Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Monday, December 3, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Committee for Green Foothills comments on potential City Council instructions for a Development Agreement with Stanford
November 26, 2007
Dear Mayor Kishimoto and City Council Members;
The Committee for Green Foothills appreciates the opportunity to help provide input to City staff regarding the
City staff are entirely correct in saying “community benefits and mitigations negotiated by the City as consideration for the Development Agreement are not limited to the mitigations required under CEQA. Mitigation required under CEQA should not be confused with the community benefits and mitigations negotiated by the City in exchange for the Development Agreement.” (CMR: 427:07, page 2.) Stanford has requested significant deviations from current zoning standards and requested the City relinquish its right to apply more stringent standards in the future. The City, in return, can request environmental benefits that the City needs. Technical requirements such as “proportionality” and “nexus” are immaterial to the Development Agreement. Instead, the issue for the City Council is to how to negotiate an agreement that is the best one for the community.
The best agreement embodies a symbiotic relationship between Stanford and the broader community: Stanford gets the facilities it needs without harming the environment, and Palo Alto supports a high quality of life and a wonderful environment that attracts people to come use Stanford’s facilities. The worst agreement from
To obtain the best agreement rather than the worst agreement, we urge the City to start with Mayor Kishimoto’s November 7th Op-Ed in the Palo Alto Weekly. Everyone, including Stanford, has an obligation not to make climate change worse, and requiring a no-net increase in emissions and car trips is essential to this. The housing problem pointed out by the Mayor is both an open space and a greenhouse gas issue, as well as a social justice issue – if no increase in local housing is provided, open space will be consumed elsewhere, and the workers will have to commute in on Palo Alto’s roads and nearby highways. Creation of sufficient housing, including low-income housing commensurate with the demand created for that housing, should be part of the overall package.
Mayor Kishimoto also properly acknowledges the need to protect open space. What Stanford proposes is essentially a trade-off: the university wants a significant increase in the density and height of development in places that benefit Stanford’s plans. The community, in return, should get a benefit of a reduction of unwanted development in places that should be open spaces – the foothills, creeks, and nearby areas. It would be entirely appropriate for this to be in the form of conservation easements on Stanford lands, but purchasing easement on other nearby lands could also serve the same purpose.
The Committee for Green Foothills has no opinion on whether the basic permissions sought by Stanford are appropriate and necessary, as these medical issues go beyond our expertise. What is within our expertise and clearly needed, however, is protection of the environmental values held by our community and at special risk from massive development. If an agreement should go forward, these values – protecting against climate change, providing a full amount of housing, and protecting open space – are essential components to a good agreement.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The thing is, the science of predicting environmental impacts that haven't actually happened yet is highly interpretive.
"A lot of areas in EIRs are fuzzy," says Gary Binger, urban planning professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "There's a lot of subjectivity."
That's why many public agencies choose their environmental consultants carefully in order to minimize the potential for bias.
Prior to 1996, developers wanting projects approved by Santa Clara County could hire a consultant directly and submit the results of the study with their application.
"How can there be bias when that happens?" county Planner Rob Eastwood points out sarcastically. "No, just kidding."
Then-county Supervisor Joe Simitian changed the practice in 1996 in order to avoid conflict of interest and public criticism. Now county officials stick to a list of environmental consultants that are screened with questions like: "During the preparation of a Draft EIR, how would you respond if a project proponent directly pressures you to change a conclusion, minimize an impact, or otherwise influence the findings of the EIR?"
Many other cities and counties in the Bay Area follow a similar process: they hire consultants directly so the paychecks come from the public agency (although the money gets reimbursed by project applicants). The developers also have little or no input in choosing the consultant.
Of the eight cities Metro surveyed in Santa Clara County, San Jose was the only one that allowed developers to contract with consultants directly, essentially giving them the freedom to pick whomever they wanted to conduct the environmental studies.
We hope San Jose will listen!
