Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Our comments on the Vintage Subdivision project and North San Jose

CGF submitted two short comment letters on the Draft EIRs for a subdivision in the hillsides above Milpitas, and on the large development planned in North San Jose. They're reproduced below.


(To see a satellite picture of the Vintage Estate area click here. It's the brown hilly area south of the main road.)
April 25, 2005

Rob Eastwood
Santa Clara County Planning Office

RE: Comments on the Vintage Estates Cluster Subdivision DEIR

Dear Rob:

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the Vintage Estates Cluster Subdivision DEIR:

The public hearing should be established at or shortly after the expiration of written comments, not before. CGF has made this suggestion before to the County, that the public hearing will only include substantive comments when commentors have prepared written comments. The hearing for this project was over 2 weeks ago, and we suspect that few comments were received at that hearing. If the County wants to make efficient use of the Planning Commission’s time, it should have a policy that the hearing should coincide or follow the written comment deadline.

Open space monitoring and funding should be a condition of approval, and should make use of the Santa Clara Open Space Authority. We understand that zoning code section 5.45.050(D) 1 states landowner maintenance obligations shall be specified in order to preserve natural resources when part of the environmental mitigations for a project. The landowners themselves do not have the necessary management capability and an inherent bias against spending the resources necessary to do adequate maintenance. The County is not as well situated as the Open Space Authority to maintain the land’s open space character. An adequate mitigation fund and co-dedication of the easement to the OSA would allow proper maintenance.

The mitigation measures required to reduce cumulative visual impacts are feasible. None of the proposed mitigations present undue burdens on the Vintage Estate developers; they are simply conditions that are commonly met by developments in many other parts of the County to avoid creating visual impacts. If the County approves this project, these mitigation measures should be included.

Air quality emissions should include analysis of greenhouse gas emissions. As we have stated in comments on another DEIR that failed to consider greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide is the main pollutant causing global warming, and can have significant environmental impacts. The lack of a regulatory standard for carbon dioxide does not mean that it can be ignored, and other agencies take global warming effects into account. See, e.g., "Air Quality Analysis Guidance Handbook" (“The SCAQMD adopted a policy on global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion on April 6, 1990, that committed the SCAQMD to consider global impacts in its rule making and in drafting revisions to the AQMP”) available at www.aqmd.gov/ceqa/handbook/CH3_rev.doc. For residential development such as this, the County should develop a standardized analysis such as it has for other air emissions, and include construction emissions, vehicle emissions, and ongoing home heating emissions.

If greenhouse gas emissions were found to be cumulatively significant, adequate mitigation funding to reduce other greenhouse gas emissions in the County would be an appropriate and feasible method to reduce the impact to a less-than-significant level.

Wetlands mitigation should be required regardless of whether the wetlands identified on-site fall under federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. It is our understanding that state protection for wetlands under the Porter-Cologne Act remains even where federal jurisdiction for protecting wetlands may not exist. See “Effect Of Swancc v. United States On The 401 Certification Program”, available at www.waterboards.ca.gov/cwa401/ docs/stateregulation_memorandum.pdf. Wetland mitigation minimums described in BR-12.3 should therefore apply.

It is also our understanding that the typical mitigation ratio for constructing new wetlands is at least 3:1, not the 1:1 ratio specified in the DEIR at 3.9-28, based on the reason that it is difficult to ensure that newly constructed wetlands will be viable. The ratio described in this DEIR should be modified.

Aside from the above comments, the Committee expresses no opinion on whether this project should be approved.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County
April 25, 2005

Andrew Crabtree
Department of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement

RE: Comments on the North San Jose Development Policies Update Draft Program EIR

Dear Andrew:

The Committee for Green Foothills submits this comment letter on the North San Jose Development Policies Update Draft Program EIR (DEIR). The Committee takes no position regarding whether the City should approve this project and its associated environmental documentation. As a general matter, the Committee supports focusing development in already developed areas, rather than needlessly sacrificing agricultural land as may occur in Coyote Valley.

