The Half Moon Bay City Council has set four 2021 priority areas to fund in its upcoming yearly budget plans, with frustration among some councilmembers about the slow process and lack of city action.

The four identified areas were affordable housing, economic recovery and development, community and climate resiliency/sustainability and public health, safety and emergency preparedness. Some on the council were frustrated at the March 17 study session about the lack of concrete action to address priorities like affordable housing and community relationship with law enforcement.

Councilwoman Deborah Penrose said the wordsmithing exercise was of very little use, and she wanted to see action priorities around internet access for everyone in the city, a beach plan for upcoming traffic problems and building affordable housing this year. City Manager Bob Nesbit said it might take three to five years to get robust cellular service and internet broadband for all.

“Coming up with broad categories that are as highfalutin as these are useless, and I would like to see us attack our strategic priority list with actual plans to actually do something,” Penrose said.

Councilman Harvey Rarback agreed with Penrose and wanted honest and straightforward action-oriented priorities to improve the community. He wanted a real plan on affordable housing and improving law enforcement community relationships.

“We need to get the community, especially people of color, not to distrust the police, and the way we do that is by having actual honest work between the deputies and the people who are affected. Those are two of my priorities,” Rarback said.

Councilman Joaquin Jimenez supported Rarback’s priorities, citing no affordable housing being built in the last six years. He questioned if affordable housing was a priority and wanted more city action.

“How much do we actually care about our low-income community? We talk and talk, and we have been bringing this up at City Council meetings for years. I’m there with you. What will it take for this community to take some action?” Jimenez said.

Jimenez also wanted action to help relationships between the community and law enforcement.

“Knowing my community, the community of color, they don’t feel safe. How can you not feel safe when law enforcement is around you, and they are here to protect you. So please, let’s do some action plans,” Jimenez said.

Mayor Robert Brownstone strongly recommended that anyone on the council whose issue wasn’t being prioritized put it on the next council meeting agenda. He said everyone should work on prioritizing topics that aren’t moving along fast enough.

“If you feel something isn’t getting done, speak up when I ask, is there something you want to prioritize on the next agenda,” Brownstone said.

Vice Mayor Debbie Ruddock said the meeting’s goal was on coming up with a common plan rather than attacking staff and the facilitator.

“I’m kind of unhappy with this me, me, me, and what I want out of this process as opposed to what we are working on together. I’m assuming the next remarks by the city manager is going to recall to your attention what this process is supposed to be about,” Ruddock said.

Potential affordable housing solutions identified before the meeting through conversations with the council and city staff include rental assistance and support programs, homeowner assistance, housing for agriculture workers, buying church land, low-income developments, partnerships and developing a 50-unit apartment building downtown.

Brownstone said affordable housing includes homelessness because if the city does not have enough affordable housing, many people can find themselves on the cusp of homelessness.

“Affordable housing has been a long-term priority, and I don’t see that going away,” Brownstone said.

Public health, safety and emergency preparedness solutions were also important, particularly with the pandemic still going on and issues in that category around seniors. Potential areas to address include law enforcement training and improved community relationships and addressing wildfire dangers and COVID-19.

“We have had a lot of emergency awareness emergencies in the last 12 months, including COVID, including life-threatening fires, and that’s in addition to our normal state of emergency awareness with earthquakes,” Brownstone said.

Ruddock asked that community and climate resiliency and sustainability be grouped to address the climate action plan, outreach on reach codes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting agriculture.

“I think those go together, and that would incorporate things like investment in our social infrastructure, in our nonprofit institutions, in healthy programs like Parks and Rec and activities for youth and activities for seniors,” Ruddock said.

Other topics in the category include specific efforts to hear from the Latino community and including Latino communities more fully in council priorities. Jimenez said that being inclusive of everyone in the community will help create a resilient community.

“We don’t want to go back to normal. We want to move to better; that’s resiliency right there,” Jimenez said.

Economic recovery and development ideas include supporting downtown revitalization, small grants for downtown business, more electric vehicle charging stations, developing a proper town square and moving City Hall off Main Street. City staff will create a two-year action plan for a May meeting on the June budget discussion.

“This priority setting, which is so helpful to the council and staff, is really then for us to prepare the budget that the council will approve in June that starts the 12-month-period July 1, 2021,” Nesbit said.

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