Monday, February 26, 2007

CGF's oral comments on the San Jose Water Company logging plan

I attended the California Department of Forestry hearing on Wednesday, January 31 that was held to receive public comment over the San Jose Water Company proposal to log 1,000 acres of redwoods and Douglas-Fir trees in Santa Clara County. Hundreds of people attended, and I would guess 90% were opposed.

The best argument against the type of plan the company submitted is that it's only available for smaller landowners, while the company holds too much land. This could be a deal-killer.

I spoke near the end and had three basic comments. First, I said the best way to resolve the conflict between fire experts is a collaboratively-created Community Fire Plan that doesn’t hand control to one company, such as is the case here where the company has a bias that encourages arguing that logging big trees is good for fire protection.

Second, two pro-logging speakers had said we need to cut down our trees because otherwise they’ll log irresponsibly in Canada. So I noted how another, earlier speaker had come from a forest protection group in the Sierras and spoke against the project. Rather than encourage a bad plan here to protect her area, she felt that promoting good environmental management overall will help her area more.

Third, a staff member of the applicant had previously said they allowed a government agency to bring a hired consultant on to their land because they “had nothing to hide.” I pointed out that they refused permission for the fire experts hired by the community to participate in a pre-harvest inspection.

I thought I’d write about this partly because it’s such an important issue. Also, it’s an example of how I often try and use my very short opportunity for public comment. While there are usually multiple points I want to emphasize even before I've heard other speakers, I also try and seize the opportunity to reinforce previous good comments and to demonstrate why opposing arguments are incorrect.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Keeping drugs out of the water

The Mercury News reports about a successful program in San Mateo County encouraging people to turn in their old medicines for proper disposal, instead of pouring them down the toilet. The powerful drugs, even in minute quantities, are harming the fish and amphibians in constant contact with medicated water.

Other jurisdictions are looking to copy San Mateo County. Let's hope it spreads.


Ainsley Timber Harvest Plan Threatens Butano State Park

Lennie Roberts, CGF's San Mateo Legislative Advocate, submitted these public comments on the proposed Timber Harvest Plan of the Ainsley Forest.

January 23, 2006

Ms. Leslie Markham
Deputy Chief, Forest Practice
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
135 Ridgeway Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Re: THP 1-06-127 SMO, Ainsley Forest LLC

Dear Ms. Markham,

The Committee for Green Foothills has reviewed the above-referenced THP. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this plan.

The THP and its accompanying environmental information and analysis, as revised and recirculated on January 8, 2007, has significant errors and omissions and as such is incomplete and inadequate in a material way, and cannot be used to evaluate the environmental effects of the proposed THP. We believe that the THP in its current form has the potential to result in significant environmental impacts. The Alternatives Analysis does not include a fair and thorough analysis of possible alternatives, but rather appears to have been written to reach a foregone conclusion favoring the proposed THP.

Our specific concerns include the following:

1) Proposed commercializing of illegally harvested trees

The THP, on page 26, acknowledges that “The Ainsley Forest LLC pursued a project to mill lumber for personal use within the last couple of years. Hire labors (sic) fell (sic) approximately 50 trees within the project boundaries prior to the exploring the opportunity of a Timber Harvest operation with Big Creek Lumber Company.” It is a stretch to state that the cutting of 50 trees is merely for “personal use.” What documentation has the landowner provided that use of these trees was not for commercial purposes? On page 27, the THP states; “There is (sic) approximately 40-50 mbf of down timber manufactured into logs within the project boundaries.” Does mbf used here stand for million board feet? Assuming that the number should be 40-50 thousand board feet, this volume of product would provide sufficient lumber for several large single family residences. Reasonable “personal use” is not 40-50 trees. An associated impact of this unauthorized timber harvesting was the unauthorized construction of new roads. The December 7, 2006 comment letter from California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) states: “During the PHI, participants found that the landowner had already graded a proposed skid trail into essentially a very steep road. The grading extends downslope past the boundary of the proposed harvest unit to a location close to Gazos Creek. It may also impinge on marbled murrelet habitat.” DFG recommends a site evaluation by DFG staff to determine whether additional mitigation measures are required to restore the integrity of the murrelet habitat along Gazos Creek. Committee for Green Foothills strongly objects to allowing the illegally harvested conifers to be commercialized without any penalties or sanctions for timber harvesting without a permit and for grading of roads and skid trails including grading outside of the proposed THP area without permits. Commercializing the illegal activity would simply be rewarding the applicant for evading the law.

