West of Railroad

West of Railroad Lot Retirement/Acquisition

The City of Half Moon Bay has initiated a program consistent with its Land Use Plan to acquire and retire lots in the West of Railroad Planned Development area. The acquisitions will support key City objectives of managing retreat of the Coastal Trail and managing hazards, among other planning priorities. The acquisitions will also support the City’s obligation to acquire and retire lots to mitigate cumulative traffic impacts in accordance with the Coastal Commission’s Coastal Development Permit for the Ailanto Pacific Ridge subdivision.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1.Why does the City need to acquire vacant parcels in the West of Railroad Planned Development area?  

For several reasons.  The Property is required to:

a) protect significant habitat and scenic values, provide an area for green infrastructure to control drainage and manage hazards/erosion, manage retreat of the Coastal Trail, and maintain public access and recreational opportunities in connection with implementing the Land Use Plan, and 

b) to mitigate cumulative traffic impacts through the City’s lot retirement program.

More information is provided in the March 16, 2021 City Council staff report.

2. What does it mean to “manage retreat of the Coastal Trail”?    

Due to sea level rise and coastal erosion, the bluffs that support the Coastal Trail adjacent to West of Railroad PD area are eroding at a significant pace.  The bluff face is projected to recede as much as 200 feet by 2100 which would bring it into the West of Railroad PD. The City will need to relocate the Coastal Trail westward (aka “managed retreat”), which requires acquisition of parcels in the West of Railroad PD for the relocated trail. Significant portions of the bluff face adjacent to the West of Railroad PD area collapsed during major storm events in Winter 2023, illustrating the escalating risk that lot retirement seeks to address.

3. Won’t this be expensive?  

The City must acquire land at fair market value.  The City has retained a MAI appraiser to determine fair market value of parcels under various ownership in the West of Railroad area. For example, the appraiser concluded that the total appraised value for six parcels owned by the Gearing family is $141,000. A map of the West of Railroad PD area and Gearing parcels is available here.

To determine fair market value, the City’s appraiser considered market sales of comparable property located in the West of Railroad PD area.  See Attachments 28 and 29 to the City Council’s March 16, 2021 staff report. The “comparable sale” parcels have the same land use planning/zoning designations as the Gearing parcels. In addition, like the Gearing parcels, the “comparable sale” parcels are not served by water or sewer and have no roads or other infrastructure.

4. Why is it necessary to use eminent domain to acquire the Gearing parcels? 

Eminent domain, also called condemnation, is always considered a last resort for public agencies seeking to acquire private property for public purposes. Public agencies sometimes need to acquire private property to build schools, roads, hospitals, sewage treatment, and parks and to protect environmentally sensitive property. If the owner of private property needed for the public use is unwilling to sell the property, however, the agency may have to use the power of eminent domain to implement the project. The use of eminent domain comes with strong safeguards for property owners found in the state Constitution and statutes. The most important safeguard is the requirement that the condemning agency make the property owner whole. In other words, the property owner must be put in the same position after the condemnation that they held before the condemnation. That means that the agency must pay the property owner the fair market value of their property, which is the amount they would likely receive if they sold the property to the highest bidder on the open market.

In this case, the City offered the Gearing owners the full amount of its appraisal, as required by law. That offer was rejected and the City was unable to reach an agreement for voluntary purchase of the property. The value of the property will be determined at trial (or in a pretrial settlement) where the owners will have the opportunity to present their evidence of value.

The City remains open to discussing a resolution of this matter with the owners at any point during the eminent domain process. The City also plans to acquire other properties in the West of Railroad area by voluntary purchase agreement.

5. Where is the City going to get the money to pay for these acquisitions?

City intends to acquire lots in the West of Railroad area using Lot Retirement Funds paid by the developer of the Pacific Ridge subdivision (Ailanto). In 2008, the Coastal Commission approved the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for the Ailanto project subject to payment of $2.835 million. The Coastal Commission’s CDP required Ailanto to make an upfront payment of $150,000 to the City. Under the terms of the Commission’s approval, the remaining approximately $2.6 million was unavailable until the final plans for the Ailanto project were approved by the City and the Coastal Commission certified the City’s update to its Land Use Plan (which included among other things a Lot Retirement program) in April 2021. Now that both events have occurred, the City has withdrawn the remaining approximately $2.6 million in Lot Retirement Funds.

The Coastal Development Permit for the Ailanto project, which incorporates the related settlement agreement, requires the City to acquire and retire lots using these Lot Retirement Funds. The settlement provides that the funds “shall be used by the City for the purpose of acquiring and retiring development rights on existing legal parcels in the City” [Paragraph 5.D].

The City intends to use these funds to acquire and retire other property in the City to mitigate the cumulative traffic impacts of the Ailanto project.

For more information, see the June 2008 California Coastal Commission staff report for the Ailanto Pacific Ridge subdivision. 

6. Does the City intend to acquire parcels in addition to those owned by Gearing? 

Yes. he City has purchased ten additional parcels in the West of Railroad area through voluntary sales and plans to continue such transactions. The City has also filed one additional eminent domain action to acquire a parcel that was in default on property tax payments.

7. What are the next steps? 

On March 16, 2021, the City Council unanimously approved a Resolution of Necessity authorizing the filing of an eminent domain action to acquire the Gearing parcels. On March 23, 2021, the City filed the eminent domain action in San Mateo County Superior Court.

On March 22, 2021, the City was served with a separate federal lawsuit, which alleges constitutional claims against the City. The City contends that Gearing’s federal claims against the City have no merit.

City staff is attempting to obtain other lots in the West of Railroad PD area by voluntary purchase agreements. If the City reaches agreement with these owners, the purchase agreements will be presented to the City Council for final approval.