if *I* were to develop the quarry…

If you know where the quarry is, or if you’ve EVER been to Rockaway beach – you’ve driven by my house, and maybe parked right out front.  I also could be called an “Out of Town developer”, since I did not grow up here.  However,    I do live here now, for which I feel truly blessed.  I managed to buy a building on Rockaway, with a goal of commercial exploitation of the space – but I will keep on living here, come what may. I love this beach.

Because my building needed *ahem* a little work when I first saw it, and it sits on commercially zoned land (although starting life as a single family residence), I was careful to visit the planning department, pull all the documents regarding the land and the Rockaway Beach special plan, review them carefully, and understand what was possible and allowed.  Most of the Beach is C-1 zoning.  You can look it up, but it boils down to “No residential on the ground floor, residential over commercial is OK.”  It’s not hard to understand, and it’s a very workable plan.

You can see the plan here – by the way, kudos to the city for putting this content on-line and so easy to find.  As you can see, the plan does not  stymie development of the quarry – quite the contrary – but does specify commercial land use. If you recall Rockaway in the eighties -it was funky but cool.  Today, execution of that plan has resulted in a vibe that is just as funky, and much more attractive and tourist friendly, while still managing to improve the city tax base and provide parking at the same time.

My observations, as someone who lives here and observes this daily is that we do get a LOT of tourist traffic in season, and the demographic mix is healthy and fairly well heeled mostly. There is no commercial space available on the beach currently, other than that run down KFC building.  For whatever reasons, the rents have been kept low for the businesses here. I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing, but high occupancy is important in a retail area like Rockaway.

When I moved in, the topics everyone seemed to want to talk about when we would meet on the street is the widening of US 1, and what’s wrong with Pacifica. I was regaled with many tales of failed attempts to develop here.  As someone with a background in sales and marketing, who has lived and worked in Beach towns that were thriving, it blew my mind.  It is a great spot – Rockaway has the closest oceanfront hotels to SFO, beautiful coastside scenery, easy access from US1 (lets not kid ourselves, it doesn’t need to be widened, it needs to be managed), even a stoplight.  Boom, boom, boom. You would have to work at it to screw it up.

Do it like so:   Put up the hotel (I’d do that FIRST) along with the Amphitheater – the one part of the plan I like.  Amphitheater at THAT spot has potential to be a great musical venue – like Mountain Winery in Saratoga or even the Shoreline.  Yes, more traffic again, but it is manageable- Saratoga manages to survive Mountain Winery shows with one lane in and out.

A bit of branding and some effective marketing and now Pacifica has many people driving over the hills at non rush hour times to come to events, maybe spend the night, leave a pile of money behind, and go home.  I would even propose and volunteer to promote a new festival – maybe the “Rockaway Beach Folk and Art Festival” to drive brand awareness.  I can state without reservation that we can get headline talent into a venue with the location and demographic of Rockaway Beach. It just takes promotion.

So, yes to hotels, yes to shops, maybe put a bit of housing over the shops. If residential is needed for funding, I might propose extending Old County Road back to it’s original path and zone that street C-1 throughout. Rents would be higher due to lower density, but in the housing market for the Bay Area today, I would be confident in maintaining a high percentage of occupancy without the infrastructure strain of a high density approach. The same plan without the housing would require no rezoning at all.

If the quarry must be rezoned , C-1 makes more sense for the city and residents.  That is the zoning of the rest of Rockaway.  With this plan it is not strictly necessary,  but it would be in keeping with the argument that the Rockaway plan as put forth HAS worked – the beach not only is generating some tax revenue for the city, but better yet, it is money that out of towners bring in and leave behind. Expand it.  Zone the quarry C-1 to match the rest of Rockaway beach, with the argument that  the quarry is part of the beach, not a separate district.  Sure, you could put housing in, but low density, above the shops, just like on Dondee and Old County Rd.

An extreme version of this might look like Santana Row in San Jose, but limited to other density strictures in the general plan regarding building height and footprint this would address what many seem to think we need – Development to attract business, residential to pay the bills while commercial takes off- and keep density low enough to minimize the impact with regards to traffic. ANY development anywhere is going to increase traffic to that spot – if it will not, there is really no need or motivation to develop it.

A developer could play for the tax breaks by calling the development “low income housing” if he chose to. Low income, oceanfront property is frankly nonsensical in my opinion though, particularly from a city tax revenue point of view. In essence, you are taking land that could be bringing in affluent,  tourist disposable income, which we get to keep after pleasantly separating it from the tourists and sending them home, and instead using it to house people least likely to be able to generate tax revenue, while adding burden to our local infrastructure.  Police and Fire already make up half of the city budget.  Would 200 units of low income housing on a beach add to that burden?  Would the property taxes cover it, particularly with low income tax breaks?? Because the sales tax revenue just drove to Target in San Bruno.