P.S. For those wondering - yes, I've since watered the plant in the picture.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This just further supports our argument that Coyote Valley's Draft Fiscal Analysis was fatally flawed in assuming housing prices (and resulting tax revenues) will go up 2% faster each year than income, every year for 57 years. The economist linked to above says the ratio between housing costs and income is already unsustainable. To think this unsustainable ratio could be made much, much worse, and then sustained at that level for decades is simply ridiculous.
This is why we think it's wrong for San Jose to hire analysts that were already selected and hired by developers to do an analysis of the developers' project.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The main thing is that we fight sprawl, the car-use-maximizing, environment-destroying driver of climate change.
We've written about climate change here:
We've submitted critical environmental comments on bad projects that point out the climate change effects. We've opposed many logging projects which have climate change impacts. We've supported natural flood plain protection as opposed to dams, pumping, and still more streamside development. We've supported initiatives that reduce house sizes, which waste energy.
And we've proven that environmentalists can win victories, just as the environmental values will win and stop climate change.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
You can listen to the Forum program here. Our issue comes up in the second half of the show.
When I heard yesterday morning that Mayor Reed would be on the show, I emailed the following question:
When asked, Mayor Reed responded as follows (after some preliminary comments):
Yesterday’s KQED Perspectives commentary at www.kqed.org/perspectives criticized “The San Jose Process” for environmental review because unlike other cities, private developers create and control the initial, administrative draft versions of environmental impact reports. The Perspective said that process is a legacy of the previous city administration, but will you commit to at least investigating whether this system should be changed to meet the standards found in other Bay Area cities, where the cities and not the developers select the consultants who prepare the reports?
(Full disclosure: I was the person who gave yesterday’s Perspective.)
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills
The environmental reports we do are the City’s environmental reports, and we rely on our professional staff to make sure that the work done by the consultants is correct and eventually if people disagree with that we have to defend it in court .... we have to prepare for that so we have to do it right, and I don’t think it matters where it starts as much as where it ends up. I can’t make a personal commitment to Brian that we’ll change that. I understand his comment, I understand the perception, but we have a really good environmental staff that makes these things work, and I’m confident we’re doing it correctly and defensibly.My reaction:
The Mayor said he can't commit on the spot to change the system. I understood that, and had only asked for a commitment to investigate it. That's an easy thing to miss in the middle of live radio, so hopefully he will still consider investigating alternatives.
Mayor Reed says it's the end result that counts the most, and I agree with that, but throwing in a barrier to a good end result in the form of a biased starting point just makes it harder for the City's professional staff. If they can get a good result with this handicapped start, then they'll do even better with an unbiased start. I would add though that in CGF's opinion we do have a problem with some of the end results, as seen with Coyote Valley.
Finally, the City's professional staff can't go out and redo shoddy fieldwork by consultant experts. They might not even know if the fieldwork was shoddy or the subjective judgment was out of line with standard expert opinion. The vast majority of environmental reviews never get challenged in court, especially Initial Studies for smaller projects, so a court-challenge safeguard is inadequate and not the way to do quality control, in any event.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Perspectives are from individuals, not organizations, but I enthusiastically agree with the position that I've represented on behalf of CGF and its members. On the radio today, the announcer identified me as working for Committee for Green Foothills, so our organization also received some Bay-Area wide media exposure.
Now hopefully, we'll get some action for San Jose to fix this!
Friday, October 19, 2007
See it right here.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
A big event coming up next month is the Creeks and Watershed Conference, an all day conference on November 17th in San Jose to educate the public about watershed protection efforts. More information is available here - please come for any part of the event, or for the whole day!
(I should note that children are welcome, but the presentations will be geared to an adult level.)
Friday, October 12, 2007
Obviously these are very different places, but it would be interesting to see if there's any lessons we can learn on cost containment, since the costs of restoration are a significant barrier to environmental enhancement.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Still, there was one trail we could hike on that got within a half-mile or so of the fire. It looked not great and not terrible at that distance - it seemed like the fire burned pretty hot and took out even the trees, so it wasn't just a grass and brush fire, but it was also very spotty, leaving lots of unburnt areas. This was only a small part of the fire though, and I'm not sure what the rest looks like.
