Tuesday, September 24, 2013

CGF Urges Santa Clara City Council to Remove Ulistac Natural Area from Consideration of Soccer Park Location

Text of letter submitted to Santa Clara City Council 9/23/13

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

With regard to the proposal to relocate the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park to another site, the Committee for Green Foothills urges you to remove Ulistac Natural Area from consideration as a possible site for the soccer park. Committee for Green Foothills is an environmental organization dedicated to preserving open space and natural resources in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. We have a strong interest in maintaining Ulistac Natural Area as natural open space.

Ulistac Natural Area is the result of thousands of hours of volunteer work by schoolchildren, Boy Scouts, nature lovers, teachers, birders, and others. Collaborations with local agencies, schools and nonprofit organizations have brought resources to the restoration of this unique pocket of natural open space in the midst of an urban area. The commitment and contributions of all of these individuals and groups should not be wasted, especially when other alternatives for the soccer park exist.

Relocation of the Youth Soccer Park to Ulistac would not be consistent with the purpose of the park. There are other parks in Santa Clara where sports fields would not be problematic; but the very nature of Ulistac is that it is an undisturbed natural area that gives visitors a glimpse of how this area might have looked in the past. There is no way to use part of Ulistac for a sports field while still maintaining the integrity of Ulistac as a whole.

Councilmembers have remarked to the press that since the wetland area and the bird and butterfly garden would remain intact, there should be no concern that Ulistac habitat will be impacted. This is incorrect. The area proposed for the soccer fields is intended to be fully restored to native grassland, sycamore and oak woodlands, oak savannah habitat, and coastal scrub habitat. These are all important habitat areas in Ulistac. Animals in the wild do not confine themselves to an acre here or there, and limiting the range in which wildlife may roam acts to severely limit the number and kinds of species that can utilize the area. Soccer fields do not provide usable habitat or range for most animals; the monoculture of non-native grass and the lack of tree- or shrub-size vegetation for nesting, foraging, or hiding from predators makes lawn-style landscaping inimical for most wildlife. Therefore, placing soccer fields in the middle of the Ulistac site will impermissibly fragment the available habitat in a way that will reduce its utility to wildlife far more than is apparent from a mere calculation of square footage.

Finally, one of the factors that makes Ulistac so valuable to wildlife is the fact that it adjoins the Guadalupe River. Rivers and riparian corridors, especially those in a natural state such as the Guadalupe River, are rare and valuable resources for plants and animals. In the semi-arid Bay Area, the great majority of wildlife uses riparian corridor areas at some point, whether for shelter, foraging, or migration, since riparian corridors host a diversity and density of vegetation often found only near water sources. Open space adjacent to riparian corridors has great value for wildlife since it is accessible from the riparian corridor and does not require travel through developed areas.

For all these reasons, Committee for Green Foothills urges the City Council to remove Ulistac Natural Area from the list of alternative sites proposed for the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park. We understand that there are several other options for the Youth Soccer Park, including finding stadium parking solutions that will not require relocation of the soccer fields. We urge the City Council to remember that natural areas such as Ulistac provide great benefit for the residents of Santa Clara, including recreation and quality of life, and that the thousands of hours of volunteer restoration work and the many contributions from individuals and groups should not be rendered pointless through replacement of the natural habitat with sports fields.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

Alice Kaufman
Legislative Advocate

Monday, August 12, 2013

With the news last Friday that construction is beginning on Martial Cottle Park, we are reminded of the loss of farmland in Santa Clara County and of the urgent need to preserve the farmland that remains. Just a few decades ago, Silicon Valley was known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” due to the thousands of acres of prune, apricot and cherry orchards that bloomed here. It is hard to believe that in so short a time those orchards and fields have been replaced with the uninterrupted sprawl of subdivisions, freeways, and office parks.
Just as Walter Cottle Lester’s 287-acre farm just north of Highway 85 has stood for decades as a refreshing oasis of farmland in the midst of rapidly spreading sprawl, now Martial Cottle Park (named for Lester’s grandfather) will preserve that oasis of green, maintaining most of the land in agriculture while also offering a wonderful opportunity for urban residents to experience this beautiful property. Martial Cottle Park will include a community garden, a 4-H center, an educational “discovery farm,” a native plant nursery, and a trail around the perimeter of the property.
While Martial Cottle Park is one victory in the battle to save farmland, such victories are increasingly rare. Farmland loss in California is reaching a critical stage.  With more than half a million acres of farmland statewide converted to other uses from 1990-2004, and with 2 million more acres anticipated to be converted to other uses by 2050, California needs to take concrete steps to protect this irreplaceable resource. Each year approximately 30,000 acres of California’s agricultural lands are expected to be lost at the current rate of conversion that we are experiencing. 
This is not just about urban sprawl and the loss of open space. If we do not preserve farmland for future generations of farmers, we put our future food security at risk. In Santa Clara County, approximately 27,000 acres of farmland have already been lost. If we value access to locally grown food and the role that agriculture plays in the economy of our region, we must act to preserve farmland before it disappears forever.

