Ruling opens door for takeover of Harbor District 

Despite $1M in savings, supervisor says county not interested in stepping in

REDWOOD CITY — County officials on Wednesday balked at the idea of taking over the county Harbor District, run by an independently elected board, despite a vote that leaves the door open for the district to be dissolved.

The Local Agency Formation Committee — which oversees city and school district boundaries, as well as special districts — voted unanimously Wednesday to declare that the district has a "zero" sphere of influence, effectively branding it an unnecessary government body.

A report prepared by LAFCo before Wednesday’s meeting found that harbor services could be provided in a more cost-effective manner by another agency, such as the county. However, Jerry Hill, president of the Board of Supervisors and a LAFCo board member, said Wednesday that he doesn’t know which agency that would be.

"I don’t think the county wants to take over the Harbor District," Hill said. Aside from about $1 million in annual savings that might be realized by doing away with the publicly elected board and its administrators, the Harbor District is doing a decent job, Hill said.

County Parks and Recreation Director Dave Holland said that with his division still reeling from budget cuts going back several years, he is not interested in running the Harbor District, which still owes the state Boating and Waterways Department more than $19 million in loans. The loans, as with most harbor districts, were taken out for harbor construction, including Oyster Point in South San Francisco and Pillar Point Half Moon Bay, officials said.

Exactly what risk Wednesday’s vote poses to the district isn’t clear, since it has been operating under a similar status since 1977. What was clear, however, was that LAFCo committee members want the district to begin bringing in more revenue and cutting expenses to reduce long-term debt. "We want the district to be self-supporting, not dependent on property taxes," Linda Craig, a LAFCo commissioner, said.

Harbor District General Manager Peter Grenell and others connected with the district vigorously opposed the "zero" sphere of influence declaration, calling it troubling, and attempted to shoot holes in LAFCo’s analysis.

"To my feeling, this is a stepping stone that leaves the door open for dissolution," Harbor District President Pietro Parravano said.

Grenell said that while the district had to defer loan payments for the past five years, it has now restructured its finances and plans to begin paying off the loans to the tune of more than $1 million a year beginning in 2007.

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