And if the firefighting had gone overboard and did any damage, we were too far away to know.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Instead, the Supervisors voted 5-0 to reject the idea. It didn't seem like we'd have such a resounding victory at the beginning - we at CGF spent a lot of time calling Supervisors, meeting with them and their staffs, and appearing at the hearing. We're very glad to have stopped a bad precedent and maintained a good one.
Friday, October 5, 2007
October 1, 2007
The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments for scoping the EIR for the
· The purpose of the approval for this project must be defined by the City, not by the applicant. If the purpose that the permissions the applicants seeks (such as improving medical care) can be done in a way that the applicant does not seek, that option remains within the purpose of the City. Legally, the applicant cannot define the purpose in a way that artificially narrows the scope of the project and its alternatives. Because the City is deciding whether to approve the agreement, it has to define the purpose.
· The EIR must consider a “no expansion/seismic only upgrade” alternative for the
· A “no increase in medical office space” alternative should be included. Conditions should be placed defining what type of activity or organization may use “medical office space.”
· Any relaxing of existing zoning standards will violate thresholds for environmental significance that the standards are meant to protect, unless compensatory environmental mitigation is required. This is especially true given the large size of the project. For example, easing density restrictions should be compensated with open space protection.)
· Increased building height and density should be compensated with open space protection. Decreasing views of hillsides and of natural areas are visual impacts that can be appropriately compensated for by open space protection.
· Increase utilization of recreational resources must be analyzed in the EIR for direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. The City should compare the analysis used for the Stanford GUP in Santa Clara Clount’s EIR for comparison. Increased utilization is a significant impact unless mitigated.
· The EIR process should analyze the phasing and mitigation monitoring used in the Stanford GUP EIR to avoid similar problems. For the Stanford GUP, six years after the impacts have occurred, the promised trails have not yet been constructed. Mitigations should not just be begun before the impacts have occurred, they should be completed, or at least a schedule established with clear stop dates.
· The hospital opening should be in phases, with none the medical office space opening until all environmental mitigations have been complied with. This will make mitigation monitoring and enforcement more credible if it stops use of medical office space until environmental conditions are complied with as opposed to stopping use of the hospital.
· Any net increases in greenhouse gas emissions are cumulatively significant.
· “Green building” standards should be required.
· The impact on housing will be significant unless mitigated and must be analyzed. The impact will also affect open space and traffic, because if new housing is not constructed by Stanford, it will be constructed mostly in
· All newly-created housing demand should be fully mitigated with housing creation that matches the income level of housing demand generated.
· Any analysis that concludes a “no net increase” mitigation standard for transportation is not feasible, must also determine why it is feasible for the much larger Stanford GUP expansion but not for this project.
· Significant and unavoidable impacts must be compensated for in a comparable manner. For example, the visual impact of
· Eliminate Stanford’s “plateau bargaining” through the use of binding promises in the process. For example, Stanford has made promises on where it would agree to place the S1 Trail on its property, and then after much work had been done by the County so it could accept the offer, Stanford reneged on the promises unless dramatic new concessions were added. This problem can be stopped by spelling out in advance when and which parts of a promise are binding.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
It will be here at the Peninsula Conservation Center, 3921 East Bayshore Road in Palo Alto, tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
More info here.
Hope to see you there!
Friday, September 28, 2007
The Committee for Green Foothills has opposed this project from the beginning. We're still waiting on details, and it may well come back from the dead, but still it's excellent news!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Committee for Green Foothills
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 17, 2007
Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate
phone (650) 968-7243 * firstname.lastname@example.org
Debacle, Environmentalists Say
The Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) alleged today that the “San Jose Process” of using developer-selected and developer-paid consultants for the city’s own environmental review is a systematic problem that resulted in the extensively criticized and withdrawn Coyote Valley Draft Environmental Impact Report. “Most other cities in the Bay Area have abandoned the practice of letting developers themselves select and hire the consultants to prepare the administrative draft versions of Environmental Impact Reports, but not San Jose,” said Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate for CGF. “The Coyote Valley Draft EIR only varied slightly from the usual San Jose Process where the City ‘adopted’ consultants previously hired by
In most Bay Area cities, when a developer applies for a permit that requires the city to do environmental review, the developer pays a fee and the city then uses the fee money to hire expert consultants to prepare the environmental report.