Join Committee for Green Foothills for Harvesting Opportunity: Santa Clara Valley Farm Tour on Sunday, August 18, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.! Go to tinyurl.com/SCVfarmtour to sign up, or call us at (650) 968-7243 x. 314.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Devil's Slide hike: A look at what's been saved

In celebration of the beautiful coast of San Mateo County and the successful campaign to build a tunnel instead of a freeway bypass at Devil's Slide, over 40 people turned out to join Committee for Green Foothills on our hike through Rancho Corral de Tierra on Sunday July 14.

Docents George Durgerian and Susie Bennett of the National Park Service led the hike and gave lively and informative talks about the native plants, the colorful history of the area, and the Park Service's efforts to help restore protected species such as the California red-legged frog. CGF's own Lennie Roberts spoke about the Devil's Slide battle and how a dedicated group of environmentalists and coastside community groups fought Caltran's initial plan for the bypass, and in 1996 put Measure T, the Tunnel Initiative, on the ballot. It passed with a stunning 74% of the vote.

Today, with the Tom Lantos Tunnels completed earlier this year, the peace and seclusion of Rancho Corral de Tierra, and the unbroken views from these hills, remain undisturbed.

CGF thanks everyone who worked so hard to save this precious open space over so many years.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Santa Clara County Planning Commission upholds good land use policy

For the past two decades, the County of Santa Clara has had policies in place restricting development in rural areas. With the specter of suburban sprawl always in sight, the County has determined to keep the rural areas rural, believing that scenic views, woodland and creek habitat for plants and wildlife, plenty of farmland to grow local crops, and low traffic, noise and air pollution are an important part of what makes this area beautiful and ensures the quality of life for our residents.

Today, the Santa Clara County Planning Commission continued to uphold this valuable land use policy. The Planning Commission was asked to recommend an amendment to the County General Plan that would have permitted up to 12 houses to be built on a parcel on the corner of Uvas Road and Watsonville Road in the rural area west of San Martin, rather than the 3 houses that are currently allowed there. Since the County General Plan clearly requires that this level of density of housing be allowed only as "infill" in areas where the housing is already at that level, the Planning Commission refused.

This decision was important not so much for the fate of this individual site, but for the principle it embodied. As the economy begins to recover, development pressures, which have been reduced for several years, will begin to increase. If the Planning Commission had agreed to recommend the General Plan amendment today, that would have had an effect on land speculation and land values. The rolling hills of Santa Clara County, which provide beautiful views, hiking and camping opportunities, and habitat for wildlife, would have been in increased jeopardy of sprawling development.

Now, the final decision about this proposed amendment rests with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. We strongly urge the Supervisors to follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission and adhere to wise land use policy that keeps rural areas rural and encourages new housing only in infill areas.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Permanente Creek Watershed Tour

Last Saturday, CGF joined with GreenTown Los Altos to present our Permanente Creek Watershed Tour. We had a beautiful day for being out at the creek, and our wonderful speakers presented a wealth of information about the watershed, the health of the creek, efforts to improve the water quality and the habitat for fish, and the wildlife in the area.

Our first stop was at Rancho San Antonio, where we braved the Saturday morning crowds to hear Matt Baldzikowski of Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District talk about the challenges for fish passage in Permanente Creek. Afshin Rouhani of Santa Clara Valley Water District and Mike Hayden, a community member of Los Altos, discussed the proposed flood basin  project at Rancho San Antonio. Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocate with CGF, gave an update on the Sierra Club's recent settlement of the lawsuit against the Lehigh Permanente Quarry, in which Lehigh has agreed to reduce its discharges of selenium to within legal limits and to restore the reaches of the creek on Lehigh property.