Land use impacts should include discussion of the effects of the jobs-housing imbalance beyond the City of San Jose. Like Coyote Valley, this project provides insufficient housing to accommodate the increased jobs projected to result from the project. The DEIR notes that the City has had a shortage of jobs compared to the number of employed residents in the City, while failing to note that the majority of nearby jurisdictions have the opposite jobs-housing relationship. The DEIR should discuss the impacts from the project in displacing the people who lived in San Jose and worked nearby – those people are not going to disappear.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these comments, and please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, April 22, 2005

Short posts

The Mercury News gave us a great editorial on our effort to reform the enviromental review process at Santa Clara County:


And another good article on local endangered species, featuring the checkerspot butterfly we've been working so hard to save on Coyote Ridge:


I actually didn't realize the checkerspot had been found throughout the Bay Area, while the current distribution in serpentine habitat just represents the "last stand" of native plant life that the butterfly can use.

The Metro has a fascinating cover story tying local farm production to food banks:


The Dispatch reviews natural ecology recovery from the Croy fire two years ago in the south County:


Fire can be a good thing in the right places. Henry Coe State Park in particular is slowly working on fire management plan that will hopefully result in a more natural fire ecology.

And The Pinnacle has an interesting article on the Calpine power plant set to start producing in Coyote Valley:


Not the best spot from an open-space perspective, but not something that's likely to change.

And finally, the biggest news item:

Today is Earth Day!! Please enjoy your planet today and this weekend - we'll get back to protecting our planet early on Monday.


Monday, April 18, 2005

A public forum on Pilarcitos

The Pilarcitos Creek watershed isn't all that large, but it drains the western slope of the foothills from Skyline to Half Moon Bay, and thus brings quite a lot of water to the Pacific.

The debate about appropriate use of all this water has been going on for more than 140 years. Today its management involves a huge number of public agencies as well as private nonprofits (CGF among them), and the issues - like the water - can get quite muddy.

As a step toward working this all out, CGF and 17 other groups are sponsoring a public forum on restoring the Pilarcitos Creek Watershed. The Half Moon Bay Water Summit will invoke a watershed approach for balancing the competing demands for water in this area.

The forum's next Thursday, April 28 from 9-4pm at the I.D.E.S. Hall in Half Moon Bay.

Admission is free, but pre-registation is required if you want to get in on the complimentary lunch.

For more info call 650-712-7765 or get the details on the CGF calendar.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

CGF-Sierra Club comments on Santa Clara County HCP Planning Agreement

Sierra Club asked CGF if we would join them in sending a letter commenting on the Draft Planning Agreement that local agencies are submitting to state and federal wildlife agencies. The agreement would help plan out how the local agencies will develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for Santa Clara County, which will greatly influence future development and wildlife protection in our County. Sierra Club did most of the writing, but I couldn't resist throwing in a few arguments and lawyerish footnotes.

Our organizations will be tracking this process - it'll be a long haul, but we will stay focused on it.

Scott Wilson, Central Coast Region
California Department of Fish & Game
PO Box 47
Yountville, CA 94599

April 15, 2005

Re: Proposed Planning Agreement for Santa Clara County Regional NCCP/HCP

Dear Mr. Wilson,

The Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club and Committee for Green Foothills are pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed planning agreement for the Santa Clara County regional NCCP/HCP. This planning approach has great potential for protecting species and their habitats in light of ongoing demand for development. The key to wildlife and native plant conservation is the continued existence of diverse natural ecosystems and the preservation of native biodiversity. The Sierra Club is committed to maintaining our remaining natural ecosystems, and, where feasible, to the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Wildlife, plants, and their ecosystems have value in their own right, as well as value to humans and to the health of the biosphere. The ecosystem approach inherent in a regional NCCP/HCP is the best tool available today to ensure the long term protection of Santa Clara County’s natural heritage.