2) Conflicts between map and plan text regarding haul routes

The Haul Route Map, page 24.5, conflicts with the description of Haul Route #2, page 85. The text of Haul Route #2 states trucks will turn right (north) onto Cloverdale Road, and travel to State Highway 84 in Pescadero. Trucks would then turn west on 84 to State Highway 1. The text then erroneously states that trucks would take State Highway 1 north to Big Creek Lumber Company’s mill. However, the mill is south of this intersection.

Contrary to the text described above, the map shows trucks on Haul Route #2 turning south on Cloverdale Road, and then turning right (west) on Gazos Creek Road to State Highway 1. This section of Cloverdale Road is extremely narrow, windy, and has wholly inadequate lines of sight. As such, it is dangerous and should not be used. The inconsistencies and conflicts between the text and map should be corrected.

3) Inappropriate use of State Parks roads and park resources for commercial timber harvesting

The Traffic Impacts Analysis, page 85, requires the plan to identify any public roads to be used for transporting logs. The plan erroneously identifies Butano Fire Trail and China Grade Roads within Butano State Park as public roads. Although these roads are owned by State Parks, a public agency, they are behind locked gates and are not open to motorized use by the general public, and are therefore not public roads. Public use is limited to non-motorized recreational uses, including hiking, biking, and equestrian uses.

The plan is deficient in that it has no information as to what rights the applicant has to use these public park roads for commercial use including hauling of logs and associated timber operations. Absent a specific easement, use of these roads for commercial timber harvesting operations, and improvement of these roads as called out in the THP, violates Public Resources Code Sections 5001.65, 5001.7, and 5001.9.

The plan proposes to upgrade, expand, and maintain park roads, potentially impacting recreational use and enjoyment and damaging park resources. Regarding the proposed haul routes, the plan, page 22, states: “Prior to hauling, the road will have to be upgraded in certain locations to allow for safe passage of loaded log truck.” (sic) The THP fails to identify what rights the applicant has to “upgrade” State Park property, and specifically what such “upgrading” would entail. In addition to the undefined “upgrading” of haul routes, Portia Halbert, Resource Ecologist, State Parks, in a letter dated September 16, 2006, indicates that State Parks has approved construction and use of a turnaround within Butano State Park. The construction of the turnaround beyond the limits of the current park roads to accommodate commercial timber harvest operations violates the above referenced Public Resources Code Sections governing use of State Parks lands and resources. Ms. Halbert in the same letter indicates that the roads will not only be used and expanded for timber harvesting, but will be repaired, upgraded, and maintained subsequent to timber harvesting by the timber operator, plan submitter, or applicant.

If the applicant holds a valid recorded easement that permits commercial use of these park roads, the roads must be included in the plan as appurtenant to the timber operations, as required by 14 CCR 1034 (x). Impacts from use and expansion of the roads must be evaluated. Under CEQA, all potential environmental impacts of a project must be analyzed and mitigation measures must be adopted if there are significant environmental impacts.

4) Impacts to nesting marbled murrelets within the Butano State Park Habitat Area have not been evaluated

Haul Route #2 proposes to use the Butano Fire Trail to the north and west of the Ainsley property for hauling of logs. Most of the road traverses through occupied marbled murrelet nesting habitat within Butano State Park, and its quarter-mile buffer zone, as documented by California Department of Fish and Game. The THP Restrictions Map, page 24.3, shows a small portion of the Butano State Park Habitat Area, and a portion of the Butano Fire Trail. If Haul Route #2 is selected, the plan must be revised, in consultation with California Fish and Game, to evaluate impacts and provide mitigation measures for nesting marbled murrelets within the Butano State Park Habitat Area.

5) Recreational Impacts from the proposed THP have not been adequately evaluated

The THP, page 82, identifies a recreational assessment area to be analyzed as the project area plus the area within 300 feet of the project boundaries. This is inadequate. The project will involve use of the Butano Fire Trail and possibly China Grade as the haul road (see previous comments). The portions of these roads within Butano State Park are used by the public for hiking, bicycling, and equestrian use. The plan estimates that up to 20 trucks per day will use these roads. The plan must evaluate the impacts of commercial logging trucks and associated equipment and vehicles on recreational use of these roads.