Next, we visited the Diversion Channel, where the flows from Permanente Creek are diverted into Stevens Creek. Mondy Lariz of Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition and Brian Schmidt, Director with Santa Clara Valley Water District, discussed the history of the diversion channel and ways in which it might be modified to make it suitable for fish passage.

After a delicious lunch (provided by Plaza Deli in Mountain View), we proceeded to McKelvey Park, where Afshin Rouhani described the SCVWD flood control project proposed for this site and Gary Latshaw of Sierra Club discussed climate change impacts.

Our last stop was Shoreline Park. Under the supervision of Junko Bryant of Acterra's Stewardship program, we all got the chance to participate in a creek restoration project by planting native grasses on the banks of Permanente Creek. Then Phil Higgins, biologist with the City of Mountain View, took us to the site in Shoreline Park where habitat is being created for burrowing owls (a species of special concern in California).

We had a wonderful day learning about Permanente Creek and its watershed. Thanks to our sponsors, Google and San Francisco Estuary Partnership, for making this tour possible!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lennie Roberts: Comments on behalf of CGF on the Draft Strategic Plan 2013 for County Parks

March 5, 2013                                                                        

San Mateo County Parks Commission
555 County Center, 5th Floor
Redwood City, CA 94063

Re:  Draft San Mateo County Strategic Plan 2013

Dear Chair Cooney and Commissioners,

On behalf of Committee for Green Foothills, I request that you adopt the following recommendations to the Board of Supervisors:

  1. The County should return the Parks Department to a stand-alone Department.  In February, 2011, as an economy measure, the Parks Department was reorganized to become a Division under the Public Works Department.  The missions and cultures of Parks and Public Works are fundamentally different.  It is very difficult to harmonize these two agencies, due to these fundamental differences.  While some efficiencies may be achieved by sharing support services, the Parks Department should be returned to a separate stand alone Department.
  2. The County should establish a new high-level position for Natural Resource Management; this position should have a strong background in biology or ecology.  This is a position of expertise that can inform and guide the natural resource management components of planning, capital projects, and maintenance and operations.  The County is mandated by federal and state laws to preserve and protect the diverse and unique natural resources in our parks, to protect air and water quality, and to restore habitats where possible.  Appendix G notes that our parks support over one hundred species of plants and animals that are recognized as sensitive, locally rare, and/or protected under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.  It is critical to have expertise and leadership within the Department to preserve and protect all of the parks important natural resources, and where possible, to restore damaged or lost habitat.
  3. The County should provide adequate new funding for field staff and supplies and services in order to provide cost-effective and safe maintenance of existing facilities, infrastructure, and trails.  Appendix B shows the dramatic loss in the level of service that has in most cases fallen from “High” to “Low”.  Appendix F lists 16 facilities that have been temporarily closed due to lack of funding.  This is not a sustainable situation.  Parks operations are barely scraping by and some are on life support.  Increased staffing, particularly with rangers in the field, is essential.  These rangers can perform multiple roles depending upon the season, the need, and other factors.  Their skills and talents are tremendously important for the smooth operation of the parks and their presence helps with law enforcement and enables quick responses in emergencies.
  4. The County should be giving strong support to Park partners.  The Parks Department  needs to increase its commitment to working as a partner with the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, Friends groups, nonprofit educational organizations, and other support groups.  These groups and their dedicated members are crucial ambassadors for parks, in addition to providing thousands of dollars worth of pro bono services including interpretation, restoration of habitats and removal of invasive species and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations for specific projects and programs.  The partnership model of the GGNRA and its over 80 park partners is notable; San Mateo County Parks should be embracing and supporting its partners as well. 

The Mission and Vision of the Strategic Plan are commendable, but the Goals and Strategies appear to be more of a workplan than a means to carry out the Vision.  Some of the Goals and Strategies appear to be in conflict with each other, and priorities are not well articulated in this section.  The Appendices provide a wealth of useful data.  CGF asks that the County defer adoption of the Goals and Strategies in the Strategic Plan until the Parks Division is re-established as a separate stand-alone Department, and can engage the Friends groups and other knowledgeable park supporters and stakeholders in a broader collaborative process.

Thank you for consideration of these comments.


Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County Legislative Advocate

cc: President Don Horsley and Members of the Board of Supervisors
     Jim Porter, Director, Public Works
     Gary Lockman, Superintendent

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stegner's Bench Hike 2013- Karin's thoughts on a beautiful day out!

Stegner’s Bench Hike


Where were you on Sunday morning? If you weren’t at CGF’s Stegner’s Bench Hike, you missed another special event, this time commemorating our founding President, Wallace Stegner on what would have been his 104th birthday.  

Early mornings + weekend still don’t mix for me, but for our great CGF members, I’m willing to drag myself out of bed at 7ish on a Sunday. This year we had a bit of luck in the weather department…

Last year...

Photo by Matt Burrows
versus this year:

Stegner's Bench 2013

…so that was a definite plus. I’m always trying to create a tasty food spread at every event I set up and this time I decided folks joining us deserved a little something special. So in addition to the normal spread, I spent a little time baking one of my favorite cookies…

Army of Orange Cranberry drops
Don’t tell CGF, but since our events are usually on the weekends, I tend to plan fun things I wouldn’t mind doing anyways. The tasty treats don’t hurt either. By the way, due to some confusion expressed by our guests on a couple of previous events, CGF strives to practice what we preach and we generally provide compostable cups, plates, utensils, etc. whenever we can. So please read the fine print on your 100% compostable items and make sure to toss them into the right bin! 
Gorgeous hike...
Back to the hike, *high five* to all of our guests for bringing their waiver forms and being on time. We set off on our hike after a brief introduction. Fresh air, beautiful scenery and a fun group of people to chat with, Sunday morning was starting to look up. 

During the hike, a thought suddenly occurred to me…I can’t remember the last time I went hiking. I know it was a couple of months ago, but it’d been long enough that I’m not sure where the last place was. Then my thoughts drifted from “eh, this isn’t so bad” to “mmmm this is fun” and finally to “why don’t I get out more and enjoy the open spaces more often? I could do this…I SHOULD do this more”. This happens every time, it takes a nudge to get me to wake up early and head out, but generally, once out, I have a great time. So if you’re like me, let CGF events be the nudge that gets you out and about.

Beautiful view from Stegner's Bench
This year when we reached the bench, we were welcomed with a beautiful view and some treats; set up by our wonderful Board President, Margaret MacNiven and a great CGF volunteer, Norm Arslan (our events are infinitely better with the support of great
volunteers like him!).

Folks enjoying Lynn's reading
A special thank you to Lynn and Allison Stegner for joining us this year to remember Wallace, Lynn prepared a reading for us and shared a few memories with our guests. Then everyone had the chance to mingle, scope out the beautiful view and just enjoy being outside on a perfect day. 

Lynn Stegner-Image by Carolyn Straub
We packed up and headed back down on a slightly more difficult path than last year, CGF members are always up for a little adventure, *cough* but we’ll probably avoid that one next year. I’m the sweeper for a reason…

On our way out, folks were already asking about next year and of course, being the program oriented person I am, I’m already thinking of ways to make next year’s hike even better! 

Hope you'll join us on an upcoming CGF event, next are our popular April hikes (wildflower viewing on April 6th). The more I hear about the Kammerer Property (“Mystery Hike” on April 14th), the more excited I get to go check it out. So come out and join CGF on a little adventure and fun in the outdoors - check out our events calendar here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Great turnout at GreenTown Los Altos meeting on Permanente Creek

On Wednesday, February 13, GreenTown Los Altos held a community meeting focusing on Permanente Creek. Committee for Green Foothills Legislative Advocate Alice Kaufman was among the speakers on a panel where discussion ranged from flood control projects, to the historic channel of Permanente Creek, to the impacts to water quality from Lehigh Permanente Quarry. The room was packed to standing-room-only capacity with local residents interested in learning more about the creek and concerned about environmental impacts.

Alice spoke on the latest developments with regard to regulation of Lehigh's discharges of pollutants, including selenium, into Permanente Creek. She summarized the recent SF Bay Water Quality Control Board's notice of violation and investigative order to Lehigh directing the company to perform testing in the creek, to analyze the waste piles on their property for potential contaminants, and to submit reports to the Water Board on which a pollutant discharge permit may be based. The audience had many questions, as well as suggestions for how citizens can get involved and make a difference.

For further information about these issues, contact Alice Kaufman at alice@greenfoothills.org. Committee for Green Foothills is pleased to be able to join in the community discussion!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Karin's reflections on CGF's first 2013 event...