Our comments are as follows:

Coyote Valley Must Not be an Exception

As described in the Memorandum of Agreement among Local Partners, it is the intention of the partners to develop a plan that will allow incidental take permit coverage to expand individual projects in exchange for defined mitigation or conservation action. In the draft Planning Agreement, section, it is noted that the Coyote Valley Specific Plan (CVSP) is considered an interim project under the agreement and should not be delayed by the HCP/NCCP project. We strongly object to this exception as there is no need for the CVSP to move to completion now or within the planning horizon of the HCP/NCCP. The 7,100 acres of the CVSP is known to have threatened and endangered species and important wetland habitat. As acknowledged at Task Force meetings and within the consultants plans Coyote Valley provides an important wildlife corridor between the Hamilton Range and the Santa Cruz mountains. Furthermore, the serpentine soils of Coyote Ridge are already impacted by car exhaust and other human activities and additional development in the Valley is certain to exacerbate this effect. It is therefore critical that Coyote Valley be considered wholly within the HCP/NCCP process so that impacts across this biologically rich area can be addressed at the ecosystem level.

We further note that the sentence, “Consequently, the Parties agree and acknowledge that the CVSP is an Interim Project under this Agreement and that the CVSP and its implementation will not be delayed by development of the Plan” appears to abdicate, in advance, state and federal agency authority to halt CVSP for violations of FESA and CESA. Prior sentences refer to some unexplained process for using FESA Section 7 compliance for aspects of CVSP that do not appear to involve federal permits, and omits entirely a discussion of how to comply with CESA in the interim. FESA Section 7 will not provide adequate project-wide coverage, the omission of CESA means no CESA protection, and the abdication of responsibility in the last sentence of Section was not even made dependent on fully adequate FESA and CESA compliance through FESA Section 7, assuming such a thing is even possible. This sentence in particular should be deleted.

Section should be deleted in its entirety and replaced with a statement that CVSP should be delayed until the Plan has been developed and accepted by the Wildlife Agencies. Absent that decision to expressly delay CVSP, Section should simply be deleted, which would leave CVSP as being treated no differently than any other proposed interim project. While we oppose treating CVSP as an interim project, the City should at least not be allowed to tie the hands of the Wildlife Agencies in determining how to treat this particular project. It should be made clear in this Agreement that interim projects do not overrule FESA and CESA compliance, but rather state and federal law has the last word, even if that means delaying the interim project until the Plan is complete.(Footnote 1)

Expand the Definition of Species for Inclusion

We would like to see an expansion in the definition of species beyond the limits of legally defined threatened, endangered or special concern. South Santa Clara County has a rich ecological diversity and due to extensive amounts of land in private holdings it is unlikely that current knowledge covers the actual diversity and potential threats. In addition, we would like to see every effort made for a comprehensive species list for consideration as early in the process as possible.

Expand the Geographical Areas Included in the Project

The currently proposed project area covers important habitats ranging from wetlands to serpentine. We strongly urge the continuing inclusion of these areas and offer the following areas to consider for expansion of the project area. The continuing threat of the construction of a highway over Mt. Hamilton raises a need to immediately capture and plan for the existing resources of the area east of Mt Hamilton. Another area that is under significant development pressure is the area just north of Calero Reservoir moving northwest to Highway 17 and north to Highway 85. It includes areas of proposed development on a large scale (South Almaden Urban Reserve), an expanding north Almaden Valley, Santa Teresa Ridge (excellent serpentine habitat) and the Lexington basin.(Footnote 2)

Organizational Structure Must Reflect Commitment to Public Participation

We are disappointed that a stakeholder entity is not provided for in the Local Partners Memorandum of Understanding, Section 8 Organizational Structure and Governance. While there is an acknowledgement of the importance of public participation (Section 14) the lack of an explicit commitment in the organizational structure provides little assurance that meaningful public participation will occur. The description of public participation in the draft planning agreement (section 5.1.6) provides more detail of how stakeholder participation will occurs, yet this document also omits an explicit inclusion of a stakeholder group among participating parties (section 3). It is our intent to apply for formal stakeholder status and work hard to ensure a meaningful public participation process as it is critical to a successful outcome for the project.

