Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Will be a little quiet around here for the holidays

I will be off on vacation for a few weeks, so the the CGF Journal blog will be quiet for a bit. The rest of the CGF staff will be around though, continuing to do the good work to protect our local open space.

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Monday, December 3, 2007

San Jose Inside agrees: time to fix the San Jose EIR process

San Jose Inside, a prominent political blog, has highlighted and supported the recent Metro investigation of San Jose's biased environmental review process. We're very glad to see the issue get picked up some more. Hopefully this attention will translate into action.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Committee for Green Foothills comments on potential City Council instructions for a Development Agreement with Stanford

(We sent the following to the Palo Alto City Council as it prepares to give instructions to staff on how staff should negotiate with Stanford.


November 26, 2007

Palo Alto City Council

Dear Mayor Kishimoto and City Council Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills appreciates the opportunity to help provide input to City staff regarding the Stanford University Medical Center and Shopping Center expansion proposal. As an organization dedicated to open space and natural resource protection with a history of Stanford involvement that dates back to our founding, we hope to see the best possible environmental mitigations in the forthcoming EIR and the best environmental benefits as part of the development agreement.

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 Palo Alto’s perspective would have Stanford simply taking what it wants in terms of massive development while requiring the broader community to shoulder the impacts.

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
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Excellent Metro article on The San Jose Process

This Metro article does a great job of discussing the systematic problem San Jose has in conducting environmental reviews:

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

"...when you look at (home) prices relative to income, it's completely insane."

The quote above is from an economist saying existing home prices have to fall because they're priced out of reach of people's income.

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

CGF and Climate Change

We occasionally get asked about how our work relates to fighting climate change. I'm recopying below a short email response I wrote on this subject:

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

More radio for CGF

Well, this time it's KCBS radio discussing funds held by Santa Clara County Parks, and possible acquistion of the redwood forest owned by San Jose Water Company. We're very glad to be noticed.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

More KQED Commentary on the "San Jose Process", and a response by Mayor Reed

KQED's Forum program yesterday followed up Tuesday's Perspectives piece on how San Jose shouldn't give developers control over intial aspects of environmental review.

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:

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.)

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills

When asked, Mayor Reed responded as follows (after some preliminary comments):

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

Brian Schmidt on KQED Perspectives program

Today the KQED Radio Perspectives program ran my perspective on "The San Jose Process." The Perspective is a two-minute commentary piece, and in this piece I discuss the significant problem of San Jose giving control to developers over initial aspects of environmental review.

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

Come on Stanford! YouTube tells you to do what you promised

A CGF advertisement that aired during the Stanford-USC football game several weeks ago is now on YouTube.

See it right here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition (and CGF) event on November 17

CGF is a participating member of the Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, an umbrella group coordinating stream protection in our county. I'll be mentioning SCCCC activities from time to time.

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

British wetland restoration at one-tenth of the cost here?

Here's an interesting article from a British news source: 400-year old dikes are being breached to restore 1,700 acres of tidal wetlands on what is currently farmland, for a price of 17 million British pounds (about $25 million). That is a restoration cost of $15,000 an acre. Wetland restoration projects in Santa Clara County routinely cost more than ten times as much.

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

Checking out the Henry Coe Park fire (or trying to)

I went Sunday to Henry Coe State Park, planning to hike out to the areas that had been burnt in the fire last month. Unfortunately, park officials have closed all trails leading into or even along the burnt area. This seems hard to justify - it's hard to imagine that fire-fighting equipment has done so much damage to the trails to make them dangerous. And if firefighting has done damage to the environment, then I want to see it. But they're not showing it.

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

More good news from last week - County denies sprawl proposal near Morgan Hill

We'll have an article mentioning this in the Fall 2007 Green Footnotes - Santa Clara County last week rejected a proposal to redesignate 60 acres of land on Watsonville Road from Hillside designation to Rural Residential. The redesignation would have tripled the amount of allowed development, and because only about one-third of the parcel touch Rural Residential parcels, it would have stretched the concept of "infill" beyond recognition. This isn't what we need, especially so far away from city limits.

