After more than seven years of debate over the future of 492 acres of blufftop in Half Moon Bay that drove a wedge between neighbors, the controversial North Wavecrest redevelopment project had its day at the polls on Tuesday and was trounced by a nearly 2-1 margin.
Measure I, the ballot measure that embodied the project, was shot down by a vote of 1,879 to 1,024, according to the City Clerk. The vote was an enormous victory for redevelopment opponents who argued that redevelopment was both morally wrong for Half Moon Bay and a potential financial quagmire.
"I think people had enough doubts in their minds that they decided to play it conservatively," said a jubilant Councilwoman Deborah Ruddock, who cast the only no vote on the project when it was approved by the City Council in July.
Ruddock, who was easily re-elected, added: "I think in the end . . . we were able to convince people there are alternatives even though they weren't discussed in sufficient detail yet. I think people right now are scared of the idea of unlimited debt and taking on debt without voter approval."
An overwhelming majority of voters voted the measure down in all of Half Moon Bay's eight precincts save one, Ocean Colony, where supporters outvoted project foes 247 to 143. Absentee voters rejected the measure 273 to 175, although a small number of absentee votes remained to be counted as of early Wednesday morning.
The proposed plan included 750 homes, a golf course, a 37-acre community park and 22-acre school site.
Supporters claimed the project would have brought the city numerous benefits _ the park and school site, as well as blufftop setbacks and beach access _ without taxing city residents. Further, supporters argued, the project was the best deal the city could get given that the land, which was subdivided into about 1,600 lots in 1906, will be developed regardless and without provisions for a park or school site.
Critics of Measure I, on the other hand, maintained it would open a Pandora's box of problems, including increased traffic, bonded indebtedness without a vote of the people, and an unresponsive new government bureaucracy. Many questioned the process of redevelopment itself, particularly its power of eminent domain for private development.
Voters appeared to share those sentiments.
"I don't think the city should be able to declare neighborhoods blighted just for a private developer," said Jane Goldman, echoing a sentiment expressed by several people outside the polls.
Even Anthony Jenkins, a Half Moon Bay construction worker, took a few minutes off from a job right across the street from his Casa Del Mar polling station to cast a no vote. He said he was concerned that the development would cause the city to "lose its good down-home feeling . . . and I don't trust developers."
Other issues raised by voters included tactics by supporters that they believed were dirty, distrust of developers, disagreement that the land is "blighted," and a general feeling that government should not be involved in private development to such an extent.
In the end, the questions raised by Measure I opponents, led by victorious City Council candidates Ruddock and Dennis Coleman, were more than enough to stop the project. Indeed, opposition to Measure I was inexorably linked with Ruddock and Coleman, just as the Measure I camp was linked closely to council candidates Ed Stoehr and Phil Schiller, who were vocal supporters of the measure.
Coleman said he believed voters simply felt 750 homes was too much all at once.
"Everybody wants a park," he said. "Everybody wants to help the schools, but I think they felt the price was too high."
At a gathering at Cameron's Inn for Measure I supporters and candidates Stoehr and Schiller, the mood was one of disappointment. Friends consoled each other on a battle lost, but well-fought.
Half Moon Bay Mayor and Measure I proponent Naomi Patridge said she was saddened by the defeat.
"I really thought Measure I would win. I just saw too many amenities for the city. I'm sorry for the city. I'm sorry for these kids," she said, pointing to a group of children walking past.
Schiller remained buoyant despite his loss and could offer no explanation for the defeat of Measure I. He said that although Measure I was an important issue, it overshadowed the election and was too closely associated with the candidates.
"I had hoped residents could separate candidates from a single issue," he said, pledging to run again.
Stoehr refused to comment.
At the gathering, Patridge raised the possibility that the city may lose the use of Smith Field, a group of five baseball fields the city leases from Arcadia Properties, one of North Wavecrest's largest property owners. Had Measure I passed, the project would have ceded ownership of the fields to the city.
"I have no idea what Arcadia is going to do," she said.
City Manager Mark Weiss, who also supported Measure I, said the defeat was a disappointing one, but it was time to return to other business at hand. Weiss also acknowledged a reluctance by residents to accept government involvement in private development.
"We still have a city to run. This is just one department, if you will."
Although Measure I was handily defeated, it may technically still not be ready for burial.
After the project was approved by the City Council in July, residents gathered enough signatures for a referendum on the project. It was not in time for the November election, however, and has tentatively been set for March during the Presidential Primary vote.
In recent weeks, however, the city attorney has said the council can pull the referendum off the ballot since the ordinance that would have been approved by Measure I enacting the redevelopment plan will not take effect. The council majority of Patridge and Councilmen Larry Patterson and Jerry Donovan have expressed a desire to withdraw the vote. Until Tuesday opponents had objected, however, claiming that the referendum would provide an added level of legal assurance that the project was killed in the event a developer tried to resuscitate it.
Tuesday night, however, Ruddock suggested that the March vote may not be necessary if the council shows signs it will honor the voter's will. Coleman said he would like to wait 60 days to decide, since that is how long developers have to file a lawsuit challenging the project's defeat.