Branding Measure T, the countywide tunnel initiative to be voted on in November, as deceptive and the path most likely to prevent any permanent solution to the Devil's Slide dilemma, a group of business owners and residents announced their opposition to it Monday.
The group, calling itself Citizens For Solutions, Not Roadblocks, repeatedly stressed at a press conference at the Moss Beach Distillery that it is not necessarily opposed to a tunnel through Devil's Slide, just the initiative that would tie county supervisors' hands in deciding how to repair the road.
"We are for one thing: a safe reliable road we can depend on," said John Barbour, president of the group and owner of the Distillery and a Mid-Coast resident. "What we are definitely against is Measure T."
Barbour was joined by fellow Citizens For Solutions members Bill Gillespie, former owner of the Shore Bird restaurant, and Bill Crowell, co-owner of The Conservatory hotel/condominium and a longtime Coastside developer and business owner.
Barbour said about 30 others have contributed financially to the group, which has registered as a political action committee in Sacramento. It will send out approximately 10,000 mailers to Coastsiders next week with educational information and a solicitation for funds.
Approximately 34,000 signatures were collected by tunnel supporters to put it the measure on the ballot. It would change the San Mateo County Local Coastal Program to substitute a tunnel approximately 4,500 feet long as the preferred method to permanently repair a stretch of Highway 1 between Pacifica and Montara. That portion of the road has been repeatedly closed by slippage caused by heavy rain. The road was closed for five months last year. Monday was the one-year anniversary of the road's reopening.
In the event of another slide, the initiative would allow repair of the existing road, but prohibit any other alternative without a countywide vote first. The 4.5-mile inland Martini Creek Bypass is currently the county's preferred alternative.
Citizens For Solutions Not Roadblocks contends that if Measure T passes the Coastside could end up with no permanent repair because no federal funding has been guaranteed for a tunnel. Partial funding for construction of the bypass has been set aside by the federal government and state California Department of Transportation.
Measure T opponents said that if it passes they envision another disaster closing Highway 1 and the county then being locked out of any other permanent repair options until another election could be held to override Measure T. That could mean years without a northern road in and out of the coast, they warned.
Barbour predicted that the coast's economy would be thrown into chaos as it was last year resulting in "hundreds of people being thrown out of work" and a clogged Highway 92 that could impair vital medical services.
Gillespie, a Coastside resident, related the economic disaster that last year's road closure put him through. He said he owned the restaurant for 22 years, but suffered heavy losses because of the closure and wound up selling his interest to his landlord.
"We don't care whether it's a tunnel," he said. "We don't care whether it's a bypass.
"Unless we know (a tunnel) is going to be faster, shorter and safer," and funding is guaranteed, Gillespie said, "the initiative is premature."
A consultant has been hired by the CalTrans at a cost of $2.6 million to study the feasibility and cost of a tunnel, but supporters have expressed concern that its results will not be available in time for November's vote.
Citizens For Solutions, Not Roadblocks shares the same concerns, Barbour said. He stressed that the tunnel study must be presented before any vote, but fears it may not be ready in time for the election, or if it is it will only be ready in October which would not allow people sufficient time to adequately study the results.
"This is probably the most important thing that's ever happened to the Coastside," he said. "We've got the cart before the horse."
Gillespie said he fears November's vote "is going to cut off debate in November whether the study's done or not."
At Monday's press conference, tunnel supporters equalled tunnel opponents. Afterward, Chris Thollaug, a spokesman for the opposition, said he was encouraged that both groups are looking for a solution.
"We have to get the tunnel study results in time to address the financial and safety implications of the tunnel," Thollaug said.
Crowell compared requiring a countywide vote to amend Measure T to allow another alternative of repair with requiring a statewide vote to authorize the repair of Interstates 280 and 880 and U.S. 101 in the wake of an earthquake. Just as those freeways are vital lifelines to other parts of the Bay Area, Crowell said, so too is it vitally important to keep Highway 1 open to keep Coastside life and business healthy.
"It moves the choice from Half Moon Bay-Coastside people to San Mateo County's 671,000 people. That's the only way a disaster can be addressed, with a vote," Crowell said.
"The tunnel initiative means no road," he added. " . . . The only way we can ensure there will be a road is a vote no on the initiative."
Thollaug countered that many questions remain unanswered about the bypass.
"The real question is how much is the bypass going to cost?" he said, citing undetermined costs for environmental mitigation and bridges that are included in the bypass. He noted that a bridge currently under construction in the Pedro Point neighborhood of Pacifica was originally estimated by CalTrans to cost about $360,000, but was later revised upward to more than double that because a longer span was determined necessary.