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After Harbor Terrace negotiation breakdown, harbor manager is out

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The San Luis Harbor Commission decided not to renew a contract with Harbor Manager Steve McGrath at a special meeting Aug. 27. The vote was split 3-2, and the closed session meeting was apparently contentious, according to Harbor Commissioner Dave Kirk. McGrath has been in that position for about 10 years, during which time the district was recognized for excellence in budgeting and organizational transparency. 

McGrath’s contract expires Nov. 30, but he’s already been in negotiations with the San Mateo County Harbor District to become the chief executive of that district. McGrath said his work to improve public access to the Port San Luis Lighthouse, improve the pier, and to move the Harbor Terrace Project forward stood out as major accomplishments. 

“I’m proud of my tenure,” McGrath said, “I’m extremely proud of my staff, and I know I’m leaving the Harbor District in better shape than when I got it.” 

The commission’s vote to not renew his contract, however, came just two days after the commission officially terminated negotiations with the HomeFed Corporation to build and operate the Harbor Terrace project. At the same meeting the commission entered negotiations with a new company, Red Tail Acquisitions. 

Harbor Terrace is a proposed 32-acre camping development, near Avila Beach. It includes high-end camping accommodations, as well as affordable car camping spots and walk-in or bike-in camp spots. The project has already been approved by the Coastal Commission and the county Planning Commission, and upheld by the Board of Supervisors. In an earlier statement, McGrath said “we’ve already done the heavy lifting,” referring to the coastal permitting process. 

Commissioner Kirk cited the Harbor Terrace project as a factor in his own decision. 

“I have some real concerns about his ability to complete the Harbor Terrace project,” Kirk said. “He’s made a real mess of it.” 

Kirk said the board was split on the contract decision, however, with two members wanting to renew it. 

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t have had a unanimous vote. ... They still believed that he was the best man for the job. For somebody that doesn’t believe, no explanation would suffice. It’s unfortunate that the public can’t know, but it happened in closed session, so the public can’t know, and maybe the public shouldn’t know.” 

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