Wednesday, September 29, 2004

CGF's first movie review: it's "Monumental"

"Monumental" is the title of a new documentary about the life of David Brower, the most important and maybe the most interesting environmentalist of the 20th Century. This documentary features archival footage of Brower's work and his experience as a leading mountaineer prior to World War II.

Brower built Sierra Club to prominence, got fired, built Friends of the Earth to prominence, got fired, and built Earth Island to prominence, which didn't get around to firing him. The documentary emphasizes his "no compromise" style, both its strengths and weaknesses. As a lawyer, I sometimes questioned the efficacy of refusing compromises, and I also wondered if he really was as purist as the film suggests. Compromising on outcomes is sometimes necessary, but overall, Brower's success in refusing to compromise on principles is a refreshing and important reminder.

This movie gets four stars out of five (I didn't like all the music, but no one should listen to my music opinions). As a small independent film, it will be difficult to see in theaters, but the video and DVD versions may be easier to find or rent.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Ethnic diversity increases support for open space

I recently attended a very interesting meeting of the Bay Area Open Space Council, a grouping of nonprofits and government agencies concerned with managing open space. One presentation (available on their website) concerned the effect of increasing ethnic diversity on public support for open space. The presentation was short, but had mostly positive news. Here it is in three steps:

1. Support for open space increases with education and income levels.

2. Recent immigrant groups tend to have lower educational and income levels, and those levels rise in subsequent generations.

3. Despite being a (mostly) recent immigrant population, Hispanic voters tend to support open space preservation at the same rate as non-Hispanic whites.

In other words, the Hispanic population is starting off at a higher level of support for open space than non-Hispanic whites ("Anglos"). As subsequent generations move up the income and educational ladders, we can expect even greater levels of support, magnified by the increasing Hispanic population. (Polls of other ethnic groups also showed encouraging support for open space.)

The challenge for environmental nonprofits is to attract and support this powerful constituency, as well as the many other constituencies in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. This is something that we here at CGF are working on, need to be working on, and will continue to be working on in the future.


Earth and Art Day in Woodside

We at CGF find it very timely and appropriate that the theme of Woodside’s annual environmental festival this year is “Earth and Art.” They’ll be holding the event on Saturday, October 9 from noon – 4pm at the Runnymede Sculpture Farm, where some 150 modern sculptures are placed about the 120-acre landscape so as to blend with the natural environment.

It's timely for us because it's three weeks (to the day!) before our big event on October 30, Nature's Inspirations, which will celebrate the local landscape artists who inspire all of us to keep doing what we do to protect local natural lands.

The Woodside event provides a rare opportunity to see Runnymede, which isn’t generally open to the public. Once you read last year’s Almanac article about Runnymede, you'll want to go just to see this place. Plus the Woodside folks have lots of great environmental activities, info and entertainment planned.

You’ll have to buy tickets in advance -- they won’t be sold at the gate. You can get them at the Woodside Town Hall M-F, 8-12 and 1-5. Admission for adults is just $3, or for $10 you’ll also get lunch from jzCool. Kids are $5 with lunch, or $2 for admission only.

CGF will have a booth at the event – stop by and say hello!

- Kathy

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A victory for San Jose on high speed rail

Today's Mercury News had a good article with a bad headline in the print version: "High Speed Rail Setback for San Jose" (the online headline is better). The bullet train environmental planning process will now consider a route over Altamont Pass that may, we emphasize may, be more environmentally beneficial. Only doing the study will let us know - that's what good planning is all about. And doing good planning that minimizes environmental impacts to Santa Clara County is a victory for the people of San Jose.

You'll be hearing more about this development. This particular case is a good example of environmental group coordination. Sometimes CGF has taken the lead with support of other groups, such as curtailing abuse of a zoning process called lot line adjustments. Sometimes we have shared leadership, such as on Coyote Valley and on the illegal golf course in Morgan Hill. Sometimes we've supported other groups taking the lead. Sierra Club took the lead on the high speed rail - we wrote a comment letter, appeared at two hearings, and arranged a meeting with a congressional staffer, but Sierra Club did by far the majority of work. We'll happily accept some of the credit for this interim victory, and happily credit Sierra Club for its leadership on the issue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rushing towards sprawl in Coyote Valley

One advantage of this blog is it gives us a chance to share documents that might not fit on other parts of the website. Here (in PDF format; requires Acrobat Reader) is a letter we delivered yesterday to the San Jose City Council.