6) Alternatives to the proposed project are not fairly and thoroughly evaluated

Committee for Green Foothills is concerned that the Alternatives Section in the THP dismisses Alternative 3: Public or Private Purchase of the Timber/Timberland Alternative without any basis in fact. Particularly troubling is the conclusion that if public purchase of the property occurred, “additional infrastructure and facilities would most likely be constructed. Additional roads, parking lots, bathrooms, trails, and maintenance facilities would have to meet or exceed the rate of use by individuals seeking recreation opportunities.” This conclusion is not based on factual evidence, and is in fact contrary to the management of the back country of Butano State Park and other redwood parks in the area. Old fire trails and logging roads are used by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, and do not necessitate construction of additional roads, new parking lots, bathrooms, trails, and maintenance facilities. Addition of this remote property to Butano State Park could expand the geographic area enjoyed by low impact recreational users and at the same time protect the important stream and wildlife habitats on the property. The THP’s proposed harvesting of the maximum allowable commercial forest species (up to 60% of trees 18” in diameter and greater dbh, and up to 50% of trees between 12” and 18” in diameter dbh) will result in substantial new road construction and reconstruction, operations in or adjacent to biologically sensitive habitat areas, and in geologically unstable land areas, all of which have the potential to cause greater environmental impacts than public purchase for parkland.

The Public or Private Purchase Alternative further dismisses private sale of these larger parcels of land, stating that such sale “could result in an additional portion of San Mateo County being subdivided and becoming densely populated.” The TPZ zoning district allows a very low density of development, in this case one house per 40 acres, and the property’s remote location greatly reduces the property’s desirability for residential development. An example of this lack of desirability is upper Gazos Creek Road, where several parcels of 20 to 40 acres have never been developed with residences. The conclusion that the property could become densely populated is erroneous and not supported by the facts. Further conclusionary statements in this paragraph are equally erroneous – for example, any very low density subdivision would be conditioned through the environmental review and approval process to protect wildlife migration corridors, aquatic habitat, and special status species.

Alternative 5; Delaying the Timing of the Project, or Alternative Project Locations on the Ownership states that the delay could affect Maximum Sustained Production per 14 CCR 913.11(c). However, this statement is contrary to the landowner’s demonstrated management given the fact that no commercial timber harvesting has occurred on the property since the late 1950’s. The statement that “not making timely environmental improvements to the site may present adverse effects’ is questionable since the owner has been engaged in illegal grading of skid roads, trails, and roads over the past two years, which has likely caused significant environmental impacts to the tributaries and mainstem of Gazos Creek. The landowner should be required to remediate these graded areas regardless of whether a THP is granted. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the landowner to maintain and repair logging landings, skid trails, roads, and other associated drainage facilities whether or not these activities are under the purview of a THP or a County Grading Permit.

CGF appreciates the opportunity to comment. We request that we be notified in writing of any actions CDF takes on this THP.

Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

cc: Portia Halbert, California Department of Parks and Recreation
Stacy Martinelli, California Department of Fish and Game
Kent Aue, California Department of Fish and Game
Rich Gordon, Supervisor, San Mateo County
Michael Schaller, San Mateo County Planning Division

Friday, February 16, 2007

Logging and Fire Hazards: Why does Logging Create Additional Fire Hazards

It seems to come up in any logging plan, that the purpose of logging is to reduce fire hazards. CGF has uncovered information about why logging in redwood forests can actually increase fire hazards, at least in the first few years after the harvest. The following is a handout prepared by Lennie Roberts that we distributed at a public hearing about the YMCA's Proposed Timber Harvest Plan at Camp Jones Gulch.

Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at Camp Jones Gulch

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

Commercial Timber Harvesting will increase fire hazards

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

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

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

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

There are alternatives to Commercial Timber Harvesting

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

Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate

CGF Letter to YMCA Encouraging a Stewarship Approach to Camp Jones Gulch

Lennie Roberts, CGF's San Mateo County Advocate, wrote this letter to the YMCA in December urging them to consider a more stewardship-based approach to managing the land at Camp Jones Gulch. The YMCA has now established a Stewardship Advisory Committee to review their timber harvesting plans and to help the camp develop alternatives to the NTMP permit the Camp filed last summer.