The importance of the success of the HCP/NCCP for south Santa Clara County and the future of the area’s diverse ecosystems (from the South Bay to the San Benito county line) should not be underestimated. As recently noted in a local paper, population growth has been strong in Santa Clara County and it is reasonable to expect it to continue into the future. The natural resources of South Santa Clara County require our commitment to protect them. The HCP/NCCP has the potential to not only identify a means to do this, while balancing the demands of growth, but it offers a unique opportunity to bring a wide range of interests together to learn about the delicate balance between nature and society and work towards achieving a long term vision of maintaining that balance in Santa Clara County.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Planning Agreement and provide input into how the Local Partners will work wildlife agencies on the HCP/NCCP for Santa Clara County. We are eager to support this effort and welcome any input from you and the California Department of Fish & Game. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.


Melissa Hippard
Chapter Director

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

FN.1. Section should reflect this understanding by stating “mitigation may include delaying the project until the Plan is in effect.”

FN.2. We additionally note that all serpentine soil habitat communities should be within the geographic scope of the Plan, not just that of Coyote Ridge.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Good news updates

A "three-per" here:

1. San Jose City Council will require an informational memo from staff on alternatives to Coyote Valley. It wasn't clear to me they would do that, partly because I couldn't hear what a City Council member was saying, but it looks good now. An actual hearing to oversee staff would be better, but this is a start.

2. Last week, Santa Clara County finalized its plan to revise its EIR process and eliminate the "sneak peek" provision giving developers access to documents no one else could see. We've been working on this issue for a long time. The Merc did a write-up here.

3. CGF went out hiking on Coyote Ridge on Saturday to see the best wildflower display in the Bay Area. We hope to someday preserve this area and open it public access so everyone will get the chance to see this beautiful display each spring.


Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Lost a Coyote Valley skirmish, but watch this space

A half-hour ago, San Jose City Council failed to require City staff to present a list of alternatives for Coyote Valley development prior to beginning the EIR for Coyote, despite the fact that staff had promised that list at a previous meeting. The vote couldn't have been closer - it was a tie 5-5 vote, with no one representing District 7 to break the tie. Reed, Lezotte, Yeager, Pyle, and Chirco tried to get staff to come through, while Gonzales, Williams, Chavez, Campos, and Cortese let them off the hook.

At the January 25th City Council meeting, staff made the following promises:

Vice-Mayor Chavez: Does scope of the EIR, will that come to the Council?

Laurel Prevetti: It can, we, I think from the comments we have heard this evening and the interest on the part of the Council to understand the alternatives especially economically I’m thinking that may be the next status report to you so you have a direct say in the alternatives that we look at.

Vice-Mayor Chavez: I think that’s going to be important.


Councilmember Reed [to City Planner Laurel Prevetti]: Can you just clarify what’s coming back to us, next?

Laurel Prevetti: Based on the conversation this evening, the next thing will come back to you is a scope of what will be the alternatives for the EIR, I think given the public comments and your own comments as it relates to other studies in our community, we would like to frame those alternatives for your consideration….

Councilmember Reed: Thank you, and is that understood by the maker of the motion [Councilmember Williams], is that what you understand is going to happen? Okay, thank you.

I played the second half of this transcript on a cassette recorder at tonight's hearing - not sure if it seemed overdramatic, but Councilmembers Reed and Pyle seemed unhappy with staff's failure to come through. I'm disappointed though that Vice-Mayor Chavez didn't seem affected by staff's unfulfilled promise.

HOWEVER, watch this space - Councilmember Cortese supported getting a list of alternatives from staff, but didn't want a delay with another hearing. That's something we can now ask for, and I count six votes for that idea. Watch this space.