That’s a thumbnail on what *I* would do.  I might also get shot down, given history here, but a plan like that would be a lot better for the city and residents from a  financial standpoint than this rezoning.  A developer with vision could see the potential here, but we seem to be faced with a speculator who has gambled a lot of money that he will be allowed to get away with contravening a long standing successful plan.  My plan is not nearly as lucrative in the short term as hundreds of apartments, but executed well, the long term result would be  a raising of commercial real estate values tremendously for the entire Rockaway beach district and do much more for the city tax base.

But it isn’t my quarry, now is it?

2 thoughts on “if *I* were to develop the quarry…”

  1. I don’t know who wrote this part, but no we don’t need an amphitheater in the quarry, and we don’t need work live buildings either I don’t think the ones now in Rockaway look attractive nor do they appear to draw people. Rockaway quarry has been beautiful open space for the 36 years I have lived in Pacifica. People come from all over to walk and enjoy nature. We already have to many people and way to much traffic already-and now we have more crime. I just saw On Pacifica Patch that there were lock downs at 3 schools because of shottings cloSe by. Is this what we want for the future of Pacifica. I’m sorry, but I didn’t move to Pacifica to be living in the Los Angeles of the west, or to live in snootville. I didn’t move to Pacifica to see every possible space developed, and where I had to wonder where are the owls, the skunks, coyotees, rabbits etc, and instead being stuck in traffic, with millions of people, more crime, etc.

    I wonder what kind of legacy you want to leave for your kids. Sorry kids no more salmon, no more wild animals,
    Sorry you can’t afford to live here, sorry no more trees and open spaces, just pollution, millions of people, 5 hour traffic jams, but sorry kids I gad to leave you this because of greed and shortsightedness and not appreciating the beauty and down to earth place I used to live in.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Marcie. I would go so far as to say “need” is a funny word. Do we “Need” any of this? I personally don’t. I “Need” to eat, sleep, and occasionally take a crap, and I have done all of those things in hovels and mansions, in nature and in cities. So, lets not say “Need”. Instead, lets talk “quality of life”, which is neither a need nor a right – it is a goal, and it is not defined the same way by everyone

    My motivation for this post was not to lay out an alternative plan, it is simply what one residents’ view of the best use of this space from a civic and community standpoint. Since you brought it up, The legacy I hope to leave my family is frankly not too different from that of Charles Gust – a thriving little seaside resort town, embracing the natural beauty and environment of the coast line while acknowledging the realities that come with this location. So, no, we don’t “need”, a venue, another hotel, Occupancy tax revenue, more apartments, but by that argument we also don’t need Police and fire protection, paved roads, quality schools, or a city tax base strong enough to end the 30 year perpetual crisis mode. Hell, we don’t “Need” a city at all, and if the community cannot get past these eternal debates, we may not have one in 10 years. Those are all quality of life things, just like watching that cute little fox that I saw on the hill overlooking the quarry this morning.

    The reality is, so long as the quarry sits undeveloped, bean counters and speculators will notice it, do the math on the profit potential, and try to put up residential. There is a LOT of money at stake – big time, absentee landlord money. The Bay area housing market is beyond insane. That is the real threat to the quality of life that I think we both agree on. So long as the status quo remains and the land sits undeveloped but available, speculators are going to notice it. Speculators are economically motivated and base decisions on risk vs. reward. As a community – we either need to reduce the reward, increase the risk, or as a community take charge of the situation and take the the issue off the market with community focused development of the property as was intended in the Rockaway Beach special plan.

    I hate to say it, but while I share your view that sitting in traffic sucks, and crime is bad, crime will still be bad and traffic will still suck if no shovel ever breaks ground in Pacifica again, and your concern for my kids welfare is disingenuous and just as selfish to the community as the speculator trying to slap up some apartments. The days of Zero Growth in Pacifica have led to a perilous situation for the entire community, and you do not get out of such situations by making the same decisions that got you there.

    Like many quality of life discussions, this is a series of compromises – the best compromises are the ones where everyone feels like they won, the next best are those where everyone feels like they lost, but what they lost was not as important as what the got.

    Taking into the account the these realities, if you have a better plan that preserves the quality of life you value, while also enhancing the quality of life of the rest of the community, I would love to hear it – put it together, and if I like it, I’ll back it. But complaining without offering alternatives is just bitching.

    In closing – My “Plan” is not really a plan – it’s a statement of priorities, and the best way in my view to move past the 30 year status quo crisis, end the constant land speculation cycle that I view as harmful and divisive to the community, and move forward with maximum benefits for the community while minimizing the downside. It’s just my opinion. And I have been wrong before. Change my mind – show me a better plan. Please.

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