A new reclamation plan for the Pacifica Quarry has generated renewed concern about any potential plans to use the somewhat infamous Rockaway Quarry as anything other than a free dog park and pampas grass forest. There’s also a city sewer plant on 12 acres of the 86-acre parcel.
The quarry stirs up a lot of emotion in Pacifica. There have been four major attempts to develop the property since 1990. All of them failed to gain public support allowing for a mixed-use residential project.
When I started working at the Pacifica Tribune in 1990, the common phrase promoted by city officials was that the Rockaway Quarry was the “crown jewel” of revenue-generating property potential within the city. I’m not kidding. It was like a shining possibility as the largest piece of developable land left along the Pacifica coast.
Then came what many have called the “poison pill” lurking in the quarry. No matter what was built as a commercial project, if it included even one residential unit, an approving vote would be required from the majority of Pacifica voters.
Depending on your memory or your politics, this was either a brilliant deception or an honest challenge for a developer to handle. It also became a tug-of-war, repeated four times, ending in defeat or victory, again depending on your personal view.
The history of the quarry, dating back to the 1700s, is linked mostly with the growth of San Francisco and the need for the high-grade limestone that could be removed. Much of it was used after the 1906 earthquake. The open bowl area is undoubtedly the most recognizable geographic element of the area and motorists view it while passing by as well as hikers scrambling around it. All mining operations ceased in 1987. Every commercial project in the quarry has required a reclamation plan, but only minimal efforts were ever completed. Filling in the bowl over a four-year period, as outlined in the reclamation plan, is sure to generate plenty of discussion. It already has.
When the city decided to replace the Sharp Park Wastewater Treatment Plant on Palmetto Avenue, some 12 acres of the quarry was purchased for the purpose of locating a state-of-the-art tertiary treatment plant. Included in that plan is the expansion of the existing Calera Creek as an outfall directly into the Pacific Ocean. This replaced the outfall duties of the Pacifica Pier, which had been built for the Sharp Park Sewer Plant.
Oddly enough, the rushing waters coming from the Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant created their own outfall and mysteriously dwindle at the delta of the creek where it meets the ocean. The water dug its own path, and like a Mexican cenote, disappears from view, seeming to join the sea at a less visible juncture.
A litany of proposals, each one differing in scope but all requiring some residential component, have been generated by different quarry owners. This makes a great trivia game for folks who have lived in Pacifica for several decades. It can also make a dinner party grind to a halt in the same way the two-party politics of America can throw a turd in the punchbowl.
It’s hardly worth bringing up quarry development tales from the 1990s: each was basically a mixed-use hotel/commercial project with a residential element. The one that actually came pretty close to clearing the hurdle, in my mind, was proposed by Don Peebles. His idea was to build a major hotel, include 355 residential units and put in a “town center” with all the amenities. He also hired architect Andres Duany, noted for his Seaside, Fla., project, to design the whole thing.
Few things in Pacifica can generate heated debates like the Rockaway Quarry, and especially the Peebles project. The November 2006 ballot vote lost by 452 votes, and Peebles moved on. He is now developing Angels Landing in Los Angeles and Affirmation Tower in New York City.
While Peebles was working on his quarry idea in Pacifica, he also purchased a building at 250 Brannan Street in San Francisco for $19.8 million. When the Pacifica project failed, he sold the building there for $31.2 million in 2007. That was pretty smart.
I have not followed the Rockaway Quarry projects since 2007. There have been rumors and discussions about hotels, environmental mitigation deals and other ideas. The current reclamation plan, which according to city officials does not include any commercial development, could eventually make a new proposal viable. The quarry is zoned for commercial use, (2.4 million square feet) after all, and has never been bought by an open space entity. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area owns Mori Point, keeping it out of any future development hands. Something like that probably should have happened to the quarry.
However, that did not happen and the new dinner-table discussion for Pacificans revolves around this new reclamation plan and what it may or may not mean in the future. Whatever happens, the public will still have the opportunity to vote if any residential use is included in any future proposal.
Chris Hunter is a former publisher of the Pacifica Tribune.
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