Of particular interest is our concern that the county-wide habitat plan may have been deliberately delayed by San Jose to keep it from affecting Coyote Valley. This suspicion has been floating around for a while now; it will be interesting to see if we finally get a reaction to it by making it public.


Friday, September 17, 2004

More South County development rumors

The news buzzing around is that the Ohlone Native American tribe living in the south Santa Clara County area has cut a deal with the owners of the 5,000-acre Sargent Ranch. The landowner is supposedly paying for the process of lobbying for federal recognition, and in return the tribe supposedly will help Sargent Ranch develop free from County land use constraints because of some kind of relationship with the federally-recognized tribe. Very unclear, as can be seen from this summary. Watch for news about this over the next few days.

CGF has long opposed short-sighted development of Sargent Ranch. This latest issue adds a very different wrinkle that we'll have to study, but it appears to involve some very cynical maneuvering by Sargent Ranch landowners. We have not heard anything yet to change our belief that destroying natural areas and working ranchland in Sargent Ranch is a bad idea.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Local land conservancy next step in open space protection

Our colleagues at Peninsula Open Space Trust have been raising private money to buy open space since 1977, and have been remarkably successful. Their work often depends on that of Committee for Green Foothills, which acts to defend lands from development so that they remain as open space and are thus worthy of purchasing, but it's that critical step of purchase - and thus permanent protection - that makes our work on land use issues ultimately very satisfying.

They've recently launched a complete redesign of their website, and it's both professional and informative. I especially like the interactive map linked from this page.

- Kathy

News roundup- Santa Clara County

A news roundup, with our comments.

In the Mercury News:

Plan to clean up mercury contamination in the Bay reaches the Water Board today.
These plans rarely get to that level without having the political path paved in advance, so it will likely go ahead. CGF follows this issue, but we are careful to remain an open-space/natural resource protection group. If we tried to become a toxics-control organization as well, the effect would be to lose our focus and efficiency.

Morgan Hill Times:

A proposal to expand the San Martin airport is in the works.
Proponents say it will help bring jobs to the bedroom communities of South County, while opponents say its just another effort that will promote development of the North County, which lacks housing and will ultimately result in sprawl. This echoes a similar argument over Coyote Valley. Proponents have a somewhat better argument here than is the case in Coyote Valley, but we are reserving our judgment for now.

Morgan Hill ponders expanding the city limits in the southeastern area. We have written about this before, indicating that we have some doubts about the process. I am quoted as saying a compromise between developers and environmentalists would be a good thing, but I certainly intended to say it could be a good thing. The devil is in the details.

The Pinnacle News:

Gilroy supports a southern alignment of the proposed bullet train to Los Angeles. We have no final position on the best alignment, but the southern alignment could harm wetlands in the Pajaro River watershed. We would like to see the Altamont route studied. Left unmentioned in the article is the financial problems this project is encountering. Rumors suggest it is a very long way from ever happening.

The Gilroy Dispatch:

Both the local Native American tribe and members of the local community are opposed to a $300 million casino proposed by a five-member tribe that does not live here. Interestingly, a prominent opponent of a failed measure that would have stopped sprawl in San Benito County is now opposing the casino, which could cause sprawl in San Benito and Santa Clara Counties. They say politics makes for strange bedfellows....


Monday, September 13, 2004

Mercury News perspective on Coyote Valley shifting?

The Merc has two new editorials on Coyote Valley, in advance of today's Coyote Valley Task Force meeting:

Triggering Coyote, and

Main Issues Must Be Solved Before Approval.

The Merc is right to insist on "triggers" that require job creation prior to Coyote Valley residential development. From CGF's perspective, this requirement shows the fallacy of developing Coyote Valley, since it will be years before the City needs to expand to that area.

The Merc is also right to insist on a greenbelt, although we are frankly cynical about whatever San Jose will ultimately propose. The City may try to ram a square peg of developed residences into the round hole of greenbelt purposes, and announce a perfect fit.