“The Coyote Valley EIR actually improved modestly on the usual San Jose Process, and still produced a completely inadequate analysis that had to be withdrawn,” Schmidt said. “In this case, the City took over from the developers earlier than it usually does, but even that didn’t fix the biased report. The only real difference between this EIR and what
The City received over 1300 pages of comments from agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals. The widespread scrutiny and criticism led to the decision to withdraw, revise, and recirculate the Draft EIR.
Draft EIRs are the first version of the Environmental Impact Report circulated for public comments, and if not found to be significantly flawed, become the basis of the Final EIR. Administrative Draft EIRs are the initial versions of Draft EIRs that summarize and draw conclusions from the information found in the technical consultant reports on subjects such as impacts to air quality, traffic, and wildlife. Most cities require developers to pay a fee so the cities control all consultants involved in this process. The San Jose Process gives all control up to the Administrative Draft EIR to the developer. The extent to which the City even disputes developer bias is unknown as it all occurs behind the scenes, and the City has no right to access information created by consultants unless the developer allows it. For
In the mid-1990s, the
# # #
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
Friday, September 14, 2007
Two years ago, Google signed a high-profile deal with NASA Ames to collaborate on a number of projects, most of which have been described only vaguely, and to build up to 1 million square feet of office space.
A million square feet translates into thousands of jobs - where will these people live? The absence of housing in this area can translate into sprawl concerns. We have some of the same concerns about the Stanford medical and shopping center expansions, so we may need to watch this.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Australian researchers have found that walking leashed dogs along woodland paths leads to a significant reduction in the number and diversity of birds in the area, at least over the short term.
These land management issues will be increasingly important in the future, and CGF will have to figure out which ones we should involve our own work. There are solutions to this problem, like designating critical areas as "no dogs," or having dog trails run primarily in less-critical areas (open fields instead of narrow riparian areas along streams).
Something we'll have to watch.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
August 29, 2007
Dear Mayor Tate and City Councilmembers;
The Committee for Green Foothills has reviewed the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society letter regarding the Institute Golf Course, and we endorse its contents and recommendations.
Speaking as someone who has followed this issue for four years, I can also attest to the frustration of watching a sophisticated and wealthy set of individuals get away with environmental murder repeatedly. The City’s entire response for the last ten years since the golf course was illegally constructed has simply been to legalize what has already, illegally been done to the property. This latest manifestation now is to legalize the landowners’ decision to ignore mitigation deadlines, replacing the old deadlines with new ones and old mitigation standards with new, undefined concepts that call for completely –unearned trust in the City’s vigilance. With little hope, we request that the City this time take a different stance, reject the staff recommendation, require immediate compliance with the numerous mitigations that can be complied with immediately, and bring an enforcement action against the landowner requiring them to stop using the golf course until all other mitigations have been complied with.
It may be relevant to bring into the open the rumors that have circulated that Frys may move its corporate headquarters to
Finally, to supplement mention of the many legal flaws described in the Audubon letter, we point out that CEQA acknowledges the existence and significance of temporary impacts, so the failure to put mitigations in place in a timely fashion is a significant impact that must be analyzed. In addition, “take” under the ESA is generally recognized as a significant impact under CEQA, and acknowledging the take means a Supplemental EIR must be prepared. If the City is permitting “take” without requiring the relevant state and federal ESA permits first, or if it is permitting such take for a longer period than anticipated and analyzed in the original EIR, then a new and unanalyzed significant impact is present and requires at least a Supplemental EIR.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Friday, August 24, 2007
Some good legal news in California about global warming, air pollution, and maybe about buying local food
California Attorney General Jerry Brown has settled a CEQA/global warming lawsuit against San Bernardino County (settlement here). This is relevant to Coyote Valley, where the EIR used the same legal theory as San Bernardino to avoid reaching a conclusion about global warming:
(Settlement, page 1.)
