Martha Poyatos

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


Support our Harbor Commissioners

Captain Mike McHenry

My name is Mike McHenry, I'm a 71 year old fisherman at Pillar Point Harbor. I'm also a fish buyer, and leaseholder on Johnson Pier.

I started fishing at the harbor before the breakwater and the pier were built. As time marched on, Johnson Pier was constructed and it was first run by the County, then it went to the Harbor District.

In those early years fishermen had a great relationship with Harbor District Staff and the Harbor Commission. Our Harbormasters were all seafaring people who knew the ocean like the back of their hands. They saved many lives and the fishermen assisted them when needed.

About 20 years the District changed when a Commissioner who also served as the Treasurer of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen's Marketing Association embezzled over $100,000 from our association's bank account. At the time fishermen were disgusted with the Harbor Commission and they stopped showing up for board meetings. As a result the Commissioners got bolder and bolder, with no checks and balances in place. Our association melted away to nothing and the dark side of the harbor leadership emerged. 

Three years ago, out of the blue, the highest fish unloading fees on the West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle, were levied on Pillar Point Harbor Commercial Fishing businesses. In 2012 the Commissioners and the General Manager admitted the fees were high but refused to adjust them to be competitive with the rates in Moss Landing and San Francisco. These high fees paid by fishermen are ultimately passed on to the consumer, and have resulted in driving business away from San Mateo County to other neighboring ports.

After Harbor Commissioners hurt our local fishing businesses I began to attend board meetings and contest the fees. In 2013 I observed newly elected Commissioner Sabrina Brennan being ridiculed by the old boys club on the board because she dared to ask questions.

I immediately formed a bond with Commissioner Brennan because of her integrity, and because she asked for fiscal responsibility and transparency. Our newly formed fishermen's association, The Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, also sided with Sabrina, and needless to say this upset previous board members.

Then came the illegal installation of a new hoist on Johnson Pier for the fish buying business Three Captains, with dock space included. A total of three fish-buying businesses are located on Johnson Pier, and we all pay the same rent. However the new hoist location and dock space was never offered to the other two fish-buyers. It was clear to local fishermen that Three Captains was receiving preferential treatment by the Harbormaster and General Manager. To allow more room for Three Captains new hoist, we were told to move our bait lockers and bin storage from the end of the pier. The cost to the Harbor District was $175,000.  

The new Fishermen's Association and others asked Sabrina to look into this, which she did. At the time the old board and General Manager Peter Grenell would not even answer our questions. I also started checking into who paid what and I noticed that Three Captains' fee payment schedule was in disarray and appeared to be short a considerable sum of money. It was odd that the fish buyer with the new hoist location appeared to be short paying fees.

In early 2013 the General Manager Peter Grenell slyly buried a sentence into all three fish-buyers' 42 page lease agreements, under the Use and Limitations section. The leases allowed the installation of a new hoist at the Harbormasters discretion, strangely Three Captains knew all about it, but the other two buyers were unaware of the new provision because the changes were never redlined in the draft leases.

When I started reading my new lease more carefully I noticed that the General Manager had left out all the perimeters that designate the areas we operate within. This change was also not redlined in the draft lease agreements. The new leases changed 35 years of operations on Johnson Pier without any redlines in the draft agreements. Every fish unloading station on the West Coast of the US has well-designated perimeters except Pillar Point Harbor. And now Three Captains is suing the Harbor District over the new hoist.

Those of us who felt burned, decided to campaign to unseat the board in the November 2014 election. We succeeded in electing Commissioners Mattusch and David. Thankfully Commissioners Jim Tucker and Will Holsinger, both notorious for voting to end videotaping and public access broadcasts of board meetings, were swept out. 

Merva W 60-foot fishing vessel built in 1971

After many high-fives the new board was seated. As expected it didn't take long before they realized what a mess was left behind. Not surprisingly longtime General Manager Peter Grenell bailed out just before the new Commissioners were seated. After 17 years of mismanagement he retired and left the sinking ship before his corrupt business practices were fully discovered, and his girl Friday, the human resources lady, resigned.

Berth holders and fishermen are excited about our new board. We feel that dissolution at this time is foolish.

Supervisor Don Horsley's recent public statements in support of an appointed board are ludicrous. It appears some poor losers are putting pressure on the Board of Supervisor. Politically appointed representatives who lack wildlife credentials are the reason why the State Fish and Wildlife Commission is nearly defunct. Why would we want somebody from Hillsborough to represent a harbor?  

With an appointed board we would wind up with the same old Commissioners who were voted out. We haven't forgotten who gave the deceitful past General Manager a raise last year in a 4-1 vote before he retired.

Yesterday I asked San Mateo County LAFCo Commissioners to give this board a chance. 

One more election and the new board will be a well oiled-machine. If the voters had not spoken we would still be grounded on the dark side.

Commissioners Brennan, Mattusch, David and Bernardo are the solution, not the problem at the Harbor District.

If you have any questions please give me a call at (650) 703-5498.


Mike McHenry

Michael D. McHenry — Half Moon Bay, CA