Where the Merc is wrong is supporting the current timetable for planning. It is right to support advanced planning rather than rushed, last-minute planning, but what we have here is rushed, last-minute advanced planning in order to accommodate Mayor Gonzales' term of office. People take over a year to design their dream home, but San Jose hopes to plan a city of 80,000 in the same amount of remaining time. If there's any reason for planning something that is so far away from being needed, at least it should not be rushed.

Nevertheless, the Merc appears to be listening to critics of Coyote Valley proposals. We'll keep working on them.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

The nice developers in Morgan Hill

Probably the most interesting meeting to date about the proposed Urban Limit Line (ULL) in Morgan Hill happened on Tuesday. The ULL is supposed to indicate either the permanent limit to the city's growth, or its limit in fifty years, depending on the person describing it. This contrasts with the city's current Urban Growth Boundary, which limits growth for a 20-year period. Environmentalists are generally not happy about the ULL, as it seems to increase the pressure to develop. The city has been holding out the prospect of a greenbelt and open space conservation in order meet some environmental goals, but whether the tradeoff is worth it remains unclear.

The biggest fireworks will concern an 1,200 acre area to the southeast of the current city boundaries, most of which is being farmed. I have been attending meetings of an advisory sub-committee, which appeared likely to recommend that this area be brought within the ULL, and later have an "Area Plan" developed that will recommend open-space preservation.

Somewhat to my surprise, the sub-committee appeared to agree with my argument on Tuesday that moving the ULL first while determining the Area Plan later would give all the negotiating leverage to developers. The subcommittee is now rethinking that idea, while we environmentalists ponder our options.

After the meeting, I was surrounded by a mix of landowners and developers who were less than happy about my comments. We ended up talking for nearly half an hour, and I re-discovered something I've seen numerous times before, that the people on the opposite side of our environmental conflicts can be perfectly nice and decent. One of them even invited me out to their land, and I hope to take up the offer.

The issue that we environmentalists have to remember though is that we support the environment because it's important to do so, regardless of whether the other side has the best or worst of intentions.


(Morgan Hill provides additional information on the ULL process here.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Joni Mitchell and capital depreciation schedules

Joni Mitchell, who wrote the song with the lyrics "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot", may not have realized her connection to obscure tax code provisions. Brian Leiter, a professor from the University of Texas, might see it.

Leiter reports on a proposal to accelerate capital depreciation schedules to a single year, which he says will have the effect of creating a tax profit off of money-losing speculative ventures, such as pink hotels, swinging hot spots, and associated parking lots. Interestingly, he states the schedule was made much shorter in 1954, near the beginning of America's post-war sprawl expansion. Leiter warns that writing off costs in a single year would make things much worse, manipulating the tax code in a way that rewards bad economic decision-making and environmental destruction.

Joni Mitchell's lyrics are here. Land use and tax policy advocates need to work together to avoid the problem she describes.


Thursday, September 2, 2004

Creative diversion of waste

Today's SF Examiner has an article about an operation that's trucking food waste from restaurants in San Francisco not to the landfill, but to a giant composting plant in Vacaville.

This is a creative way to keep landfills from filling as quickly (and could alleviate, or delay, problems such as that posed by Santa Cruz County's need for a new site) and, as it turns out, also provides real and measurable benefits to the agricultural and other operations using the finished compost.

- Kathy

Some good news for Stevens Creek

Next to Stevens Creek and Stevens Creek County Park lies an undeveloped 124-acre parcel that had been proposed for a 1,500-student private academy. Besides destroying the parcel's environmental value, the proposal would have had significant traffic impacts and access issues.

Canyon Heights Academy has now announced an alternative, permanent location for their school, on the site of a former elementary school in Campbell. The short-term threat to Stevens Creek appears to have passed. The next question though is what will happen to the 124-acre parcel. More development proposals may come down the pike, but conservationists might consider it as a possible addition to Stevens Creek park. If preservation is not feasible, then residential development should be required to protect the area's natural value as much as possible.

More information on the parcel and the threat to it can be found at the Stevens Canyon Residents Association.