Thursday, May 26, 2005

Some good news in San Jose

I spoke at the San Jose Planning Commission last night to ask them to consider our recommendations for reducing the cumulative impact from impervious surfaces on San Jose watersheds. They were very receptive, and asked me to do a joint presentation with City staff at a study session.

I also asked them to start overhauling the environmental review process and match what Santa Clara County did. In an important way, San Jose has a worse system than Santa Clara County did - in San Jose, the developers hire the consultants that prepare preliminary versions of environmental documents, giving all the initial control and knowledge to the developers, and raising the prospect that no truly independent review is done by the City. While the County had a legal problem in how they handled the process, San Jose simply has a bad and archaic process.

The reaction to this was a little confused, with the City Attorney saying the decision on changes belonged to the Planning Director, not the Commission. Regardless, the Commission can give recommendations, and I hope that will happen before too long.

All in all, then, some good news and some decent news from San Jose.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Pigeon Point Park?

The front page of today’s Mercury News has wonderful news: the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is, as of today, in the hands of the California Parks Department.

This landmark building is the site of a long-fought battle in which CGF and others opposed the development at Pigeon Point of a bed and breakfast on Whaler’s Cove, a key coastal parcel with great historical and ecological value.

After our continued vociferous opposition, with the construction half-finished, the developer sold the four-acre property to Peninsula Open Space Trust.

POST has transferred its controversial property to State Parks as well.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

We're watching you look around, Stanford

A little bird tells us that someone has commissioned a phone survey of Menlo Park residents to ask their opinions of Stanford, of increased development by Stanford, and their opinion of the Committee for Green Foothills.

The callers aren't saying who they're working for, but we know they aren't working for us, and that leaves a pretty short list of suspects.

So whoever requested the survey (let's call him Stan) wants to know what people think about development in the foothills, about Stanford's proposed hotel on Highway 280, about potential expansion of Stanford hospitals, about increased housing, and about moving car dealerships from El Camino to Highway 101. And of course, about attitudes towards the Committee for Green Foothills, the only environmental group they specifically mentioned.

So what's this survey all about? Is my alma mater up to something besides the proposed hotel? We've long maintained that Stanford's aggressively pro-development, no-restrictions-on-foothills-sprawl attitude has harmed their relationship to the community. If Stan is trying to figure out whether that's true, we're glad they're investigating.

Alternatively, Stanford has a new person in charge of community relations, David Demarest. David was hired from outside Stanford, and previously worked in Washington D.C. Commissioning a poll about local attitudes is something I'd expect from an outsider and from someone who comes from Washington D.C. Again, nothing worrying in that.

But there's also the possibility of new development proposals. The question about hospitals is unsurprising. The question about car dealers is puzzling unless some complicated land swap is under discussion.

The Committee's main charge is open space and natural resource protection, so we would have to consider how relevant any development proposal is to our work. The Highway 280 Hotel is, and the question about development in the foothills is relevant too, so we'll keep watching for Stan's questions.


P.S. If anyone else gets surveyed outside of Menlo Park, we'd be very interested to hear about it. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Coyote Valley lessons from history

At, former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery points out all the bad development history in San Jose, and asks why the history appears to be repeating itself in Coyote Valley. As Tom says, "The question awaits an answer."


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

As the song goes, "Paranoia runs deep...."

But it may be accurate. Yesterday's Coyote Valley Task Force meeting did nothing to reduce the worries we expressed earlier about eliminating San Jose's triggers that forestall development. The meeting did raise a new worry though.

Developer Steve Speno very briefly mentioned the possibility of some type of creative financing tying residential and commercial development together. That set off alarm bells in my mind, because residential development is where the profit lies in the near term market, but commercial development is the trigger/barrier to residential development.

Some of the San Jose insiders I've talked to have downplayed the threat Coyote Valley plays to development in downtown and North First Street because commercial development in Coyote would be more expensive than in the already-developed areas. Now there's a way to creatively finance a solution to this problem.

It would work like this: developers either singly or jointly use residential development to subsidize commercial development in Coyote Valley that is stolen away from central San Jose. They sell commercial land at a significant discount, making little money or even losing money, but they don't care because that sale ultimately results in residential development rights.

In this scenario, I think even the skeptics could see how Coyote Valley would steal business away from central San Jose. Maybe it's good to be paranoid.


Friday, May 6, 2005

Did CGF invent a new catch-phrase?

CGF has long opposed oversized residences in rural areas that dominate the visual landscape, suck up resources, and encourage land speculation. I've never been satisfied with the term "monster home" because the word "home" connotes something positive and cozy, which these buildings aren't. Last fall I thought of and began using the term "monster mansion," a more specific and descriptive term.

In today's SF Chronicle, in a teaser to a real estate column:

"Ditch the monster mansion. If designed right, tiny spaces can make perfect homes."

As far as I can tell from Google, we first used the term this way (it's been used for haunted houses). Life's little victories!


Update: The Chron apparently rotates different teasers, so you might not see the one printed above if you click on the link.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Trouble in Coyote Valley

A memo signed by Mayor Gonzales and Councilmember Williams suggests that San Jose is trying to abandon its decades-old policy of "triggers" that would restrain Coyote Valley development until the City is prepared to handle the massive growth. The memo is here.

Some of our concerns:

*The concept of "phasing by the willing" seems to mean grow anywhere, in any increment, at any time. This contradicts earlier plans to start growth in a central area. The statement "[d]evelopment may occur in ANY increment and in any location as long as it conforms to the Specific Plan's land use and design guidelines" seems to waive the requirement that 5,000 jobs be located in the region before residential construction begins.

*The memo claims the City Council has approved moving away from budgetary triggers that are intended to insure the City can handle the development. No citation is given, and "moving away" sounds like a vague term to this lawyer. I'd like to see exactly what they're talking about. Again, this functions to eliminate a trigger that would have reduced the extent that Coyote would compete with Downtown and North First Street development in the short term.

*The City continues to ignore City Council direction that the 50,000 jobs planned for Coyote are "primarily" industrial/office jobs, instead all planning has required a minimum of 50,000 industrial/office jobs. This is important because the City is providing insufficient housing for the number of people it wants to work in Coyote. Every extra job without housing translates into sprawl.

*The statement "[s]ubregions (phases) are not required to have geographic continuity" makes no sense, and it doesn't make sense for a reason. The City Council's Outcome #13 focuses on allowing development to move forward "when a subregion has ability to finance the appropriate infrastructure." This memo contradicts that requirement in order to rush development as soon as possible.

*The requirement to preserve farmland to mitigate conversion of farmland applies only to farmland converted to low-density residential development, while imposing no duty mitigate land lost to commercial development or for infrastructure. Again, this makes no sense. All farmland loss in Coyote Valley should be mitigated, just as Gilroy requires (and as many other cities require).

*The memo only requires maintaining the average residential density for the first 30% of the buildout. This suggests that for most of buildout, less-profitable, high density residences can be "backloaded", and then forgotten. The City's goal of 25,000 residences, already inadequate for the jobs planned, will not be met.

In short, every aspect of this memo is intended to accellerate development of Coyote Valley. While this isn't exactly surprising, it is very worrying. We'll be waiting to see what the Coyote Valley Task Force and City Council do with it.