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

CGF scoping comments on the proposed Stanford Shopping/Medical Center Expansion

(CGF submitted the following comments on the scoping (preparation) of the environmental review for the Stanford Shopping Center and Medical Center expansions. We'll also review the actual environmental documents when the drafts are available. -Brian)

October 1, 2007

Steven Turner
City of Palo Alto

Re: Scoping comments for the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center Expansion EIR

Dear Steven;

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments for scoping the EIR for the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center:

· 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 Medical Center.

· 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 Central Valley and elsewhere, with workers commuting in on area highways. The City must do its own calculations about the number of jobs generated by the amount of space created. Secondary (off-site) economic impacts must also be considered in determining the net demand for housing created by this project.

· 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 Medical Center skyscraper will be unavoidable, but rather than simply accept that as the cost the community must bear, it should be compensated for with open space protection where buildings do not predominate views.

· 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

Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

CGF-sponsored forum on Habitat Plan for Santa Clara County this Wednesday

Should be a very useful public education forum on the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan, and is co-sponsored by CGF.

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

Breaking news - San Jose Water Company logging plan rejected!

We just heard from Assemblyman Ira Ruskin's office that the proposal to log the redwood trees in the watershed supplying much of Santa Clara County with water has been rejected. San Jose Water Company applied for a special "NTMP" permit that allows logging in perpetuity, but had to meet several conditions that they didn't meet.

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

CGF News Release: The “San Jose Process” Resulted in Coyote Valley Debacle, Environmentalists Say

(The following is from a press release CGF sent out yesterday. -Brian)

Committee for Green Foothills


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 17, 2007


Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate

phone (650) 968-7243 * brian@greenfoothills.org

The “San Jose Process” Resulted in Coyote Valley

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 Coyote Valley developers in a no-bid arrangement. This slight improvement still resulted in a terrible, flaw-ridden document, but the only difference is this time there was intense scrutiny. The San Jose Process needs a systematic fix,” Schmidt continued.

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. San Jose, by contrast, allows the developer to directly select and hire the environmental consultants who prepare an administrative draft of the environmental report. While San Jose may then modify the administrative draft, the developer-controlled draft is biased to play down the impacts. The direct expertise is in the hands of people loyal to the developers, not to the City or to a neutral evaluation process.

“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 San Jose usually produces from developer experts is that this time, people paid attention, and nobody liked what they saw.”

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.

San Jose has not yet fixed the San Jose Process,” Schmidt continued. “That Process is a holdover from a previous administration, but the new Mayor and City Council have the opportunity to make a change. The City should stop right now in its current plans to use the same biased consultant work. They should stop any decision on the Coyote Valley EIR until after the City’s General Plan has been revised. As part of the General Plan revision, or even earlier, the City should adopt the modern process used by almost everyone else, and have the City choose and direct the consultants that prepare the technical reports and Administrative Draft EIRs.”

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 Coyote Valley, the City did ultimately hire the technical consultants and the consultants who prepared the Administrative Draft EIR, but only after those consultants had first been selected and paid for by the Coyote Valley developers (see Exhibit A to this Press Release).

In the mid-1990s, the Santa Clara County government under the leadership of then-Supervisor Joe Simitian switched from a developer-controlled process to the current process, and there has been no effort since to switch back.

# # #

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 San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Committee for Green Foothills, established in 1962, is a Bay Area leader in the continuing effort to protect open space and the natural environment of our Peninsula. For more information about the Committee for Green Foothills or about our work on this issue, visit www.GreenFoothills.org.

Friday, September 14, 2007

One million square feet of new office space at Moffett Field?