December 18, 2006

Charles Collins, President and CEO
Bill Worthington, Vice President, Property Development
San Francisco YMCA
631 Howard Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94105

Re: Alternatives to Proposed NTMP at Camp Jones Gulch

Dear Messrs. Collins and Worthington,

We are writing to outline an alternative plan for the YMCA that will meet the objectives of managing the Camp Jones Gulch property to reduce fire hazards, improve forest health and wildlife habitat, restore damaged or degraded areas, improve and maintain roads and trails, and enhance the outdoor education and recreation programs at the camp. This approach also can provide the YMCA with new sources of revenue and partners that will restore and enhance its stature with the community.

The YMCA and Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) have worked together during a number of meetings over the past three months. We have made considerable progress together, but as you know, CGF continues to be deeply concerned about the two threshold issues we have identified regarding the proposed Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) for the camp.

CGF’s first threshold issue is use of the NTMP, which would grant an entitlement to commercially log the redwood and Douglas fir forests at Camp Jones Gulch in perpetuity. The NTMP, once approved, does not allow for future public review or enforceable means to adapt the plan in response to new scientific knowledge or changed environmental conditions. The NTMP also commits the YMCA to land management that CGF believes is likely to have significant adverse environmental consequences. While reasonable people may disagree philosophically about timber harvesting, this particular NTMP has generated widespread opposition. Clearly there is tremendous public interest and concern that could be redirected to help the YMCA with the challenges of land management, stewardship, and financial support.

CGF’s second threshold issue is also a key component of our proposed solution to help meet the YMCA’s capital needs for upgrading the facilities and infrastructure. We strongly encourage the YMCA to pursue selling a forest Conservation Easement to a land trust such as Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) or Save the Redwoods League, or to a public agency such as Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. This Conservation Easement would generate capital funds, and also would allow the YMCA to carry out its programs and desired land management activities while protecting the forest.

We appreciate and commend the YMCA’s interest in managing your land in an environmentally responsible way. We hope that this letter can be the start of a strong partnership between the YMCA, its various constituencies, and the broader public. We pledge to use our time, expertise, and community contacts to help in this effort.

Resolution of current controversy

The YMCA is at a critical junction. If the YMCA continues on its present course of gaining approval of the NTMP, CGF believes the opposition will intensify and there will likely be challenges at every step of the timber harvest approval and implementation process. Based on our knowledge of the issues, we believe it is highly likely that if the California Division of Forestry (CDF) approves the NTMP, a legal challenge would be filed. Pursuit of the NTMP is counterproductive to the important goal of finding common ground and regaining the community’s support and trust. It is not too late to regain this support and trust. However, as long as the NTMP is pursued, it will remain as a focus of the opposition.

Restoration of the forest instead of a commercial tree farm

Instead of committing to operating a commercial tree farm (which is the basis of the NTMP), the YMCA should adopt an ecological approach to forest restoration. Wildlife Biologist Steve Singer, in his letter to CDF dated December 11, 2006, outlines more specifically the compelling reasons for this ecological approach, and the benefits of protection and enhancement of habitat for the federal and state protected marbled murrelet. Other benefits include avoidance of potential landslide hazards, erosion and sedimentation impacts, damage to water quality, potential adverse impacts to protected steelhead trout and Coho salmon, reduction of fire hazards, and improved aesthetics. A restored and preserved forest at Jones Gulch would be not only environmentally less damaging, it would be far more valuable to the YMCA and the constituencies it serves than the revenue from repeated cycles of timber harvesting.

Goals of a Stewardship and Restoration Plan

The goals of the Stewardship and Restoration Plan should be to protect and enhance the property’s natural biodiversity by preserving the old growth stands and restoring the second growth stands to resemble old growth conditions as much as possible. This would provide habitat for species dependent upon such older forest conditions. The restored second growth stands would have a continuous canopy that shades the forest floor and maintains cool and clear water in McCormick and Jones Gulch Creeks — necessary conditions for steelhead trout, Coho salmon, and other aquatic species. Mature second growth trees would provide potential habitat for the marbled murrelets that already occupy the nearby old-growth groves at the camp and in Pescadero Creek County Park. Typical understory plants in a mature second growth forest include hazelnut, ferns, huckleberry, and other low growing species. There would be few “ladder fuels”, a greater proportion of larger, fire resistant trees and moister ground conditions — elements that significantly reduce fire risk. The mature forest’s open, park-like quality could be more quickly achieved through selective removal of spindly conifers and the fast growing sun preferring species such as tan oaks and ceanothus that were stimulated by the last rounds of timber harvesting.

Steps toward a new approach:

1. While we have helped identify a number of potential candidates for a stakeholder planning group, this group should be revised and expanded to include people with expertise in wildlife and fisheries biology, forestry and fire ecology, forest restoration, geology and stream processes.

2. The YMCA should hire a consultant with an ecological background rather than timber harvesting to oversee the project, using grant sources from below to develop the Stewardship and Restoration Plan.

3. The YMCA should make sure the stakeholder group is encouraged to look broadly at ways the YMCA can meet its financial obligations to upkeep the camp while preserving and enhancing the natural biodiversity.

This approach has the potential to revitalize and expand the programs of outdoor recreation, nature study, and education at Jones Gulch. The YMCA’s mission, its partnership with the outdoor education programs of San Mateo and San Joaquin Counties, and its stature in the community would all benefit from this collaborative effort.

Key Issues:

Financing a Stewardship and Restoration Plan

The YMCA can obtain funding for implementing its Stewardship and Restoration Plan from state and federal grants, special restoration funds such as oil spill trustee funds, foundations, and private donors. The San Mateo County Resource Conservation District in Half Moon Bay is familiar with many funding sources, and works with landowners and public agencies to obtain grants for conservation planning and implementation.

Forest Protection through a Conservation Easement

POST or Save the Redwoods League could purchase a Conservation Easement to ensure the preservation of the forest. A Forest Conservation Easement could be structured to allow the customary and desired activities of the YMCA including repair and maintenance of roads as well as thinning of underbrush and fuels reduction for fire safety. Incidental selective cutting of larger trees that would help the forest regain its mature park-like quality, and removal of hazard trees could still be allowed under a Conservation Easement. The Conservation Easement would provide the YMCA with capital funds that could be used to upgrade the buildings and infrastructure.

Repair and restoration of roads and trails

Legacy roads from previous logging operations should be repaired and maintained where these roads are still needed for Camp operations, recreation, and fire protection. Other legacy roads and skid trails that aren’t needed should be put to bed. There are funds available through the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program of the California Department of Fish and Game for assessment of roads and for road repair and restoration projects. This is the grant program that has funded a road and trail assessment in Pescadero, Memorial, and Sam McDonald County Parks, and has to date provided funds to repair some of the identified sites in these three nearby parks. Potential partners in road and trail repair and restoration include California Conservation Corps, Americorps, and nonprofit organizations such as Acterra and Community Impact.

Fuels hazard reduction

Fuel hazard reduction and non-commercial thinning of the forest for fire safety purposes can be funded through grants from CFIP and state funds such as Proposition 42, which funded a community scale fuel reduction program in the Lake Tahoe area recently. This latter program was developed and implemented through a partnership with the local fire agency. Much, if not all of the work to remove dead and fire prone brushy species can be accomplished at very low cost through partnering with the California Conservation Corps, the San Francisco Conservation Corps, and/or non-profit organizations. Such low tech programs could have an educational component to include student participation from Camp Jones Gulch attendees. A conservation grazing program could be designed and implemented to reduce the fire hazard in the grasslands. Potential partners in developing such a grazing program include the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District (RCD), the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the state University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).

Repair, upgrade, and replacement of dilapidated buildings

Potential partners in this effort include community-based organizations such as Community Impact and Christmas in April. In San Mateo County, some larger construction companies have donated materials and labor to non-profits for repair and rehabilitation of buildings as well.

Potential new program possibilities

It appears that the camp facilities are not fully utilized. If the YMCA desired to increase its operating revenues, it could consider making its facilities available to research and/or education programs such as a field station for study of redwood ecology, marbled murrelet, and Coho salmon/steelhead trout recovery research. Potential partners in this effort include UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, non-profit organizations such as the Pescadero Conservation Alliance, and others. The facilities could be used on weekends as overnight accommodations for volunteers who could do restoration projects at the camp or on public and private lands in the vicinity.


