After 3.5 hours of public comments, and roughly one hour of questions and comments from members, the Redwood City Planning Commission voted 7-0 in favor of allowing the proposed development of luxury waterfront homes at Pete's Harbor to move forward Tuesday.
There were a few tense moments, as members of the audience criticized the Planning Commissioners for admonishing their vocal reactions to harsh words by proponents of the project, yet they did not admonish the proponents' insults of Pete's Harbor tenants and others against the project, such as members of Occupy Redwood City (ORWC) and Save Pete's Harbor 2012.
Former Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard spoke during the public hearing and severely chastised members of ORWC for what she felt were cruel attacks on Paula Uccelli, owner of Pete's Harbor, during the Oct. 16 meeting. She strongly suggested ORWC should write her a formal letter of apology.
James Lee, one of ORWC's main organizers, responded by saying that the night's discussion should not be a popularity contest of sorts and should not focus on Paula Uccelli's character, whether one thinks it is good or bad.
"We’re not here to discuss someone’s character. How can you talk about that when there are people here who are about to lose their homes?" he said. "I can talk about the wonderful character of all the people who live at Pete’s Harbor. Does that mean my argument is any less important?"
As for the project being proposed, Lee said, "We want you to approve something that’s a win-win for everyone – something that allows Paula to leave her property, and also allows the tenants to stay and preserves the harbor for the public community. That can be done."
Yet, the tense words from both sides of the issue continued.
Susan Uccelli, the niece of the late Pete Uccelli, said the group Save Pete's Harbor 2012 insulted her uncle's memory by calling themselves that.
"'Save Pete’s Harbor?' That is very offensive. You are hijacking my uncle’s property. You are not saving Pete’s Harbor," she said to the audience. "This is about a woman trying to follow her husband’s dying dreams. This project brings jobs, housing and much-needed dollars for this community."
As for those who claim the tenants are not being given enough time or notice to find other places to live, Susan Uccelli countered, "You’ve known for 12 years. You couldn’t pick up a phone and call another harbor then, 12 years ago? Paula did it, and it’s not her responsibility," said said.
She then pointed out that the group "obviously had time" because they took the time to organize themselves against the development, time to make a Facebook page against it, time put together a petition against it and go out get it signed, and many other activities against the development.
"You've obviously got time," she said.
Many in the audience who seemed to be against the development - many of them current tenants of Pete's Harbor - seemed to realize a vote in favor of the development was coming, and therefore chose to focus on dealing with the futures of the people currently living there, whether in boats, RVs, trailers or the like, when they had their three minutes at the microphone.
One commenter, who lives in an RV at the harbor, asked the Planning Commission to urge local police to ease up on ticketing RVs and other large trucks if they have to park elsewhere because of being evicted. He also asked the Commission to do more to help current tenants find places to move to.
Another tenant said she called every place on the list of “affordable housing places” tenants were provided with, and said she came up with no viable options. She said some had waiting lists at least two years long, others won't start a waiting list, and the one or two places she found that had openings only had one or two RV spots available.
Because of those conditions, a few commenters expressed concern over some veterans who currently live at Pete's Harbor who need to be close to the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Hospital. They said, if they have to move as far away as Pillar Point or San Francisco or Berkeley, it will jeopardize their health care accessibility.
A few Redwood City businesspeople spoke in favor of the project.
Mike Kastrop, a local architect and president of the Downtown Business Group, as well as a self-proclaimed longtime sailor, said, "As an architect, I find this project is nicely designed, it's appropriate for Redwood City, and it's all within codes and guidelines. This is a quality project and I would be glad to see it help our city be improved.”
A local realtor said reactions to the project had her gravely concerned.
"I get very nervous when we have Planning Commission meetings and there are 50-plus speakers, speaking out against progress," she said. "It is Paula’s property and it is her right to sell it and to have something beautiful built on it. It’s time to move on. This is not being fast-tracked. Ten years is not a fast track, that’s a slow track."
When the public hearing portion of the meeting came to a close shortly before 10 p.m., and the Commissioners had their chance to ask questions and comment on the project, many kept coming back to the fact they felt it was the merits of the project that warranted a Yes vote.
Commissioner Kevin Bondonno said to the audience, "Please hear my heart that I have heard all comments. In my opinion, this is an excellent project that fits all the parameters of the City’s vision. But personally, I feel for you. If I had to find a new place to live, I know it would be hard. My heart goes out to you."
In response to opponents of the project that said they were concerned it would limit public access to the waterfront, Commissioner Shawn White said he felt it would actually increase access.
"I've been out there several times recently. Today you can go out there freely, park and walk around the waterfront," he said. "When I think of public access, I think of being able to enjoy the area. With this project, it seems public access is greatly increased, beyond just through the parking lot, which is largely what access is today."
"So, when I compare current conditions with proposed conditions of what Redwood City can enjoy, I think it benefits all of Redwood City. It adds a lot of new public access that doesn’t exist today."
White also pointed out that it was "not within the Commission's purview" to judge what a property owner should do with his or her property, as long as they are following what the law allows, which he said Paula Uccelli is doing with regards to her tenants.
"Anytime within the last year, the Uccellis could have terminated their tenants' leases, for any reason whatsoever, and the City would not have a say in it," he said. "So, as long as she is following the law [and giving her tenants notice], why should we have a say in it now?"
Chairman Ernie Schmidt said he agreed, though he did feel sorry for the tenants who would have to move from the home they love.
"You are asking the Commission to take away the rights of a property owner [by asking us to vote No]," he said; therefore he felt the Commission had to vote based solely on the merits of the project, which he felt were good for Redwood City.
"However, I have been reading all of your wonderful memories you have of living at Pete's Harbor in the articles on Patch and they really touched me," he said, sharing a few memories of his own times at Pete's Harbor with his family. Therefore he said he did regret that the tenants would be displaced.
In the end, the Commission voted unanimously in favor of the project, shortly before 11 p.m.
As expected, many had negative reactions to the vote following the meeting.
"For shame, Redwood City," ORWC member James Lee tweeted following the vote.
Sabrina Brennan, a current candidate for the position of Harbor Commissioner on the San Mateo County Harbor District board, said she was not surprised by how the Planning Commission voted, but was still concerned for the property.
"I got the sense from some of the Commissioners' discussion of the project that there are a lot of potential complications with the project," such as sea level rise, parking issues, and more, she said. "I got the impression the Commission feels it's easier to just [approve it and then] kick the can down the street to the City Council to deal with the problems."
Brennan said she does appreciate how the project will add to the Bay Trail nearby in order to help increase recreational opportunities and public access to the waterfront at the harbor, however she said she worries that the property will be built up too close to the water's edge.
"Especially being in a flood zone and sea level-rise area, I think it's unwise," she said. "Future generations are going to have to deal with the potential drawbacks, and pay for dealing with them."
"I'm concerned there's going to be a real problem in the future if they have to build up sea walls to protect the development from rising sea levels," she continued. "Once a development is there, you can't remove it - but legally, you have to protect it. So it doesn't make sense to me to add to that problem."
Assistant City Attorney Veronica Ramirez did say that developer Paul Powers will have to deal with the state in getting approval for developing the outer harbor area - which the Uccellis only lease and manage, and do not own - before beginning construction.
She said, if his company cannot get those necessary approvals, the project will be shut down.
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