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:
Council members: Dear San Jose City
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.
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 PowerDate: February 1, 2007 1:24:54 PM PSTSubject: Item 11.2 on your February 6th agenda: PDC06-062 Proposed 19 New residential units, Duckett WayFebruary 1st, 2007Subject: Item 11.2 on your February 6th agendaPDC06-062 Proposed 19 New residential units, Duckett WayDear 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 DirectorSanta 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.