Officials expressed cautious optimism Wednesday as a bill designed to rescue their city from financial strain squeaked through its first legislative hoop.
Last month, a deal between Charles "Chop" Keenan and the city was struck that would allow Half Moon Bay to avert paying the developer a $41 million court judgement.
The deal hinges on the passage of AB 1991, a special rescue bill proposed by Assemblymember Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco. Members of the state Assembly’s Local Government Committee voted 4-2 to pass the bill Wednesday.
Now, the bill will go before the Appropriations Committee, most likely on May 14 or 21. If it passes through that committee, it will go to the Assembly floor, said Sara Ramirez, chief of staff for Mullin.
"I’m really pleased that we got by step one," said Half Moon Bay Mayor Bonnie McClung. "But I feel like even though I can be happy in the moment, there is a lot of work to do for AB 1991 to become law."
If the bill is approved, it would allow the city to avoid paying Keenan $18 million by allowing him to build subdivisions on two properties containing wetlands, Beachwood and Glencree. If the bill fails, the city will have to pay Keenan the $18 million. The city has a $10 million yearly operating budget.
The legislation, however, has raised the ire of a number of environmental groups. State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, also dropped his co-sponsorship of the bill due to environmental concerns.
On Wednesday, Sierra Club of California Deputy Director Paul Mason said he was disappointed by the bill’s passage. He said it sets a dangerous precedent in which cities in financial trouble can flout environmental law.
"It’s always going to be easier to change the rules than to follow them," Mason said. "When the Legislature decides to change the rules as political favors, that’s the beginning of the end for the fairness of rule of law in California."
Both sides say they are gearing up for a tough fight.
"We’re already starting to decide how we’re going to present the bill in Appropriations," Mullin said. "We didn’t have much wiggle room obviously. We needed four votes and we got four votes."
Supporters of AB 1991 insist the bill won’t weaken environmental protections due to its specific language narrowly tailored to Beachwood’s specific circumstances.
Examiner Staff Writer Sasha Vasilyuk contributed to this report.