Friday, July 29, 2005

Listen to KLIV 1590 this weekend for Institute golf course coverage

I just did a brief radio interview with KLIV 1590 AM radio about the golf course issue. It will get aired this weekend starting late morning/early afternoon at 20 minutes and 50 minutes past the hour, and may also get aired this evening.

By the way, I'll mention some good things about KLIV - they give the best radio news coverage for South Bay issues that I've followed, as well as traffic condition reports that focus much more closely on the South Bay.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

CGF uncovers the violation of the Williamson Act on Morgan Hill Golf Course

(A note here from your regular blogger, Brian - CGF welcomes a new guest blogger and new CGF volunteer, Anagha Patil. Anagha has summarized the potential tax fraud problems at the Math Institute Golf Course below. For more information, see our press release, our letter to the District Attorney's office, and the first news article about this issue, from the Gilroy Dispatch.

I'll briefly note that views of guest bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of the Committee for Green Foothills. With that aside, we welcome you, Anagha!)

CGF has formally requested the Santa Clara County District Attorney to investigate potential civil and criminal tax fraud violations associated with the controversial Morgan Hill Golf Course constructed illegally as part of the planned American Institute of Mathematics Conference Center. The illegal private golf course vastly expanded from the initial 40 acre to now 192 acres without appropriate environmental permits or review, violating a number of federal, state and local environmental regulations.

In a letter to the District Attorney, CGF Legislative Advocate Brian Schmidt outlines arguments that the landowners have for some time violated a State contract that requires preservation of agricultural and open space uses on the property. The letter further describes that because of this contract violation, the landowners may be committing tax fraud that could cost state and local governments thousands of dollars a year in lost revenues.

Four of the five parcels operated by the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) have been under California’s Williamson Act since 1969 to preserve it as open space or to use for agricultural purposes in return for the enjoyment of huge tax breaks. But the Institute has flouted these laws and is effectively benefiting from a tax payer subsidy only to channelize those funds to finance an illegal private Golf Course.

John Fry of Fry’s Electronics, one of the principals behind AIM, has continued to use and maintain the golf course despite the threat to local water supplies and serious environmental impacts including loss of habitat for endangered species and wildlife as well as threats to surface and groundwater from unpermitted course’s fertilizer and pesticide. The officials of the Math Institute still maintained that the Williamson Act allows a golf course as a compatible open space use, an assertion contradicted by both the Santa Clara County officials and by the staff at the State Department of Conservation. The environmental impacts were all well documented by the city’s Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Golf Course prepared by the City of Morgan Hill long back.

After the hue and cry raised over the illegal Golf Course with the Williamson Act in perspective, Morgan Hill officials initially concluded that cancellation of the contract and payment of appropriate fees would reduce the impacts to a “Less than Significant” level. The City then failed to take this insufficient step, requiring only a “non-renewal notice” that would exempt AIM from the required fee.

AIM should cough up for all those years of default and environmental degradation. The Institute officials on their part have ignored the City’s orders to begin rectifying the situation by filing for a non-renewal notice – a notice that would end the contract after nine years from the non-renewal notice

AIM’s failure to file for non-renewal of the contract and its continued acceptance of a tax reduction to which it is not entitled indicates that tax fraud may be occurring.

-Anagha Patil

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A step forward for the Coast

It’s not often that the folks in Washington, DC take action on something specific to CGF territory, but this happened yesterday when the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein that would add the Rancho Corral de Tierra property to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, part of the National Parks Service.

CGF has defended this stunning land, more than 4,000 acres around Moss Beach and Montara on the San Mateo County Coast, for decades. Several years ago, in a huge win for the environment, POST purchased the property.

If the House is able to pass a similar bill and the President signs off, POST will sell these lands at half-price to the GGNRA, thus protecting these lands in the public domain.

More details are in today’s San Mateo Times article.

- Kathy

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mark Weinberger

Mark Weinberger, one of the founders of the environmental law firm that has represented Committee for Green Foothills for many years, passed away last week after a battle with leukemia. Shute Mihaly & Weinberger is a unique law firm representing the "non-developers" on environmental issues - the nonprofits and governmental agencies - and Mark was a champion for the environment.

His obituary is here, and his biography at the law firm is here.

On a personal note, Mark was a Stanford alumn and therefore responsible for many of the initial interviews of Stanford law students, and one of the people involved in hiring me at the firm when I had just graduated from law school. That connection to CGF's law firm resulted ultimately in my being hired by CGF to be its Santa Clara County Legislative Advocate. Mark was a wonderful and very warm person, and will be sorely missed.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Comments on the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report for Coyote Valley

San Jose has solicited comments on what it should study when developing an Environmental Impact Report for Coyote Valley. We submitted the following comments. While saying what the City should study, we continue to oppose this environmentally-destructive project.


Darryl Boyd
Department of Planning Building and Code Enforcement
City of San Jose
801 N. First St., Rm 400
San Jose CA 95110-1795

Re: Comments on the Coyote Valley NOP

Dear Mr. Boyd,

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the NOP for the Coyote Valley Environmental Impact Report:

· We reaffirm our March 4, 2005 letter to San Jose regarding Coyote Valley (attached), and we request that the DEIR address the letter’s concerns.

· Current development “triggers” found in the San Jose General Plan that restrict residential development in San Jose must be included as part of the environmental baseline for assessing the project’s impacts.

· Any changes to development triggers that function as replacements, in whole or in part, of these triggers must be analyzed in the DEIR. Analyzing changed triggers separately would constitute improper segmentation of the project.

