James Lee

Pillar Point is Our Harbor

James Lee Han

My name is James Lee Han. I’m a 35-year-old native of Redwood City. I’m also a community activist, a writer, and an avid fan of the San Mateo County coast.

My childhood, with many long days spent on the Coastside, is one of the reasons I care deeply about what happens to our Harbor District. Growing up, my family would visit Pillar Point Harbor at least once a month to buy or catch fish as well as enjoy the coastal views. Despite being born and raised on “the other side of the hill,” almost every summer weekend was spent at Pillar Point Harbor (PPH). We mistakenly referred to trips to PPH as “going to Half Moon Bay” because for us they were one and the same: all part of a lovely trip to the ocean.

My early childhood memories and my love for the harbor are why I strongly disagree with the recent assertions made by San Mateo County’s LAFCo that there’s an “absence of nexus”—or in layman’s terms, a serious disconnect—between the countywide property tax revenue base for the Harbor District and the two sites over which this special district has jurisdiction: Pillar Point Harbor (PPH) on the coast and Oyster Point Marina (OPM) in South San Francisco. I strongly oppose the notion that only Coastside residents near PPH should contribute property tax revenue to help fund the harbor’s operations, and I also oppose the suggestion made by Supervisor Horsley in his role as a LAFCo commissioner that the Harbor District should change its boundaries and its election format.

James Lee Han Martins Beach CA

There are many public resources in our county that, like the Harbor District, are paid for by taxpayers countywide, such as Edgewood Park and San Bruno Mountain. I love these parks and visit them often, but if I mention Pillar Point Harbor, Edgewood Park, and San Bruno Mountain to the average county resident, it’s more likely that they have visited the harbor. If we apply the “absence of nexus” argument equally, why should all county taxpayers support county parks but not support PPH?

Pillar Point Harbor is a well-­known recreation location for working families in San Mateo County. It’s a nationally recognized destination for commercial fishing and recreational boating. There's no good reason why my family—who enjoy visiting PPH—should be excused from contributing property tax, while a lower­-income family living closer to the harbor should now be asked to cover the full cost for the whole county.

Any regular visitor to the Coastside knows you only have to be at Pillar Point Harbor on a weekend or a holiday to see that most people who use and enjoy the harbor aren’t Coastside residents. Shifting the tax burden of the Harbor District to a small segment of county residents who live near PPH actually increases, not decreases, the so-called unfair tax burden referred to as an “absence of nexus.”

However, if we want to relieve county taxpayers of an unfair tax burden, what about Oyster Point Marina? OPM is governed by a Joint Powers Authority agreement which gives South San Francisco and the Harbor District shared authority over the site. I believe that agreement should be terminated and management of the marina should be returned to the City. Compared to Pillar Point Harbor, OPM is not a widely­-known destination for recreational activities, and the resource is certainly utilized far less by countywide residents than PPH. Even the ferry service which transports employees from the East Bay primarily serves companies based in South San Francisco, and as the information in LAFCo’s own Municipal Service Review indicates, OPM isn’t a fiscally prudent management opportunity for the Harbor District. If we really want to address “absence of nexus” concerns, we should seriously consider “decoupling” the Harbor District from OPM and terminate the Joint Powers Authority agreement.

There are county residents who are hit with an unfair tax burden by the Harbor District: its minority communities. As widely reported in recent years, the participation of families of color in outdoor recreation activities and their engagement with public parks is markedly and disproportionately lower than that of their white counterparts. As a regular user of parks I’ve seen how striking the disparity is between those who visit our public parks and the people who actually live in adjacent neighborhoods, particularly at parks like San Bruno Mountain.

The LAFCo “absence of nexus” logic incorrectly suggests that the solution is to tax people who live near those facilities more. But if we’re really concerned about county residents getting taxed for a resource they don’t fully utilize, the solution isn’t to drastically narrow the revenue base for the Harbor District. It’s to increase minority outreach and broaden opportunities for people of all class and ethnic backgrounds to participate in recreational activities at PPH and OPM. It’s also to ensure that the District has inclusive hiring policies so that harbor and marina staff better represent the ethnic makeup of our county. And it means supporting diversity in countywide politics: we now have a Harbor District board which boasts a Latino commissioner and a Filipino commissioner, and this board also now happens to be one of the rare elected bodies in the Bay Area, perhaps even in California, with a majority of openly LGBT officials.

Since 2012, new faces have joined the Harbor District board, and things have been improving ever since. Let’s ensure the District is allowed to do its job, to preserve and maintain one of our county’s most important public resources.

If you have any questions you are welcome to call me at (650) 207-7251.

Respectfully yours,

James Lee Han
720 Warren St.
Redwood City, CA 94063