Buried in this article about runway use at Moffett is the following:

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

Even leashed dogs reduce bird diversity

Interesting article at the NY Times:

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

Experimenting with Second Life - meet Greenfeet Underwood

After hearing about how groups have used the world simulation Second Life for virtual meetings, I've set up a Committee for Green Foothills avatar, named Greenfeet Underwood. Hopefully this will be one more way to communicate with people, although right now I'm very new at using it. Anyone trying to reach us in this initial period in Second Life might want to send an email first.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Letter to Morgan Hill about the Institute Golf Course

(We sent this letter today about the latest problem with the Institute Golf Course in Morgan Hill. -Brian)

August 29, 2007
Morgan Hill City Council

Re: Agenda Item #4 – Institute Golf Course

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 Morgan Hill, as the rumors might also explain the consistent kid-glove treatment that this Frys-associated landowner has received from the City. Even if the rumors had some basis in fact, they do not justify the landowners’ noncompliance or the City’s non-enforcement. Equally important though is that the rumors appear to be wrong. I first heard them over three years ago, and I’m sure they circulated for longer than that, yet there is no sign of movement to Morgan Hill. I am concerned that these background rumors can influence decisonmaking here and in other cities could possibly be hearing similar rumors. If the City wishes to do some kind of deal, it should do it in the open.

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
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, August 24, 2007

Some good legal news in California about global warming, air pollution, and maybe about buying local food

Both of these news items are via Warming Law, a blog focusing on legal issues related to climate change.

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:

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;
(Settlement, page 1.)

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

CGF letter and request - San Jose should wait on the Coyote Valley EIR revision

(Following up on the good news about the Coyote Valley EIR revision, CGF submitted the following request to the San Jose City Council. -Brian)

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:

  1. The City might choose to change the Coyote Valley 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.
  2. 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 Coyote Valley time to reconsider their current decision to refuse the City access to their properties for purposes of preparing the DEIR.
  3. 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.

I have spoken to representatives of Greenbelt Alliance and of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society chapters, and they support a delay in the revision. I would be very interested in following up on this with you.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Very good news on Coyote Valley - the City acknowledges their environmental review was inadequate

From the Merc:

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

Good news/bad news - the Merc covers harsh reviews of the Coyote Valley report

The good news is the news coverage given by the Mercury News to the unusually harsh criticism by government agencies and others over the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Coyote Valley:

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

CGF in the news - San Mateo County open space decision

(As time permits, we'll put a link here on the blog to articles when CGF's discussed in the news media. -Brian)

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.
"The conservation
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

CGF letter of support for AB 697

(We submitted the following letter to support AB 697, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin to extend the allowable payback time for bonds issued by MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District. This may sound technical and boring, but the result is more upfront money to buy land before the costs spiral out of control. We hope it passes. -Brian)

July 10, 2007

Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod
Standing Committee on Local Government

California State Senate
Sacramento, CA 9581
FAX 916. 445-0128
AB 697 (Ruskin): SUPPORT

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
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Monday, July 9, 2007

Arctic warming affecting California coastal ecology

Via Grist, a disturbing story about the gray whales that migrate through the San Mateo County coastal area: pronounced warming means there's not enough food in the Arctic zones to support the migration, so whales are switching to different food items and staying in different areas. California may have some more resident whales, but a less dependable migration, and fewer baby whales seems likely to result in a smaller population overall. The overall result on our coastal ecology and the whale-watching economy isn't clear yet.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Developers behind Coyote Valley planning process refusing to cooperate with the planning process

(The Committee for Green Foothills submitted the following letter to the Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force regarding developers' refusal to let the City's experts evaluate the environmental consequences of developing their land. We have received no response from the City, although one smaller landowner said the information was wrong and that he did allow access. A developer representative told us that in lieu of letting the City's experts on their property, the developers' own experts can provide that information, but that is clearly inadequate for a neutral, unbiased evaluation. -Brian)


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.


Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Expansion of the Hanson Permanente Quarry?

