Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cyberspace environmentalism

Brad DeLong has an interesting post about Internet spam as a form of pollution that benefits polluters but harms the cyberspace environment. I thought it's an interesting way to take an environmental analogy and apply it to an "unreal" world.

Brad discusses the typical economist solution to the problem - privatize the property being polluted, and presumably the property owner will protect her property. Just as we know that doesn't always work in the real world, it's not clear to me whether it will work in the cyberworld.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Another victory

We didn't give it the same press as when Santa Clara County changed its policy on secret contacts with developers, but on the same day, the County rejected a 25,000 square-foot monster mansion on a ridgeline. CGF Journal describes our work on this here.

The County told the developers to to reduce the size of the building and to take it off the ridgeline where it dominated the views of all the neighbors. Even more important, the County is now beginning a process to consider house size limits and rideline/viewshed protections. We're glad the County wants to deal with the problem in a systematic way, and we hope it will devote the resources to make it happen.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Coyote Ridge internship available NOW

The Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society has for some time been working to protect Coyote Ridge, home to a number of endangered / threatened species and one of the region's most stunning springtime wildflower displays.

As part of that chapter's joint project with Committee for Green Foothills and the Sierra Club, they are looking for an intern to help coordinate Operation Flower Power, a springtime campaign to help protect the ridge.

This is a great opportunity to lend a hand to an important project - and get paid! More details here.

- Kathy

Thursday, February 10, 2005

We win! We win! We win!

The title to this post is what I tried to convince our Outreach Director to put as the headline on today's press release, but she went with something more sober:

"Environmental group stops secret County-developer contacts"

Regardless, it's great news - Santa Clara County will stop giving developers favored access to the County's environmental documents, something that we are convinced is both a bad idea and a violation of the Public Records Act. Now we just have to get the rest of the local governments to do the same thing. We applaud Santa Clara County for making the change.

The press release follows:


SAN JOSE, CA – This week Santa Clara County ended its practice of providing preliminary environmental documents to project applicants while refusing public access to the documents and refusing to show how developers had affected the assessment of their projects’ environmental impacts.
Concerned that negotiations were going on behind closed doors, grassroots environmental group Committee for Green Foothills challenged that practice months ago, but County staff denied that the group had a right to see the drafts.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, County Counsel admitted that the County’s practice might be found illegal by a judge, and the County announced it would change its policy.

County shared preliminary drafts with Stanford

Committee for Green Foothills Legislative Advocate Brian Schmidt discovered the illegal practice in this course of his review of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) for Stanford University’s S1 trail. When he found that the County had shared preliminary drafts with Stanford officials -- allowing them to review and argue for changes -- Schmidt became concerned that the County had been in back-room discussions with Stanford, one of the County’s largest landowners, as well as other developers.

The County released the records from its Stanford trail documents to Committee for Green Foothills in January after the organization filed a formal request under the Public Records Act, but the County still maintained that it didn’t need to change its practice.

“Not only was this practice illegal because it excludes citizen review and biases decision-making in favor of development, it made for bad planning,” says Schmidt. “Developers have no special right to influence the government’s analysis, and allowing just one side to argue its case sets the stage for an incomplete analysis.”

Public Records Act request leads to change in policy

County staff argued that it was appropriate to limit access of preliminary versions of Draft EIRs because a later, publicly available Draft EIR allowed public access. Committee for Green Foothills disagreed, as it becomes much more difficult to change an environmental analysis after a Draft EIR has been published. The organization asked for a change in policy so that the playing field would be equal for developers, environmentalists, and the public.

Schmidt also argued that this policy biased the planning process and was illegal under the Public Records Act. The policy also violated Proposition 59, a recent voter amendment to the state constitution that maximizes public access to government records.

This week the County decided to end the previous policy, and will study choices on how to replace it.

“Committee for Green Foothills is dedicated to ensuring that the land use planning process is fair and open to the public, especially so that it allows the public to learn about and become involved in issues that might pose environmental concerns,” Schmidt said. “This is a win for open decision-making in Santa Clara County. We know that other governments including San Jose, Morgan Hill, and San Mateo County, also share draft documents with developers, and we will be working to ensure fair access in those jurisdictions as well.”