The NTMP path has sparked much opposition from the very community that has been nourished and inspired by the programs and activities at Camp Jones Gulch. While this opposition may seem like a bad nightmare, it is clearly a testament to the stewardship values that have been nurtured in the community and the allegiance these individuals feel toward the coastal redwood forests and the unique habitat values they provide. The time is now for the YMCA to take advantage of this heightened public interest and concern. We urge you to withdraw the NTMP, expand the Stakeholder Working Group to include people with expertise in forest and fire ecologists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, geology and fluvial/stream specialists, and move forward with a Stewardship and Restoration Plan. Many of these professionals would also have specific knowledge of the criteria and funding cycles for grant funding.

We very much appreciate all the time and care you have taken to listen to the community’s concerns. We now hope you will respond to those concerns along the lines of our proposal. We wish you all the best in your programs and we stand ready to assist you in developing and implementing a Forest Stewardship and Restoration Plan at Camp Jones Gulch.


Holly Van Houten Lennie Roberts
Executive Director Legislative Advocate

cc: Leslie Markham, California Division of Forestry
Rich Gordon, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
Kellyx Nelson, San Mateo County Resource Conservation District
Paul Ringgold, Peninsula Open Space Trust
Ruskin Hartley, Save the Redwoods League
Steve Singer, Environmental and Consulting Services

CGF Letter on Camp Jones Gulch County Use Permit Application

Lennie Roberts, CGF's San Mateo County Representative, sent this letter to San Mateo County concerning the YMCA-Camp Jones Gulch's application for a use permit.

February 14, 2007

George Bergman, Zoning Hearing Officer
455 County Center
Redwood City, CA 94062

Re: PLN 2003-00377 – Item #5 on ZHO Agenda, February 15, 2007

Dear Mr. Bergman,

On behalf of Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) I have reviewed the Staff Report for the above-referenced project, and have the following comments:

1. Minor corrections to text and dates: On page 12, third paragraph, the Staff Report states that a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan was submitted to the California Division of Forestry in 2005. The date of filing of the plan was actually June 5, 2006; the acronym should be corrected to: NTMP, not TMP. The last sentence of this paragraph should be corrected to refer to Attachment I, not H. Attachment I is not the most recent version of the Harvest Schedule map – it should be updated to include the 10/6/06 map.

2. Grading exemption for after-the-fact grading: The Staff Report, pages 12 and 13, make reference to unauthorized grading that was done on the property and also within San MacDonald County Park. It is stated: “the Applicant has already performed such work in 2005, and has recently worked with the County Resource Conservation District (RCD) to finalize these efforts of erosion control for one of these existing on-site roads which is adjacent to and crosses into San MacDonald County Park. This work was completed per the standards and under the supervision of the RCD….”

This statement is not correct. I have spoken with Kellyx Nelson, and she states that the RCD was never on site to review this grading, nor has a copy of the Staff Report been sent to the RCD for their review. Jim Howard, a representative of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency, was out on the site during the summer and made suggestions as to how the remedial work could be improved. According to Mr. Howard, the road is considered temporary, and if it is to be used in the future, it will need to be upgraded with more robust erosion control and drainage systems.

CGF has reviewed the Grading Ordinance Exemption 8603.18 that is cited in Finding # 4 of the Staff Report, which is copied below:

SECTION 8603.18. Repair of storm damage consisting of slide repair, debris removal and water impoundment replacement on agricultural lands carried out under the purview of the ASCS or RCD provided that such activity does not create hazards to other lands.

The subject grading was to clear a hillside of overgrown trees and brush and re-establish an old road for emergency ingress/egress, according to the Applicant. Attachment F shows the location of the road, with the title: “Secondary Access Road Improved with Grading Exemption.” The project did not entail “slide repair, debris removal, and water impoundment replacement on agricultural lands”. CGF does not believe the Finding can be made under this particular Exemption to the Grading Ordinance. It is possible that Section 8603.11 may cover this activity.

3. A Confined Animal Permit may be required for horses: The existing and proposed Plans show an equestrian area. The provisions of the Confined Animal Regulations may apply to these facilities.