D. It is the County’s position that the General Plan EIR, after providing substantial disclosure and analysis of greenhouse gas emission and climate change issues, and including a factual and reasoned determination, appropriately concluded that there is no available methodology for determining whether greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the General Plan Update are significant. Accordingly, it is the County’s position that the County correctly determined, based on substantial evidence, that further discussion in the General Plan EIR of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change would be speculative;
The heart of the settlement is here:
A target for the reduction of those sources of emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations, and feasible Greenhouse Gas emission reduction measures whose purpose shall be to meet this reduction target by regulating those sources of Greenhouse Gases emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations.(Page 3.)
Basically, the settlement ducks the issue of whether the emissions are significant (what the county wanted) in return for promising "feasible" reductions (what the California AG wanted). A lawsuit by environmental groups is still in place though, so this may not be the final word.
Warming Law also notes a separate statement in the newspaper, "In a compromise Tuesday, lawmakers agreed that by 2010, new rules would be adopted spelling out how to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of projects covered by the law." It's unclear what this means, but probably is a promise by the AG's office to issue new regulations under CEQA Guidelines. These regulations can interpret but cannot weaken the underlying CEQA statute. If it's proposed legislation though, then anything is possible, good or bad.
The second development is a federal appellate court case saying Air Management Districts can order local governments to purchase clean fuel vehicles. Besides helping fight climate change and air pollution, this clears away a legal hurdle for a "buy local food" idea we've discussed at CGF - that local governments should preferentially buy locally-grown food. The same preemption arguments that the oil industry was using against the clean fuel vehicle policy could have been used against a "buy local" policy, but this decision seems to remove that barrier entirely.
Trivia note: I did a tiny amount of work on this case on behalf the air district, six years ago. These cases can take a long time....
Monday, August 13, 2007
Given that City Planning staff has said the Draft EIR must be revised due to the significant criticism it received, I want to suggest that the decision on whether to start the revision wait until after the General Plan itself is revised. Three good reasons for this:
- The City might choose to change the
proposal based on changing economic conditions or based on the new General Plan. The “current” direction from the City Council is from a 2002 memo with guiding principles based on the 1995 General Plan, and those principles are getting dated. Coyote Valley
- Environmental review will be much more accurate if done immediately prior to the City’s decision about the project rather than done years earlier. DEIR preparation started in 2005. Delaying revisions until 2009 following the General Plan approval will make them much more accurate, particularly for traffic and for making use of the information developed for the Countywide Habitat Conservation Plan, which should be complete by then. It might also give the landowner-proponents of
time to reconsider their current decision to refuse the City access to their properties for purposes of preparing the DEIR. Coyote Valley
- Serious consideration of alternatives is impossible with the current project, schedule, and cursory analysis typically found in the EIR process. In particular, I think the Mayor may be interested in a “North Coyote Only” alternative that limits the development footprint, protects critical wildlife areas and the majority of existing farmland, and still allows a net influx of jobs to the City. While as far as I know, none of the major environmental groups support this alternative (including my own), it may still be a significant improvement over the current proposal. It won’t happen though unless we halt the current process.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
In a major setback to development plans for Coyote Valley, the city of San Jose plans to revise a key environmental document, responding to a mountain of scathing criticism of the controversial proposal.
The city's planning staff, in a memo released late Wednesday, said the amount and tone of the criticism were "unprecedented," forcing the department to redo parts of the draft environmental impact report that was issued in April.
While the city had hoped to certify the environmental impact report this year, Wednesday's move means it will be at least June before the environmental document is certified - alarming housing developers eager to start building. State law requires a valid report before the city can consider a plan to allow 25,000 homes and 50,000 jobs on Coyote Valley farmlands.
The decision by the city's planning staff is the latest twist in the ongoing Coyote Valley saga. The proposal has pitted a coalition of housing developers against environmentalists in a battle over the best use of the 7,000-acre area.
Among the many areas of the report that the city plans to revisit are how the development would affect traffic, water supply, agricultural land and global warming.
We and many other groups put an enormous amount of time into this. While it's just a delay right now, it is important. San Jose should simply stop the whole Coyote Valley process until the City's General Plan is revised, and then figure out what it needs to do.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
An unusually harsh set of comments by conservation groups and federal, state and local government agencies threatens to send San Jose's environmental review of Coyote Valley back to the drawing board.
The city has received a 1,300-page mountain of comment letters on the environmental assessment issued in April. State law requires a valid assessment before the city can consider a plan to allow 25,000 homes and 50,000 jobs on Coyote's farmlands.
While city planners say they won't decide until later this month whether the report needs to be redone, the collective weight of so many key environmental players and the wide scope of their critiques make it likely the city will do so. If not, and if the city council certifies the existing analysis, one or more of those agencies or organizations is likely to sue over its adequacy.
The only bad aspect of the coverage is that we were planning to do a press release around the same issue, and now it's much less likely to get media attention. The press release would have focused more specifically on our objections.
Still, we're glad this is getting the attention it deserves.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Victory for open-space proponents
REDWOOD CITY — Owners of some unincorporated parcels in San Mateo County
who are considering subdivision may have to think about its opposite: open
The San Mateo County Planning Commission unanimously agreed Wednesday to
recommend an amendment to zoning rules requiring owners subdividing large lots —
when those lots are zoned as "resource management district" for low-density uses
— to relinquish a certain portion for open space in perpetuity.
The Board of Supervisors will have final say on the amendment, which will
come before them at a future meeting.
Environmental groups support the amendment to the regulations, which
haven't been updated since they were developed in 1973.
easement does not change the allowable uses on the property, does not change the
allowable density," said Lennie Roberts, legislative advocate for Committee for
Green Foothills. "The conservation easement will ensure that once a property is
subdivided and its entitlements are used, a future owner can not come back and
take a bite of that apple."
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
July 10, 2007
Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod FAX 916. 445-0128
Standing Committee on Local Government
AB 697 (Ruskin): SUPPORT
FAX 916. 445-0128
Dear Chairperson McLeod:
The Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) strongly urges you to support AB 697, which would increase needed resources to purchase and preserve vital public open space lands by increasing the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s debt term from 20 years to 30 years. CGF was instrumental in the founding of MROSD, and we know that this change would further the effectiveness of this important institution for protecting open space.
As you know, rising real estate prices threaten the midpeninsula’s last remaining natural open space lands. We support decisive action by the District to buy open space areas to protect our natural environment and create opportunities for public recreation. AB 697 would benefit the public by saving taxpayer money and producing more funds to purchase and preserve open space lands.
The District has a stable source of income through local property taxes and has received Moody’s highest rating. Because short-term rates in the current bond market are not much different than long-term rates the District would not have to pay higher interest rates for paying back its debt over a longer-term. The extension of the District's debt is appropriate also because the District's financing is only aimed at the purchase of land for preservation as open space – and the public will own this land in perpetuity.
We ask for your help in ensuring the passage of this critical change in the District’s enabling legislation that would save taxpayers money and increase funds to purchase and preserve essential public open space lands that are vanishing quickly.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Monday, July 9, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force
Dear CVSP Task Force Members:
The Committee for Green Foothills learned just recently that owners of most of the land in Coyote Valley have refused to allow City consultants to access their land in order to prepare the Draft EIR. This contradicts a recent statement by City Staff that access was denied on 30-40% of the land, which itself was an alarming figure. The attached map from the City website shows that landowners who constitute principal movers behind Coyote Valley development are refusing to cooperate with the development process.
Given that the real purpose of this project from the viewpoint of those developers is to maximize the development potential, they appear to have concluded that they will be able to develop more if information about environmental impacts is constrained until a future point. That in itself is a major worry.
Beyond this problem lies a fundamental issue of why the City should even go forward with this project when the primary instigators and primary beneficiaries are refusing to cooperate with it. We recommend that the City simply suspend any further work on this project until those owners, or at least the owners of a majority of the land, decide they wish to cooperate. Any other course of action would be to hand control of the process ostensibly meant to benefit San Jose residents in general to the landowners who are impeding proper planning.
Committee for Green Foothills
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
For those who are interested, there will be a preliminary meeting at Cupertino City Hall tomorrow (Wednesday) in Room 100 at 4 p.m. People interested in seeing the environmental report that will ultimately result from this should be able to sign up on a receiving list, either signing up at this meeting or by contacting County Planner Mark Connolly, at (408) 299-5786.
We also encourage everyone to sign up for our Action Alerts to learn about how to affect crucial decisions on this quarry and on other important environmental issues in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
1. NMFS, USFWS and Cal DFG, together with all the environmental groups and some individuals, all stated they believed the project had growth-inducing impacts. Only County staff seem to think otherwise.
2. Staff stated at the Planning Commission hearing that future growth will require future environmental review. That is irrelevant and too late – the concern is that this lot line adjustment and road extension, widening, and paving will make future growth more likely. CEQA requires analysis of growth inducing impacts now, when the actions that make future growth more likely to occur.
3. Staff also stated that induced growth comes from oversized infrastructure, but the road is at the bare minimum size. This has two flaws: first, the currently-sized road presumably could bear additional traffic (staff never says how much), and having extended and widened the road will make it easier to simply widen it in the future. Second, the lot reconfigurations will facilitate development, independent of the road. The applicant has openly claimed the line adjustments are for estate-planning purposes, in other words allowing the parcels to split into separate ownership, greatly facilitating development of individual parcels.
4. The refusal of the landowners to allow the Native American group access to look for culturally-significant sites, including burial grounds, or even to meet with the group off-site, suggests that the best interest of the county in preserving the sites will not be protected. A number of Planning Commissioners expressed their concern about this issue. Representatives of the Amah-Mutsun group told me they were also concerned about growth-inducing impacts, so this is another reason for rejecting the project.
5. Staff analysis recommended approval of the project solely on the basis that it did not violate County policies (in their opinion), but this does not examine whether approval would be in the best interest of the County. There should be a pro-and-con analysis over whether the County is better off with this project.
6. A similar pro-and-con analysis should accompany a discussion of the alternatives to the project. The staff report wholly failed to discuss alternatives, virtually all of which are environmentally superior to the proposed project.
7. Failure to consider cumulative impacts from impervious surfaces and greenhouse gas emissions is a problem in this and other County environmental documents. Staff should be asked to report on whether a programmatic analysis of these issues is appropriate.
8. If approval goes forward, a project condition should be that only people with business on the property should be allowed access (e.g., landowners on
Monday, June 11, 2007
(Committee for Green Foothills wrote the letter below regarding Half Moon Bay's Pilarcitos Community Park. -Brian)
June 11, 2007
Mayor Naomi Patridge and Members of the City Council
Dear Mayor Patridge and Members of the Council,
The Committee for Green Foothills is deeply concerned about the City Council’s apparent interest in selling Pilarcitos Community Park, as reported in the news media, and agendized for Closed Session at the Council’s June 5, 2007 Special Meeting.
The city acquired this gateway property in October, 2004 from one of the coastside’s pre-eminent growers, Nurserymen’s Exchange. Through the generosity of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST)’s no-interest loan, the city has been given three years to find the necessary funding for the park. We understand that POST has offered to extend their loan beyond the October, 2007 deadline, and to work with the city to secure grants so
The 21-acre park’s creekside setting and gentle slopes make it an ideal site for active recreation including soccer and baseball fields as well as passive uses such as trails and a community garden. The park’s Master Plan, adopted in November, 2005 after an extensive public process, provides the vision and guidance for meeting some of the long-standing critical needs for recreational facilities in Half Moon Bay and the Mid-Coast.
It was the clear intent of Nurserymen’s Exchange and POST that this property should become a
We recognize that the city needs to find sources of funding to make the park a reality. This is not an unusual situation - every new park that we have been involved with, over the years, has had similar challenges. Yet these challenges have been overcome.
We urge you to work with POST and other interested groups and agencies to make
Sincerely, Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills
Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Friday, June 8, 2007
A while back I blogged about our Op-Ed on Coyote Valley that the Merc published. Spending time on an Op-Ed is a gamble, because it's a lot of work with no guarantee of publication. The version we sent them was the seventh draft, and although I was the named author, every staff member at CGF spent time looking at it.