Santa Clara County may choose to make the preliminary drafts of environmental documents available to all who request them. Alternatively, the County could keep all preliminary drafts confidential (to the extent allowed under the Public Records Act), sharing them with no one. Either of these practices would end the previous unfair practice, which allowed developers and applicants unequal access, input and influence in the process.

# # #

About the Committee for Green Foothills
Committee for Green Foothills is a regional grassroots organization working to establish and maintain land-use policies that protect the environment throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Committee for Green Foothills, established in 1962, is a Bay Area leader in the continuing effort to protect open space and the natural environment of our Peninsula. For more information, visit

Friday, February 4, 2005

Audubon, MROSD, mercury ...

Lots of news to blog about!

The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has announced their new Executive Director, Brenda Torres. CGF works extensively with Audubon and we welcome Brenda to the neighborhood. She is replacing outgoing E.D. Craig Breon, who will be greatly missed.

A new guidebook to MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District, "Peninsula Tales and Trails" was reviewed in the Palo Alto Weekly by Acterra Executive Director Michael Closson. "Tour de force" is the summary. CGF advocacy helped protect many of the properties now managed by MROSD, and CGF support helped establish MROSD itself, so the guidebook is a welcome new publication.

On the national stage, the New York Times reports on disputes regarding control of mercury pollution in the United States, much of which comes from coal burning. The quote at the end states "Nearly every state in the country has issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury-poisoned waters." This includes reservoirs in our region, such as the Stevens Creek Reservoir. The nearby Hanson Quarry burns coal to power its cement plant. CGF recently met with Hanson staff who doubt their plant is responsible for Stevens Creek, pointing out that mercury is found naturally in the area. We will keep watching this issue.


Thursday, February 3, 2005

Think globally, eat locally

There's been quite a bit of buzz around David Mas Masumoto's recent book, "Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm," which describes the passions and challenges of this third-generation farmers working in the San Joaquin Valley.

Masumoto's book has been selected for the Mercury News' "Silicon Valley Reads" program (note: this program's website includes a list of other great reads about agriculture as well).

In today's Merc, Leigh Weimers writes about the Silicon Valley Reads kickoff speech Masumoto gave in San Jose earlier this week.

He also plugs an interesting-looking panel of four local fruit growers who will discuss local – and quality – produce next Thursday, February 10. It’s at 7pm at the Almaden Expressway/Blossom Hill Road Barnes & Noble, and it’s free.

I’d say it’s well worth an evening to hear fruit tree collector Andrew Mariani, long-time farmer Phil Cosentino, cherry guru Charlie Olson, and ag attorney/ fruit grower Todd Kennedy. There’s probably a lot we can learn from these guys.

- Kathy

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Santa Monica's sustainable landscaping program

Taking a look at interesting programs in other areas, I came across Santa Monica's program to provide grants for landscaping that replaces water-thirsty turf and other plants with water-conserving landscaping, including native plants. Sustainable landscaping has not been a focus of CGF, but it's not completely unrelated, either. Some of the water that the good citizens of Santa Monica have been pouring on their lawns was diverted from its original destination, the San Francisco Bay. Conserving that water is a great idea. And just as CGF is concerned with conserving natural, open areas, making developed areas more natural also seems like a good idea.


Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Forum this Sunday on conservation easements

Today's the last day to register for an interesting-looking community forum put together by the League of Women Voters, and cosponsored by CGF (among others), Conservation Easements: Land Preservation Tools for Local Communities.

The afternoon will include two panel discussions on conservation easements and open space easements, two important tools communities can use to protect open space.

And don't miss a special presentation awarding the Mary and Wallace Stegner Award for Environmental Stewardship to CGF co-founder Lois Crozier-Hogle, who recently announced the donation of an 11-acre conservation easement.

The forum's this Sunday, February 6 from 3-5 pm, at Congregation Beth Am (26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills), and it's free! To register (required), call 650-941-4808 or email

More info on our calendar.

- Kathy