Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Green Palo Alto, less-green farmlands, more-green ring tones, and a blog update

A grab-bag of news today:

Palo Alto commits to an eco-friendly plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing sprawl, and reducing monster mansions in the hillsides, will be a helpful step in fighting global warming.

Farm produce buyers link wildlife restoration to contamination fears, despite a lack of evidence. The E-coli problems are unlikely to trace back to wildlife. Hopefully these concerns will be managed appropriately.

Your cell phone can ring you with the call of the wild. Our endangered local animal, the California red-legged frog, can be your ring tone available for free at a conservation website.

And a brief update about this blog: spammers are trying to post unrelated comments selling products on this blog, so we've disabled the comments feature. We're very interested in hearing your (real) comments though - send them to brian at greenfoothills.org or holly at greenfoothills.org.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some successes are easy

I recently attended a meeting intended to help advise the new incoming mayor of San Jose about environmental initiatives he could take. The group was trying to limit the recommendations to a small number of items. At the end of the meeting, I tossed out as a last comment that the next General Plan revision should deal with the large land areas south of the city, near Almaden Reservoir and elsewhere. Those areas had been annexed during the foolish, expansionist years of the 1960s and 1970s but are not candidates for real incorporation into the city. City staff attending the meeting agreed, suggesting those places be rezoned from a residential to open-space designation (not exactly what I had in mind, but still a vast improvement). General agreement around the room, and the idea made it onto the list.

I think there's a good chance that this will go forward and eliminate some future developer's effort to put suburbs on hillsides. Something starting with a last-minute suggestion.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Comments on the Castro Valley Ranch DEIR

CGF submitted two sets of comments on the proposed subdivision of the 8,000 acre Castro Valley Ranch, both of them reprinted below. This is a potentially dangerous project, so we'll need to watch it carefully.


December 6, 2006

Rob Eastwood, Senior Planner
Santa Clara County Planning Office
70 West Hedding Street, East Wing, 7th Floor
San Jose, CA 95110

Re: Comments on Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision DEIR

Dear Rob;

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision DEIR.

Missing analysis of growth-inducing impacts within the project.

The DEIR as currently written provides insufficient basis for the County to decide whether to approve the subdivision. The elephant in the room, but not in this DEIR, is that the 16 lot subdivision and road construction will induce the growth of future subdivisions. The less-than one full page discussion of growth inducing impacts of the project (DEIR pg. 154) entirely fails to disclose this impact. It says “Any future development on the project site would be governed by the land use policies and densities of development prescribed in the County General Plan, which is not proposed to change. These land use policies will limit the number of lots that can be created by subdivision each year and the minimum lot size.” The issue, however, is that the paved and extended road, together with lot line adjustments that facilitate future access and future subdivisions across the entire property, induce the possible growth in the form of new future subdivisions that could not occur without the newly configured parcels and new road infrastructure. It is the change to Castro Ranch created by this project that induces growth, the change that many groups are clearly worried about, and that effect is overlooked in the one chance for it to be analyzed.

The DEIR not only fails to disclose the growth inducing impacts, it fails to adequately describe the impacts of how much future subdivision can occur on Castro Ranch because of the new road and lot line changes. The failure to do a slope-density analysis, combined with the failure to indicate how future subdivision cannot feasibly occur without the road extension, means the scope of the impact has not been described.

These issues are the primary, but not exclusive, impacts from the proposed project. The “what’s next” issue is the shoe that we all are waiting and expecting will drop at Castro Ranch. A willful decision to ignore this concern that everyone acknowledges as existing is not only wrong but also a failure to comply with CEQA’s requirement to disclose growth-inducing impacts. For these and other reasons the DEIR as written cannot serve as a basis for the County’s decision over this project.

Other impacts and comments:

Contrary to the discussion on page 154 saying the project won’t provide access to any surrounding areas that lack access, it will provide alternative and improved access to properties served by Whitehurst Road, giving those properties a means to access Highway 101 (by agreement with Castro Ranch landowners) while avoiding Highway 152 traffic. A separate growth inducing impact will be from providing secondary emergency access for Whitehurst Road properties that could be a condition for future development there.

Because the lot line adjustment is treated as a subdivision, approval of this project is equivalent to improving a tentative map, or a parcel map for which a tentative map was not required. Government Code section 66474(e) states such approval is impermissible if the design of the subdivision or the proposed improvements are likely to cause substantial environmental damage or substantially and avoidably injure fish or wildlife or their habitat. The on-site and off-site growth-inducing impacts are likely to cause such impacts.