4. Maintenance of roads and trails: It has become apparent during the review of the proposed NTMP that the Applicant has deferred important maintenance and repair of roads and trails. CGF suggests that the Use Permit be conditioned to provide for annual maintenance of the roads and trails that are used as part of the YMCA programs.

5. Relationship between Use Permit and NTMP: The YMCA, as stated earlier, has submitted an NTMP to the California Division of Forestry for review and approval. CGF is concerned that the NTMP would grant an entitlement for commercial harvesting of timber every 15 years in perpetuity without public review and approval. We have met with the YMCA several times, and have proposed an Alternative that would take a stewardship and restoration approach to managing the forested lands (see attached letter of 12/18/06). The YMCA is currently considering our Alternative, but they do not wish to withdraw the NTMP until they determine that the Alternative can meet their financial and other objectives.

If the YMCA received approval for the NTMP, CGF believes that it is not possible to foresee all environmental or public concerns over time. However, there is no provision in the Forest Practice Rules for public hearings unless the Plan is amended in a significant way. The YMCA has offered several measures that would inform the public of future entries for timber harvesting, but these are voluntary and not binding upon future Boards or Management of the YMCA, nor do they require the YMCA to change the Plan in response to public concerns. The only guarantee of a public review process that is enforceable would be through the Use Permit for the camp. Since the programs and use of the camp, would be affected by timber harvesting operations, CGF believes that the County has the ability to require a public review process for each entry on the property for commercial timber harvesting.

To this end, we suggest that a new Condition be added, or Condition 3 be amended to require the Applicant or his designee (such as the Registered Professional Forester or Licensed Timber Operator) to submit each Notice of Timber Operations (NTO) to the San Mateo County Planning Division with sufficient time for notification of the interested public. The Planning Division would hold a public hearing, and if necessary, the Use Permit could be amended to include provisions for protection of the facilities, including roads and trails, and natural resources, including the streams, that are part of the Camp’s operation and programs.

We are hopeful that the YMCA, through a collaborative planning process that they are initiating, will ultimately not pursue the NTMP as currently proposed. However, we would like to have a provision that, if needed, could be implemented to ensure that the greater community and environmental interests are accommodated in this Use Permit review process.

Thank you for consideration of these comments. We look forward to working with the YMCA and the County for the long term best management of the Jones Gulch property.


Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Copy (by email): Dave Holbrook, San Mateo County Planning
Peter Jones, Executive Director, YMCA Camp Jones Gulch

Monday, February 5, 2007

Spreading environmental activism

Last week, at the last minute, we learned about an environmentally-destructive proposal in front of the San Jose City Council, one proposing a change in zoning for a parcel to allow development in a riparian buffer zone. I blasted off the following email and made some phone calls a few hours before the vote. Maybe it had an effect, because Mayor Reed postponed the vote:

Dear San Jose City Council members:

The Committee for Green Foothills asks you to support your staff and your Planning Commission in rejecting a developer proposal (Item 11.4 on tonight’s agenda) to rezone a property to allow more development than permitted under its current designation, which would then allow the developer to remove 91 trees on a two-acre lot and build deep within the riparian buffer zone (30 feet away instead of the city’s policy of 100 feet).

There is no reason to make this exception. The developer points to other exceptions but those in turn do not represent the City’s usual standard. City staff recommended a 75-foot buffer, which is seems overly generous. The developer does not deserve any more leeway.

The developer may wish to make more money off this project by changing the zoning, but he has no right to expect that change. Rewarding any money spent on this prospect will further open the floodgates for speculation in land, which will surely result in constant pressure to eliminate environmental regulation, just as this developer proposes. We urge you instead to reject the proposal.