It's not clear yet until we get a look at the revised Reclamation Plan, but Santa Clara County is considering a revised plan that could involve expanding the area affected by the Hanson Permanente Quarry in the hills above Cupertino. It may be an expansion of "only" 30 acres, but we need to see the details to be sure there are no unwelcome surprises. Committee for Green Foothills has been following environmental issues with the quarry very closely, and we'll watch this one as well.

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

Why Santa Clara County should not approve the Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision

(The following are CGF's main points as to why developing the 8,000 acre Castro Valley Ranch is a mistake. For more background, see CGF's newsletter article here, and our comments on the Draft EIR here. -Brian)

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 Whitehurst Road should not be allowed access as a condition of a permit, not just by a simple assertion of the landowner)

Monday, June 11, 2007

The need to save Pilarcitos Community Park

(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
City of Half Moon Bay
501 Main Street
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

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 Pilarcitos Park can become a reality.

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 Community Park. It would be extraordinarily short-sighted and deeply regrettable to dispose of this property. In our view, it would also be a major breach of trust with all the citizens who have devoted their time and talent to the planning process, and the countless residents and visitors who will enjoy the park in the future.

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 Pilarcitos Park a great recreational asset for the city. We offer our support in this effort.


Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Friday, June 8, 2007

See the Op-Ed Sausage-Making!

One of the advantages of blogging is that it gives us a chance to write some more informal, behind-the-scenes information than appears elsewhere, like in our Green Footnotes newsletter or Action Alerts.

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!


Suggested Title: Paving Coyote Valley Isn’t Green

Like a train that jumped its tracks yet plows uselessly forward, the Coyote Valley development process recently pushed onward with its Draft Environmental Impact Report. This proposed development between San Jose and Morgan Hill would eliminate the valley farmlands that stop at San Jose’s southern limits the urban sprawl reaching down from San Francisco. Seven thousand acres are at risk from development – the northern half, 3,400 acres, would become a new city, and the more-developed, already-imperiled southern half of Coyote Valley will have trouble surviving as working farmland.

The environmental report misses or underplays many environmental impacts, but the root problem isn’t the report – it’s the underlying project. The Coyote Valley development is an office-space project with an inadequate housing component, requiring the unnecessary, massive construction of a 80,000 person city over existing farmland. Currently the Bay Area has overwhelming office vacancies, so there is no demand for new office construction. However, if all the office space planned for development there were actually built, there wouldn’t be enough housing provided. Developing new office space this far south of the city central just exacerbates commuter sprawl further south through Gilroy, San Benito County and the Central Valley.

This unfortunate legacy project of the Mayor Gonzales administration provides benefits only to the developers who own and wish to eliminate the farms. Lacking a real public benefit, Coyote Valley developers have now resorted to explanations of why destroying farmland is actually something that helps the environment.

Most prominently, they say “better here than in Central Valley” – the idea being that all the people who would live and work in a developed Coyote Valley would otherwise be forced to commute long distances by car from California’s Central Valley to the Bay Area. So many errors in such a short statement, the most prominent being that Coyote Valley development actually requires sprawl construction in Central Valley. Remember, there’s not enough housing being constructed for build-out, so where will the extra people live? Many will live in Central Valley and everywhere else hit by Silicon Valley sprawl. Suburbs will expand even further, and the car commuters will ensnarl local traffic.

The allegedly-green developers may respond that Coyote Valley will at least absorb some of the workforce that live far away and commute here anyway, but that makes sense only if Coyote Valley fails to attract additional business to San Jose. Additional business means additional workers who would not otherwise come here, so the developers contradict themselves. Either developing Coyote Valley means losing three thousand acres of farms plus additional sprawl and long distance commutes, or it provides no additional business and just destroys farms while sucking business away from the rest of the city. This is their green plan?

The other environmental claim is that it’s better to plan now than to do a rush job later. Certainly, one could point to the Coyote Valley Cisco project during the Gonzales administration as a rushed job with poor planning and environmental harm. However, if we put off development now and at a future point a developer felt a tremendous urge to rush things, then a future mayor who is competent and not in the developer’s pocket could demand more environmental protections and public benefits to accommodate the rush, not fewer. Bad past planning is no reason to destroy farmland unnecessarily.