The DEIR raises several hydrology concerns (DEIR pg 52-55). It fails to analyze potential increases in impervious surfaces from residential development at Castro Valley. This potential increase can be analyzed using similar size project and recent permits to determine an estimate of impervious area from driveways and house sizes. Any change to runoff can be cumulatively significant in the Pajaro watershed, a stream that is impacted by erosion and sedimentation. Compliance with NPDES permits is insufficient to avoid cumulative impacts for sedimentation or other pollutants. NPDES permits set minimum project size and maximum cost levels for mitigations. Unless the County requires a no-net increase in peak flows, it has failed to analyze impacts that could be significant either individually or cumulatively. Reliance on compliance with an NPDES waste discharge requirement is insufficient in and of itself; CEQA mandates that all cumulative impacts be considered and NPDES requirements do not attempt to eliminate all such impacts.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt

(sent via email)

Dear Rob;

I would like to add the following comments to Committee for Green Foothills’ previously-submitted comments:

First, as with other County EIRS, the DEIR fails to analyze the cumulative impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions from the project, particularly from anticipated residential development and use. The DEIR does briefly mention the use of petroleum-based fuels for road construction will contribute greenhouse gases (DEIR at 153) but does no analysis of whether this impact is cumulatively significant, and ignores the greenhouse gas impact from increased road use. Carbon dioxide is the main pollutant causing global warming, which will 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.

Second, without a conservation easement granted to an appropriate agency prohibiting use of the road by persons attempting to get access from Whitehurst Road, there is no guarantee that the project will not promote access to other properties (DEIR at 154).

Third, the DEIR failed to analyze threats that increased tree harvesting would occur as a result of splitting the property up for estate purposes, or from improved road access. Such harvest would be an indirect impact effecting species habitat and hydrology.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

-Brian Schmidt

Monday, December 4, 2006

Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch

Lennie Roberts, CGF's San Mateo County Legislative Advocate, attended yesterday's hearing at Camp Jones Gulch about the YMCA's plans to log part of the camp. One of the issues has been how best to reduce the threat of fire within the camp. Lennie presented this information about the qualities of a redwood forest that make it less prone to fire, and the impacts of logging when the forest canopy is opened up and the forest floor dries out.

Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at Camp Jones Gulch

The NTMP (Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan) for Camp Jones Gulch proposes commercial logging in perpetuity. Up to 40% of the trees 18 inches and diameter will be harvested every 15-20 years. Old-growth redwood and Douglas fir trees in two groves are not proposed for logging, unless they are determined to be “hazards”. However, cutting of up to 20% of the second-growth trees within these areas is allowed by the Plan. The Plan can be amended in the future, without public comment.

Commercial Timber Harvesting will increase fire hazards

Redwood forests are dependent upon the cool, foggy coastal climate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mature redwood and Douglas fir trees create a canopy of continuous shade that discourages fire-prone shrubs, trees and other sun-preferring vegetation from growing. Summer fog drip replenishes water in the creeks, and maintains moist conditions that keep fire hazards low. In San Mateo County, up to half of the annual precipitation recorded in redwood forests comes from summer fog drip.

Cutting of the largest trees in a commercial timber harvest opens up the tree canopy and exposes the forest floor to direct sunlight. The resulting hotter, drier conditions on the forest floor increase the fire hazard. Logging debris and slash (tree branches, tops, and brush) from cutting of timber, up to two feet deep, is left on the forest floor, adding to the fire hazard. Increased sunlight encourages the growth of weedy and fire-prone species such as tan oak, California lilac (ceanothus), and broom. These fast growing shrubs and trees become “ladder fuels” which enable a fire to spread up into the canopy of the forest. As the forest recovers and the tree canopy grows back, the sun-preferring weedy species become shaded out and eventually die, adding to the fire hazard.

An additional hazard associated with the Camp Jones Gulch NTMP is the proposed use of herbicides on tan oaks. Tan oaks are not considered desirable in a commercially managed forest. They invade recently logged areas, and will re-sprout vigorously if cut. The NTMP proposes to use a method called “hack and squirt” in which herbicides are squirted into a cut in each tree trunk, killing the tree. However, unlike many other species, the leaves on dead tan oaks do not fall off. The leafy dead standing trees become virtual torches - one of the “ladder fuels” that the YMCA is concerned about.

Note: In its review of a 1976 Timber Harvest Plan for the Jones Gulch property, California Division of Forestry stated that the fire hazard will be increased for a period of 4 to 5 years rather than 1 or two years as the YMCA had predicted. In fact, the hazard is much greater than that due to the abundance of brushy shrubs and trees growing back after each timber harvest cycle. Yet, one of the YMCA’s stated purposes of this NTMP is to reduce fire hazards.

There are alternatives to Commercial Timber Harvesting

The YMCA should adopt and implement a strategic fire plan. This would include control of vegetation along Pescadero Creek Road, and the Camps’s ingress/egress road. Within 100 feet of the buildings in the developed area of the Camp, the YMCA should maintain 100 feet of defensible space required by State law. Within the next 200 feet, and other strategic locations such as ridge tops, the Camp should implement shaded fuel breaks. There are funding sources to assist landowners with fuel reduction, and there are potential partner organizations to implement fuel reduction programs.

-Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate