Land use decisions have far-reaching effects on the long-term sustainability of a community, impacting the location of new housing, businesses, schools, and parks. Land use policies influence everything from the diversity of the local economy to how much residents drive and the quality of food available.
With many towns and cities in San Mateo County fully built-out under current zoning, the focus on future development will largely be on designing more sustainable in-fill projects that bring new residents and businesses into already developed areas. To simultaneously meet the needs of a growing population and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, planning officials must decide where to site new commercial, industrial, government, and residential uses to make our communities more livable and allow residents and workers to get to school, work, and daily activities by walking, biking, and taking public transit.
Planning officials also need to determine the location and size of parks and open space lands. These valuable community assets are a place for people to enjoy outdoor exercise and experience the natural world, and they provide important linkages throughout the Bay Area where native habitat and wildlife areas can be preserved and protected.
Land use decisions also impact local agriculture. In San Mateo County, every dollar of agricultural production creates between $1.60–$3.50 of economic activity, and sustainable farming practices protect the land while providing residents with healthy, locally grown food. With the high price of real estate in the county, agricultural lands are continually at risk for development.
*Geographic data and land categorizations definitions provide by the National Land Cover Database.
- Developed, Open Space: a mixture of some constructed materials, but mostly vegetation in the form of lawn grasses. Impervious surfaces account for less than 20% of total cover and includes: large-lot single-family housing, parks, golf courses, and vegetation intended for recreation, erosion control, or aesthetic purposes.
- Developed, Low Intensity: a mixture of constructed materials and vegetation, where impervious surfaces account for 20% to 49% percent of total cover, usually consisting of single-family housing.
- Developed, Medium Intensity: a mixture of constructed materials and vegetation, where impervious surfaces account for 50% to 79% of the total cover, usually consisting of single-family housing.
- Developed, High Intensity: highly developed areas where people reside or work in high numbers, where impervious surfaces account for 80% to 100% of the total cover, such as apartment complexes, row houses and commercial/industrial.
- Barren Land (Rock/Sand/Clay): bedrock, slopes, sand dunes, and other accumulations of earthen material, where vegetation accounts for less than 15% of total cover.
- Deciduous Forest: areas dominated by trees generally greater than 5 meters tall, and greater than 20% of total vegetation cover. More than 75% of the tree species shed foliage simultaneously in response to seasonal change.
- Evergreen Forest: areas dominated by trees generally greater than 5 meters tall, and greater than 20% of total vegetation cover. More than 75% of the tree species maintain their leaves all year.
- Mixed Forest: areas dominated by trees generally greater than 5 meters tall, and greater than 20% of total vegetation cover. Neither deciduous nor evergreen species are greater than 75% of total tree cover.
- Shrub/Scrub: areas dominated by shrubs; less than 5 meters tall with shrub canopy typically greater than 20% of total vegetation.
- Grassland/Herbaceous: areas dominated by grass or plants, generally greater than 80% of total vegetation. These areas are not subject to intensive management such as tilling, but can be utilized for grazing.
- Pasture/Hay: grasses, legumes, or grass-legume mixtures planted for livestock grazing or the production of seed or hay crops, typically on a perennial cycle. Pasture/hay vegetation accounts for greater than 20% of total vegetation.
- Cultivated Crops: areas used for the production of annual crops, such as vegetables, and also perennial woody crops such as orchards and vineyards. Crop vegetation accounts for greater than 20% of total vegetation, and includes all land being actively tilled.
- Woody Wetlands: areas where forest or shrub vegetation accounts for greater than 20% of vegetative cover and the soil or substrate is periodically saturated with or covered with water.
- Emergent Herbaceous Wetlands: areas where perennial plants accounts for greater than 80% of vegetative cover and the soil or substrate is periodically saturated with or covered with water.
Parks and Open Space
Protected open space is land restricted from new development and construction and generally kept available for wildlife habitat, scenic views, farming, or low-impact public access. Major protected land in the county includes land owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the Peninsula Open Space Trust; California State Parks; San Mateo County Parks, and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission watershed lands.