More important, what’s the rush? The last time we felt a hurry to build more office space, we couldn’t have been more wrong and are now living with the consequences. Maybe Coyote Valley will actually need to start development in twenty years, or forty years, or longer (maybe never). But what hubris for us to claim in 2007 that we can better plan the Coyote Valley city to be constructed in the year 2027 than the next generation can in 2022. Past trends have been to expect more environmental protection over time. Locking in “protections” that may be state-of-the-art now and potentially antiquated in the 2020s doesn’t help the environment, but only sets up an obstacle that future environmentalists would have to overcome.

Right now, thousands of acres of farmland persist up to the limits of a major Bay Area metropolis. Wild badgers and elk even manage to cross Coyote Valley. These are not things to be given up cheaply. Calling the loss of all that “green” when it clearly is not, fails to hide the price that comes from filling developers’ pockets while inflicting sprawl, traffic, and pollution on the rest of us. Developing Coyote Valley is a mistake.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Nature Deficit Disorder radio show

Following up on a previous blog post and the Spring 2007 Green Footnotes book review of "Last Child in the Woods," there's a good discussion of the lack of access to nature for children on the KQED radio show, Forum, available here.

We need to protect local open space so the kids have somewhere to connect to nature.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Redwood City Saltworks Forum on Open Space and Recreation

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to Redwood City residents at a forum about recreation and open space at the site of the Redwood City Industrial Siteworks/Seaport Wetlands (depending on your point of view). The forum was hosted by Cargill/DMB, the group doing public outreach in advance of submitting a plan to the city for this 1,400 acre site located at the foot of Seaport Boulevard.

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 info@greenfoothills.org.

~ Holly Van Houten, Executive Director

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ten of the most endangered charismatic megafauna

Scientific American has a nice post and slideshow about ten endangered animals that may go extinct in the next 10 years. They all are found outside of the US (except for the leatherback turtle that occasionally enters US waters) and so the Endangered Species Act does relatively little to help them. Still it might indicate something about the ESA that no domestic species is shown.

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

Do land use regulations help or hurt private property values?

A landowner might think about how much more her property would be worth if she could just add another floor or build closer to a creek, without considering what would happen to her property value if all her neighbors and everyone for miles around were free to do anything they wanted with their property.

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

Comments submitted to LAFCO about Morgan Hill expansion and Coyote Valley

(Normally I don't write out my speaker comments in advance, preferring a more natural speaking style and the ability to react to other commenters and new information. Yesterday though, I wrote out my comments to the Santa Clara County LAFCO regarding the unwarranted Morgan Hill USA expansion. The comments are below (although I also adlibbed some changes). -Brian)

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 Coyote Valley, where the exact same mistake is currently in motion.

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 Morgan Hill City staff opposed the decision to request expansion and were overruled by their City Council on a split vote, something that I expect wasn’t known by the Commission. You can verify that with your staff. There are also about ten acres of farmed land literally across the street from Blackrock, land that undoubtedly will be lost to sprawl because of LAFCO’s decision. Some of that land may not meet the soils definition of farmland, but because it’s planted in grapes, I’m sure it would satisfy a revenues definition.

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 Coyote Valley, where it threatens 3,000 acres instead of Blackrock’s 18 acres. They plan to use the vague and subjective LESA process, apparently after the project has undergone approval and have not even defined a preservation ratio, something worse than Morgan Hill’s action. While the Committee for Green Foothills would like reconsideration and denial of the Blackrock USA expansion, it is still more important that LAFCO avoid the identical problem in Coyote Valley by demanding recirculation of a Draft EIR that meets adequate environmental standards, and if this is not done, then by litigating over the failure to do an adequate analysis, becoming lead agency for USA expansion purposes, or denying the USA expansion outright.