In the alternative to outright rejection, the Committee requests the City contact the Santa Clara Valley Water District to see if the project conforms with the intent of the Water Protection Collaborative. That process kept the Water District from issuing its own riparian protection permits in return for a promise by cities to rigorously protect riparian corridors on their own. We strongly suggest the City ask the Water District’s opinion of this type of project, and of the developer’s apparent conclusion that there is no reason to enforce the City’s riparian buffer zone policy.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian Schmidt

I contacted our fellow conservation groups and encouraged them to get involved. Bob Power from Audubon wrote the following email that was even better than mine:

From: Bob Power
Date: February 1, 2007 1:24:54 PM PST
Subject: Item 11.2 on your February 6th agenda: PDC06-062 Proposed 19 New residential units, Duckett Way

February 1st, 2007
Subject: Item 11.2 on your February 6th agenda
PDC06-062 Proposed 19 New residential units, Duckett Way
Dear Councilmember:
The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) has a taken a keen interest in the proposed 19 unit development at the terminus of Duckett Way in San Jose. We are clearly opposed to the use of your Discretionary Alternate Use policy to allow encroachment on the riparian corridor adjacent to this property.
We are in complete agreement with your planning staff and Planning Commission in denying this application and strongly urge you to support their clear deliberations, analysis, and previous decisions about this project.
You staff has spent four long years working with the planning staff of the other Santa Clara County municipalities, the county, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District to develop guidelines and a framework for protecting the riparian corridors of this valley and ensuring the health and vitality of our creeks and streams. A decision to allow this development to come within 30 feet of the adjacent riparian corridor “because the project isn’t financially feasible” otherwise, would be a slap in the face at this process. Financial feasibility should be ascertained at the outset of a project and should not be used as an “after-the-plans-are-drawn” piece of leverage to attempt to receive a variance.
I was struck by the applicant’s comments that the top goal of this project was “1. Preservation of the riparian corridor.” And how that goal was met with a plan to encroach upon that corridor and ask for a variance to bring development within 30 feet of that corridor. This seemed to make no logical sense. If “Preservation of the Corridor” is goal #1, why not bring forward a plan that supports that goal and shows a 100-ft. setback?
We are in complete agreement with Commissioner Zito’s comments indicating that a less diligent planning department in the past, does not justify making current and future bad planning decisions as they relate to Riparian Corridor Policies.
Your staff and Planning Commission are doing a good job and are making good decisions. We urge you to support them and the work they do by denying this appeal.
Sincerely yours,
Bob Power, Executive Director
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

This issue is going from one that slipped through the radar screen to one that is getting the criticism it deserves.


Friday, February 2, 2007

Notes on Joint Venture Silicon Valley Conference

Just came back from the the Joint Venture Silicon Valley's State of the Valley Conference. Interesting speakers, some related to our work, others were more "just business", but it was useful to get out and meet folks. Thought I'd just repeat here some of the notes I took on what they said, and some editorial comments of mine.

  • 25% protected of Silicon Valley is open space (didn’t define what that meant).
  • Protected open space increased 1.5% and accessible protected land increased 3.3%. I consider that second figure to be very important – responsibly-managed public access reinforces public support for open space.
  • New construction residential density increased markedly over the last 3 years. This is very good and contrary to the national trend. On the other hand, 3 years is a short time. I’ll speculate that it might be a reaction to the high price of housing.
  • Says only 26% of households can afford a median price home. This is smaller than San Jose’s estimate of 33% - could reflect the larger geographic base, or one of the two estimates are wrong. If JVSV is right, there’s even less justification for San Jose’s assumption that house prices can continue to increase faster than household income.
  • Household income went up in 2004-2005, but has gone down overall in the last five years.
  • Panelist Aart De Geus made an interesting comparison between investing in education and ecosystem management, especially regarding global warming. In both cases, your payoff/punishment can be delayed for decades, so it’s hard but important to get sufficient investment in doing the right thing.
  • A quote: “if everything you tried works, then you’re not trying hard enough.”
  • Late-morning panel – Is Clean Technology Silicon Valley’s Next Wave of Innovation: lots of interest in solar power, which has tremendous potential to help the environment and stop global warming. Every good thing has its downside though. CGF welcomes new economic development that clean power can bring to the area. We see no reason why that new prosperity should expand sprawl in the area, though. The danger is that something good will be used as an excuse to do something bad. The model for that problem is Stanford University, which used the excuse of providing a location for Carnegie Foundation to push development up into the Stanford Foothills. We don’t want to see that problem writ large by clean power in Silicon Valley.
  • Al Gore gave the keynote address. Had a lot to say about the importance of Silicon Valley in helping develop clean power, but nothing directly related to open space. He did, however, sign on to a petition by the environmental community opposing the logging proposal in Santa Clara County, so that kind of support was great to have.