality. (f) By assuring that all divisions of prime agricultural lands, except those conversions approved pursuant to subdivision (b), and all development adjacent to prime agricultural lands shall not diminish the productivity of such prime agricultural lands. [Emphasis added.] Amending the agricultural land use protection policies of the LCP to allow construction of a new school at the Firehouse site appears to be in direct conflict with this policy. Such an amendment would substantially weaken the agricultural protection policies of the LCP and would (1) change the urban/rural boundary,(2) eliminate the existing buffer between agricultural and urban land uses, (3) develop prime agricultural land prior to developing other available lands, (4) impair continued viability of agricultural production on adjacent agricultural lands, and (5) divide prime agricultural lands in a manner that would diminish their productivity. As such, Commission staff would not likely support such an amendment. In addition staff would also expect such an amendment to meet strong public opposition, particularly from both environmental and farming interests, as evidenced by letters of opposition already received regarding this proposal from both the Committee for Green Foothills and the County Farm Bureau. Finally, in addition to the requirements stated above, any proposal to construct the middle school on prime agricultural lands would require a thorough alternatives analysis. Project approval would require a demonstration that no less environmentally damaging feasible alternative exists to the Firehouse site for the middle school project. We note that the School Board previously dismissed several potential school sites from further consideration on the grounds that the sites (1) were classified as prime agricultural lands, (2) were located on the rural side of the urban/rural boundary, or (3) lacked a willing seller (as documented in the October 24, 1996 memorandum from the Intermediate School Site Selection Committee). The Firehouse site presents all three of these grounds, previously considered by your Board as sufficient justification to reject other middle school site alternatives. Consistent with the School Board's past action, Commission staff urges you to also dismiss this site from further consideration.