To give an example of the work involved, I thought it would be interesting to show the first draft. The fact that it's very different from the final shows the work of everyone involved. The other interesting part is the effect of needing to be as clear as possible, which in practice and under the constraint of a word limit meant reducing the number of arguments from the draft below and explaining them more clearly. Anyway, I hope it's interesting!
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
We need to protect local open space so the kids have somewhere to connect to nature.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
About 170 people turned out for the meeting, many if not most of them supportive of the concept of restoring the site, currently in salt production, to wetlands and open space. There was also a contingent of folks concerned about the lack of recreational space for youth sports, but many of them also supported restoration, as long as some accommodation could be made for the sporting facilities.
This site has special significance as it is the last large parcel on the Peninsula's bayfront not included in the efforts to restore the South Bay salt ponds. I urged the developers to think regionally when putting together a plan for the site, including making provisions to close a 2-mile gap in the SF Bay Trail and cooperating with efforts to restore wetlands. I also pointed out that the developers would need a change in zoning to support development on the site, currently most of the site is zoned tidal floodplain and 2/3s of the site designated for open space uses only. With the recent estimates that this part of the bay would be inundated with rising sea level and national trends post-Katrina not to build in floodplains, the developers would be wise to consider these major site constraints and trends in preparing whatever plan they do for the property.
At the end of the evening, the project lead for DMB called me the "MVP" of the evening since I ended up fielding most of the questions from the audience. I was very happy that most of the questions showed a real interest in seeing this property protected as open space and included in the wider wetlands restoration efforts.
To participate in future forums, please check out the DMB website for the property: http://www.rcsaltworks.com/. The next important step is to participate in the City's general plan process to retain the current zoning to protect this property. If you are a Redwood City resident and want to add your name to our action alert emails for this project, send your information to email@example.com.
~ Holly Van Houten, Executive Director
Monday, June 4, 2007
It might indicate something else about the ESA and about the slideshow that the animals are charismatic megafauna. Species that are less charismatic, like endangered mussel species, have done less well, because they get less attention.
Our area has its share of endangered species. We like the term "charismatic microfauna" for the federally-threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly, and we're working hard to protect it.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Via an excellent post in Gristmill, there's a Georgetown University study on property values in Oregon that found land use regulations actually increase property values. Prior to 2004, Oregon had the strongest land use regulations in the country. A private-property interest voter initiative in 2004 threw that system in disarray. The study found that until the voter initiative went into effect, property values in Oregon equalled or exceeded performance in similar but less-regulated counties in Washington, and also with Washington and California as a whole. As Gristmill describes:
How can restrictions on property increase value? Well, you'll have to read the report for a full explanation. But the simple answer is that while growth regulations may decrease the development potential, they can raise values through amenity values, scarcity, tax reductions, and agricultural protections, just to name a few.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Good afternoon, Brian Schmidt from the Committee for Green Foothills. I would like to put all our cards on the table for this agenda item: we seriously considered suing LAFCO over its decision to approve the Blackrock project based on documentation that LAFCO’s own staff report said is inadequate, a problem that I pointed out to the Commission just immediately before approval was granted.
However, we’re not going to sue in this case. We ask you to reconsider your decision, not because of an implicit threat – there is none – but only because it’s the right thing to do.
Actually, there are two things to do – one is about this project, but the more important one is about
On Black Rock, you have several reasons for reversing your earlier decision, and either denying approval or requiring additional documentation. Our attorney’s letter lays out why the lack of consultation with LAFCO gives the Commission the authority to become lead agency. The
Given my three-minute time limitation, I’d be happy to answer any questions about the various assertions in the staff report and by the Blackrock attorneys, but none of them are valid reasons for standing by a wrong decision. While I understand that staff is not recommending reconsideration, I suggest that if you do think reconsideration is advisable, you ask LAFCO Counsel to advise you as to whether you have the independent authority to reconsider, a different question than whether they recommend that you reconsider.
Finally, this same problem is in process for