Blatant vandalism of the historic Main Street Bridge in Half Moon Bay has spurred an investigation through the District Attorney’s Office that comes in the wake of a heated debate over whether the bridge should be rehabilitated or replaced that is set to hit the June ballot.
After a scoping session of the bridge March 15, city staff discovered five 1.5- to 2-inch diameter holes that had recently been bored several feet into the bridge’s concrete arch and supporting walls. Staff also noted an additional section of decayed concrete that had been chipped away, according to a city press release.
The City Council met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the recently discovered vandalism and directed the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to file a report with the district attorney, said City Attorney Tony Condotti.
The illegal actions will likely not prevent both ballot measures, the “Main Street Bridge Preservation Act” and the “Main Street Bridge Safety and Accessibility Act” from moving forward, Condotti said.
Citizens in support of preserving the historic integrity of the bridge grew furious with the council when it voted in September to replace the bridge. After residents informed the council of their intent to gather signatures and place a measure on the November ballot, the council decided earlier this month to expedite the process and provide voters with two options.
“The mere fact that someone might oppose the present course of City Council action shouldn’t be lumped in,” Condotti said. “This act which we view as criminal in nature [is] also causing significant damage because we are going to have to repair it and that’s going to involve a permitting process that’s going to cost a lot of money.”
Although the vandalism will not deter an election, it did violate multiple agency laws, Condotti said.
“Given the regulatory environment we’re in, it certainly violated requirements of the [California] Coastal Act and probably [California] Fish and Game code and other statutory regulations that can have severe civil penalty. And the City Council has directed us to pursue those if the perpetrator or perpetrators are identified,” Condotti said.
Officials were tipped off during the scoping session when a citizen inquired about recent drilling activity observed underneath the bridge, Mayor John Muller said. After consulting with staff and other organizations involved in the bridge’s safety considerations, the city confirmed an unknown, unauthorized person was responsible, Muller said.
The bridge runs over Pilarcitos Creek. It is ecologically sensitive and has been identified as Steelhead Trout habitat, Condotti said. Any type of work done on the bridge would require extensive permitting and “no one on our team would likely risk their license to do illicit testing on the bridge,” Condotti said.
The full extent of the damages and the price tag associated with repairing them have not been determined, Muller said. Testing and inspecting the bridge necessitates Caltrans’ and environmental agencies’ approval so it’s frustrating someone has taken valuable time and resources from the process, he said.
“It’s very unfortunate. We are working very closely with all agencies that we have to work with to even be able to go under the bridge to look at it. And then to have someone take it upon themselves ... to go in there illegally, most likely at night ... it does kind of set our whole process on its heels. This is a public structure. You do not do anything without authorization,” Muller said.
It took nearly two weeks for the city to issue a statement but the delay is justified, Muller said.
“Once we were aware of this incident, we immediately notified our lieutenant in charge of the coastside. He started an investigation and referred it to the district attorney,” Muller said. “Some people questioned us why we waited so long. But as elected officials we do not conduct those kinds of things, we have to let the experts do it. ... You can’t step in the middle of an investigation. We stayed away from it until we were given permission to put a news release out.”
Neither Muller nor Condotti want to speculate on the motivation behind the vandalism, but say the timing is uncanny.
“The bridge has been a very trying time for us; the last few months and these last few weeks have been very trying,” Muller said. “We just want to make sure we move forward in a very safe and legal manner.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Coastside Sheriff’s Office substation at (650) 726-8288 or the anonymous tip line at (800) 547-2700.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106