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.