Activists can’t stop bailout for Half Moon Bay — yet

A controversial bill to rescue Half Moon Bay from long-term financial strain is now one step closer to saving the city $18 million.

The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Gene Mullins, D-South San Francisco, would allow the city to avoid an $18 million payment to developer Charles “Chop” Keenan by allowing him to build subdivisions on two properties containing wetlands.

The deal between Keenan and city officials was struck in March as a way for the city to dodge bankruptcy due to a $41 million judgment it owed Keenan.

On Thursday, the state Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 9-4 in favor of the bill, AB 1991. It will likely go before a full Assembly vote next week.

The bill, however, is disheartening to environmentalists.

Sierra Club California Deputy Director Paul Mason, who spoke against the bill, said the state’s major environmental groups would lobby against its passage.

“We’re certainly going to fight it hard because it’s a very troubling precedent when you waive all environmental laws for a certain developer. You do that here and every city and town in California is going to want the same treatment,” Mason said. “It’s essentially the state giving away its oversight over the environment.”

While Assemblymember Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, cosponsored the bill, Assemblymember Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, cast one of the four votes against it.

The decision cheered Half Moon Bay officials, who insist the bill’s language is narrowly written to address the city’s dire circumstances, and couldn’t be applied elsewhere.

Mayor Bonnie McClung said the vote put Half Moon Bay one step closer to achieving the best resolution in the difficult matter.

“The 9-4 vote in favor of AB 1991 shows that the committee understands how critical this legislation is to the future of our city,” McClung stated. “The citizens of Half Moon Bay have worked hard on a grass-roots campaign to support AB 1991, and we are making every effort to see that AB 1991 becomes law.”

In an analysis released Wednesday, Assembly staff estimated that the law, which would exclude the 129 lots on the properties from state-level environmental review, would cost the Coastal Commission about $100,000.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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