  Turning the Tide
 How ordinary people can save our baylands through citizen science and advocacy

Part of the reason I joined CGF as the Program Assistant was to learn about local issues and expand my knowledge about various environmental efforts. This past weekend’s event was perfect for someone like me. As a child, my grandparents used to drag me out to Rancho San Antonio at 8AM to go hiking; they would pay me $1 for every phone tower I could hike to. Yes, sadly I was a child who had to be bribed to wake up early on the weekends and go explore the outdoors. I always ended up enjoying the time I spent with my grandparents and spotting deer or quails during our hikes was always a treat. But, without that extra little nudge from them, I don’t know if I would have dragged myself out of bed and I now know that I would have missed out on something special.
View from EcoCenter's front door
Fast forward to today. During the week, I’m often in the office behind my computer screen sifting through emails and working away and on the weekends I tend to veg out in front of the TV. Planning fun educational events for CGF has encouraged me to learn about the wonderful open space treasures in my backyard and try new things. This past Saturday was gorgeous, we were fortunate to get perfect weather for a great day out on the Baylands.

Of course no event would be complete without a wonderful venue and a little coffee and breakfast snacks to start off the day. I always make an effort to ensure that all the things I would love to see at an event are included in the events I develop. If you haven’t visited the EcoCenter, go check it out for yourself, it's a great building. I would like to thank the EVs for opening their doors to us and thank our local Starbucks and Trader Joe’s for their in-kind donations!

We kicked off the event with a great presentation by Donna Ball, Save the Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director, as she emphasized the need for citizen based monitoring to help protect crucial transition zone habitat. Transition zones are often overlooked as habitat in need of protection, but they often have a higher diversity of species than neighboring ecosystems, and they provide vital refugia for tidal zone species to retreat to during storms or high tides.

Next, CGF’s Legislative Advocate, Alice Kaufman gave folks a rundown of how important it is for ordinary citizens to voice their opinions at City Council meetings and how that bears more weight than representatives from environmental organizations that council members hear from all the time. She also gave a quick overview of how additional inappropriate development can heavily impact not only the environment, but traffic conditions and costs to building city-run infrastructure. As always, in order to stay in the loop, sign up for and read CGF’s action alerts! 

One thing I love about CGF events, are the folks who show up. No matter the turnout, we always have a wonderfully engaged audience, interested in learning more. I also appreciate that everyone comes with a positive attitude, bringing great energy to the event. So if you haven’t met our CGF members, come on out and spend a day with us. You’ll be glad you did!

Time to enjoy the beautiful day, we packed up and headed out with Doug Serrill, Save the Bay’s Nursery Manager, to check out their new green house and work shed just across the street by the bird sanctuary. 

Image by Matthew Burrows
He gave us a fascinating rundown of some of the differences between a greenhouse growing plants for commercial use and one for habitat restoration. One of Save the Bay’s primary goals is to build a robust web-like root system for their plants. I have a feeling we could have spent all day peppering him with questions about the numerous plants at the greenhouse.

To cap off the day, we broke out into small groups led by expert birders. This was my first time going out birding, so I was glad that my group was nice and small so that I could ask a million questions. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society was kind enough to lend us some binoculars, but to tell the truth, most of our members already had their own, so they really benefited a novice like me. My goal was to be able to name five birds by the end of the trip that I didn’t know before. So here goes… we saw great egrets, black-legged stilts, golden crowned sparrows, canvasbacks and a flycatcher (I think my docent, Lee, will be proud) among other birds. 

The highlight of my first birding adventure was having a front row seat to some courtship displays courtesy of two male snowy egrets. I also saw a jack rabbit leaping through the grass. I was grateful for some tips on how to use binoculars properly and appreciated that my birding docent brought along his top notch scope to enhance the experience. For me, the difference between seeing a bird through my binoculars versus seeing it through his scope was like seeing two different birds -- through the scope unique markings and the texture of the birds' feathers really jumped out at me. I’m glad I got to try something new and I look forward to a future opportunity to go birding again!

Great people, free food, educational programming, and doing something fun and new, what’s not to like? 

Throughout the morning, I found myself pausing and thinking what a wonderful way it was to spend a beautiful day. 

I look forward to seeing you at the next CGF event

-Karin Lin