· In light of the California Supreme Court’s depublication of Friends of the Kangaroo Rat v. California Dept. of Corrections (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 1400, the City should consider agricultural preservation as a feasible mitigation for the loss of agricultural land. Preservation should be at least at a one-acre-for-one-acre ratio. Preservation in Coyote Valley Greenbelt is preferable, but preserving farmlands in other areas of Santa Clara County should also be considered for purposes of determining feasible mitigation.

· For purposes of examining the project’s effect on housing demand, the number of employed residents per residence should be determined based on the size of anticipated residences, not simply a County-wide or City-wide average that reflect larger residences than will be found in Coyote Valley.

· The NOP referenced 3,000 additional jobs will be expected beyond the 50,000 figure for retail and government support work. This contrasts with the City’s own transportation consultant, who had stated at a Coyote Valley Technical Advisory Committee meeting in 2004 that the 50,000 jobs would produce an additional 17% more support jobs. The DEIR should address which of these two figures is correct and give the reasons why, for purposes of determining housing demand.

· The DEIR should identify the amount secondary jobs created outside of Coyote Valley as a result of the business brought to the area at buildout, for purposes of identifying housing demand created by the project.

· The DEIR should consider the net effect of other development projects on housing demand, and specifically address the housing demand concerns expressed in our December 20, 2004 letter (attached).

· The DEIR should address growth inducing and cumulative impacts from the project, especially in relation to the net increase in housing demand from the 50,000 jobs, whatever number that is correct for retail and government jobs, and the secondary jobs created outside of Coyote Valley. This analysis should extend beyond San Jose to all of Santa Clara County, as well as all neighboring counties and to Monterey County.

· The DEIR should address the effect of nitrogen deposition on nearby serpentine soils habitat from development in Coyote Valley, including that coming from increased congestion on Highway 101.

· The DEIR should address how it will conform to the planned County-wide HCP. We suggest a mitigation statement to the effect that “all aspects of the CVSP are subject to change based on the requirements of the forthcoming County-wide HCP.” The DEIR should justify any statement of conformance to the future HCP that is less sweeping.

· The DEIR should examine the feasibilility of an east-west wildlife migration corridor in the vicinity of the North Coyote area and Tulare Hill, as a mitigation for impacts to wildlife. This examination should include the elimination or relocation of the athletic fields north of Tulare Hill.

· The DEIR should address a wider floodplain for Fisher Creek as an alternative flood storage mechanism than the proposed Coyote Valley Lake, as well as consideration for mitigation of various biological impacts.

· The DEIR should address an empty greenfield as an alternative to the Coyote Valley Lake for flood-control purposes. This greenfield was described by City consultants in early CVSP Task Force meetings.

· The DEIR should address potential spread of perchlorate contamination as it might affect water supplies.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Closer to us than he thinks

Believe it or not, we can't say that everyone is a fan of our work. We recently received this email from someone in Santa Clara County:

Founders, Members, and supporters of

How do we enlighten seemingly intelligent group of people that oppose developing the hillsides, and that are destroying the farmland which we need to feed our children.

Hills are made for houses. Flat land is for crops.

Wake up dummies.

Unfortunately, when you wake up, you will still be dumb. Stupid is what stupid does. Your deeds show the need for improvement.

So we sent him this response:

Dear Mr. ___,

We actually agree with you on the need for saving croplands. If you talk to old-timers around here, they'll tell you that Central Valley was considered "second-rate" for agricultural quality - for the best produce, you would buy from Santa Clara Valley. We are specifically working to save flatland farms from being converted to suburbia in Morgan Hill, Coyote Valley, and the Gilroy area.

We don't see hillsides as viable areas to put large amounts of housing that would do anything to help the housing crisis in the area. Splattering the hillsides with monster mansions for small numbers of people instead would simply harm the environment, drain tax revenues for providing expensive services to rural areas, and disrupt cattle ranching.

I hope this is helpful, and at the least, you'll support efforts to preserve flatland farming in Santa Clara County.

Best regards,
Brian Schmidt

I don't know if our response will soften his opposition to us, but maybe it will help generate support for preserving farmlands. It's okay with me if people don't like us, so long as they do the right thing.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Preserving our night skies

CGF works to preserve open space and natural resources in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, and one of those natural resources is a dark sky that gives people a chance to look up at night and see something besides a light-polluted haze.

News over the holidays covered the spectacular Deep Impact spacecraft hitting a comet - pictures of the impact came from a flyby spacecraft and massive telescopes in space and on the ground. They also came from Monte Bello Open Space Preserve here in Santa Clara County, where an amateur astronomer had a sufficiently-dark sky to put together a film of the impact. Just one more reason to stop sprawl and see the stars.

(Just for comparison, the first article I wrote for CGF was about camping at Monte Bello and enjoying the "dark quiet of open space.")


Thursday, July 7, 2005

Great news for the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority

The Santa Clara County Open Space Authority won a court case for the second time over its right to collect and expend money for open space preservation. Groups claiming to represent taxpayers argued that the OSA had not followed proper procedures under Proposition 218. The OSA won at the trial level, and won again yesterday following an appeal by the opposing groups to the 6th District Court of Appeal.

It's not clear yet whether this decision will be appealed to the California Supreme Court, nor whether the Supreme Court would accept an appeal if one were made. The Supreme Court is more likely to take cases when lower court rulings are in conflict, but no such conflict currently exists.

Assuming no appeal occurs or that the Supreme Court declines the case, then the OSA will have nearly tripled its spending authority. This is great news for open space preservation and for public access.

You can read the decision here (Silcon Valley Taxpayers v. Santa Clara Cty., dated July 6, 2005)