- San Mateo County has the second highest percentage of total land protected in the Bay Area (42%). Marin has the highest (64%).
- The majority of the County’s protected land lies west of Hwy 280.
City Parks: In 2011, there were over 2,200 acres of city-owned parks in San Mateo County, translating to a county average of just over 3 acres of city parks per 1,000 residents. Most city parks include both active and passive recreational activities such as playing fields and sitting and hiking areas.
San Mateo County Parks: Our county parks are much larger in size than city parks and usually have regional trails and picnic and recreational areas. They also generally need more vegetation management for habitat preservation and fire protection at the urban/rural boundaries.
- As of 2014, there were over 17,000 acres of county parks (a 6% increase from 2010).
- Trail miles have increased 2%, from 186 miles in 2010 to 190 miles in 2014.
- Learn more about the San Mateo County Parks Department.
Pedro Point Restoration
The California Parks and Recreation Department has recently granted $1.5 million to the Pacifica Land Trust to restore trails along the Pedro Point Headlands. Currently, the trails consist of rough, steep trails damaged by motorcycles in the 1980s, and many invasive plant species. The restoration project plans to convert the older bike trails into narrow foot trails with more native plant species. The restored trails will be apart of the bigger network of continuous open and accessible trails connecting Pacifica State Beach to Devil’s Slide. The Pedro Point Headlands restoration project begins in 2016.
Point Blue Conservation Science in collaboration with TomKat Ranch produced an evaluation of the coastal habitat surrounding Pescadero, CA. The study revealed that there are 206 native species present in the area. 107 of these species breed in the habitat. The California red-legged frog is identified as threatened by the federal government while the San Francisco Garter Snake is classified as endangered.
Nine of these native creatures are on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Species of Special Concern list.
- Western pond turtle
- Coast horned lizard
- California legless lizard
- Northern harrier
- Olive-sided flycatcher
- Common yellowthroat
- Grasshopper sparrow
- San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat
- American Badger
Three local breeds of bird are on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Species of Special Concern as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service Bird of Conservation Concern list.
- Burrowing Owl
- Loggerhead Shrike
- Yellow Warbler
The following species were introduced into the area:
- American Bullfrog*
- Wild Turkey
- Eurasian Collared-Dove
- European Starling
- House Sparrow
- Black Rat
- Wild Pig
*The American Bullfrog is a predator for the California red-legged frog.
Commercial Fish Catch
- In 2014, the total commercial value of the San Francisco Bay Area fishery was $27 million; 63% was attributed to San Mateo County (NOAA, National Marine and Fisheries Service, 2016).
- According to a 2014 San Mateo County Food System Alliance Report, there were 122 fisherman docked at Pillar Point Harbor.
- Seafood Watch is a project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that advises consumers on sustainable seafood choices through a quarterly report and phone app.
- The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) produces a list of fish consumption advisories for the region and the waters of San Mateo County. Current advisories include: Brown Rockfish, Brown Smoothhound Shark, California Halibut, Chinook (King) Salmon, Jacksmelt, Leopard Shark, Red Rock Crab, Striped Bass, Surfperch, Tule Perch, White Croaker, and White Sturgeon.
- The 2015 Dungeness and rock crab seasons were limited by contamination by domoic acid, a neurotoxin found in algae and known to cause seizures, coma and even death when consumed by animals or humans. The production of domoic acid increases as ocean temperatures rise.
Agriculture Production and Forestry
- The San Mateo County Department of Agriculture and Weights & Measures counted 23 certified farmers markets and 53 certified producers in 2015.
- There are 16 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations that deliver within the county.
- The economic viability of farming and the shortage of irrigation water are the primary causes of farmland cessation (Sustaining our Agricultural Bounty, 2011).
- According to the AgCensus of 2012, the number of small farms increased by 2% to 334 compared to 2007.
- The production value of fruits and nuts has increased by 304% percent since 2001, while acreage has only increase by 144%. Whereas, the production value of wine grapes has grown by 548%, and acreage only increased by 252%.
- Within the nine-county Bay Area, San Mateo has the fourth highest agricultural production value (Aggregating, Distributing, and Marketing Local Foods in San Mateo County, California, 2014).
