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Newsom blasts Half Moon Bay planners over delay on farmworker senior housing project

May 12, 2024


A proposed 40-unit residential and resource center project aimed at housing low-income senior farmworkers in Half Moon Bay appears in an undated rendering. The city's planning commission has held two public hearings on the project but has yet to vote because of lingering questions about its potential impacts on traffic and the downtown's historic character. (City of Half Moon Bay)


Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed Half Moon Bay’s planning commission on Thursday for delaying a decision on an affordable housing development for senior farmworkers.


The Planning Commission voted twice to delay a vote on the downtown project, which would feature a five-story building with 40 residential units for senior farmworkers who are low- and very low-income, along with a floor of office space and a farmworker resource center.


The commission held two public hearings in April on the project, which would be located at 555 Kelly Ave. Commissioners delayed a potential vote until at least May 14, saying they needed more time to consider the project after hours of public comment left little time for analysis.


Commissioners said they hadn’t done the proper analysis needed for such a large project and said many of their questions remained unanswered, including impacts on traffic during regular and special events, the building’s exact height, and how the design would fit into the historic downtown’s architectural plan.


Newsom urged the commission to approve the project at its next meeting.


“Last year a deadly shooting brought to light the squalid living conditions of farmworkers in Half Moon Bay,” Newsom said, referring to a shooting rampage at two farms that killed seven farmworkers and injured another.


“This delay is egregious and jeopardizes the well-being of Californians.”


Gov. Gavin Newsom

The shooting exposed the prevalence of unpermitted farmworker housing that is often not up to safety and building codes.


“Rather than do the right thing and approve badly needed housing for the workers who feed us, a 40-unit complex for low-income seniors is being stalled by local officials. This delay is egregious and jeopardizes the well-being of Californians,” Newsom said.


‘A dire need’

Newsom said the state’s Housing Accountability Unit is reviewing the city’s actions and would hold the city accountable if the project isn’t advanced.


A city spokesperson said that city leaders were anticipating moving the project forward but would not address a timeline for doing so or whether the Planning Commission would vote on the matter on May 14 as the governor urged.


“Affordable housing, especially for farmworkers, is a dire need on the Coastside and a top priority for the city,” said Jessica Blair, the city’s communications director.


“We’re excited to see this project get to the permit review level which will help ensure this is the best project for the community,” Blair said. She said the city had no further comment.


Planning commissioners said they had several unanswered questions about the project and its impacts and how potential approval would influence future applications downtown.


Dozens of public commenters spoke at the packed meetings on April 23 and April 30. Many urged the commission to approve the project, but others raised objections about parking, traffic and density in the city’s designated historic downtown area.


A slate of housing bills signed last year by Newsom limited the commission’s ability to deny the project on certain grounds, including its proposed height, impact on parking, and density. Environmental impacts were largely limited to considering the number of vehicle miles traveled.


Potential ‘Pandora’s Box’ for development

The actions were part of an effort to increase a housing affordability crisis the governor declared in 2019. That same year he also signed an update to a state law that allows a developer to increase a building’s density depending on the percentage of units reserved for affordable housing.


“I just want to make sure we’re not opening up Pandora’s Box here. Because we love the character of our small-town community,” Commissioner Rick Hernandez said during the meeting on April 23.


He said state limits on the ability to deny the project on certain zoning grounds made the project’s approval more impactful because other developers will try to use the same allowances and will need to be treated consistently.


“This could wreck downtown — not this project, but the precedent it sets,” Hernandez said.

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