- Agricultural production value is quadrupled when considering the multiplier effect (San Mateo County Department of Agriculture, 2011).
- 78% of agricultural production value in San Mateo County is provided by floral and nursery products.
- Most local producers distribute their crops through wholesalers, few sell directly to institutions or hospitals in the area (Aggregating, Distributing, and Marketing Local Foods in San Mateo County, California, 2014).
- 736 acres of Brussels sprouts were grown in 2014, the largest amount of acreage for a single crop in San Mateo County.
- The local indoor floral industry faces increasing competition from international markets (Peter Ruddock, 2016).
- Organic farms rely on ecosystem management to maintain soil nutrients and prevent pests, rather than pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or bioengineering.
- Practices such as crop rotation promote the availability of nitrogen, phosphorous, and organic matter in soil, which supports biodiversity and increases resilience to climatic stress.
- Through the use of renewable resources, water conservation, and support of soil integrity, organic farmers enhance and sustain the environment for the benefit of future generations.
Sustainable Farming Practices
In San Mateo County, innovative farm operators have adopted sustainable principals and practices such as organic farming, diversified farming, permaculture, and agroecology. In contrast, industrial farming techniques that rely on chemical inputs and heavy machinery often degrade soil quality, reduce biodiversity, and contribute harmful run-off to watersheds.
Comprised of 766 acres of historic ranch land, TomKat Ranch is an open-air research laboratory and home to cattle, horses, and a coastal ecosystem. The on-site cattle ranch, LeftCoast Grass Fed is Animal Welfare Approved and part of the American Grass Fed Association, which ensures that their cattle are humanely raised, are not given hormones or antibiotics, and fed only grass. The ranchers use Holistic Management techniques that increase soil nitrogen, carbon sequestration, water retention, and organic matter.
The TomKat Ranch Foundation supports a healthy watershed through the development of a riparian border to safeguard the integrity of waterways. The ranch plans to increase the growth of perennial grasses, which are optimal for carbon sequestration and water retention because of their deep, dense roots. Research partners include Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit organization that operates an on-site weather station, and monitors biodiversity, soil quality, and carbon storage at the ranch. The foundation also funds extensive research on greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, water consumption, and social impacts.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation produces annual reports on pesticide use in the state based on numbers reported to county agricultural commissioners. Recent reports indicate a 2.3% decrease from 2013 to 2014 for San Mateo County. The California Environmental Health Tracking Program has created a mapping tool that shows the density of pesticide use within the state.
In 2014, Brussels sprouts crops received of 31% of the county’s total pesticides, outnumbering other categories such as structural pest control and landscape maintenance. Among the various uses of pesticides throughout the county, Brussels sprouts ranked the highest. Of the 79,746 pounds applied to the crop in 2014, 35,926 pounds were Dichloropropylene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize this pesticide as a potential occupational carcinogen. To reduce exposure to pesticide residue, cut off the outer leaf.
Pesticide exposure by proximity to treated crops has health effects on people of all ages, particularly children, as well as in utero infants. Childhood exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, attention deficit, and compromised brain development. Workplace pesticide exposure has been associated with higher rates of cancer, hypothyroidism, memory and attention changes, and respiratory disease. 10,000-20,000 workplace pesticide poisonings are diagnosed each year (Consumer Reports, 2015).
Some types of pesticides are more harmful than others; however, the ill effects of these products are often proven after they are available in the market. Unlike many other industrialized nations, US regulations are not based on the Precautionary Principal, which requires proof that products are harmless before they are placed on the market.
The HEAL Project
One of the best ways to grow and sustain our county’s tradition of local agriculture is to engage and encourage the next generation of farmers. The HEAL (Health Environment Agriculture Learning) Project’s School Farm offers free visits to San Mateo County K–12 students. Classes visit the School Farm twice during the school year— in the fall for planting and then in the spring for harvesting. The San Mateo County Health Department sponsors the project as it helps children learn about healthy eating and lifestyles. To learn more, visit www.thehealproject.org.