Thursday, March 29, 2007

San Jose on Time Magazine in the year 2040

I participated in a preliminary planning meeting for the planned update of San Jose's General Plan. These updates are due every 15 years, and starting now makes it possible to make the 2009 deadline.

I emphasized four points:

  • The General Plan should control Specific Plans, so the Coyote Valley Specific Plan should not be approved before the the General Plan is revised. After the revision is complete, the City can revisit whether it should go forward with Coyote Valley.
  • There are thousands of acres of City jurisdictional land outside of the Urban Service Area where the City has no plans for development. Current residential zoning is completely inappropriate and an invitation to sprawl. The City should either de-annex these lands, reverting them to County control, or should redesignate them as "Open Space."
  • The review should examine how much of the City's industrial land has been rezoned to other uses. Given the City's constant reference to the lack of employment in the City as a reason for expanding into Coyote Valley open space, the City should examine whether that lack of employment is a self-inflicted wound.
  • The City's Riparian and Wildlife protection policies have loopholes that have been repeatedly exploited. The City should do a "Best Practices" comparison between its policies and those found in other cities, and update its policies to reflect the best found elsewhere.

Also as part of the process, City Staff asked us to imagine that San Jose was the cover story in a Time Magazine issued in 2040 for being the "best-managed" American city, and then describe the magazine's cover. This is what I gave them:

Time Magazine
Earth Day, 2040

San Jose: Wildlife City

From the “Everglades of the West” to hiking trails among the mountain wildflowers of Coyote Ridge, San Jose has promoted urban access to wildlife. Can other cities copy its protection of urban river steelhead, and migration corridors for Tule Elk?

Let's hope it becomes true!


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Secret Society of Survey Stake Pullers

Last week I had the opportunity to attend one of the Peninsula Open Space Trust's Wallace Stegner Lectures. This lecture was by Richard Louv, author of the book "The Last Child in the Woods," about the decreasing contact that children have with nature. Louv talked about being a member of the Secret Society of Survey Stake Pullers - people who as children had roamed in woods, and then became enraged to find survey stakes marking where their woods would be destroyed, and pulled the stakes out.

I'll confess to having become a member of this society when I was eight years old and roaming the woods of upstate New York, although I only did it once (not nearly as extensively as some other folks). I've little doubt that my childhood access to nature plays a role in my current desire to protect open space through wholly-legal means.

Louv has founded the Children and Nature Network to "reconnect children to nature." These efforts are an important complement to our open space advocacy. Four decades of CGF's work has created a network of open space reserves in our counties, and we can use that network to support more advocacy for open space protection.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Santa Clara Valley Water District and global warming

At the latest meeting of the Water District's Environmental Advisory Commission, the District's staff guided us through eleven long-term strategic challenges they anticipate. Number three was global warming. Three concerns in particular threaten their work: first, rising sea levels threaten the aging levee system in South San Francisco Bay. Much of San Jose is actually below sea level due to overpumping of ground water in past decades, so the threat is further enhanced.

Second, rising sea levels mean saltwater intrusion into water tables in the Bay-Delta region, reducing the amount of local groundwater available. And third, rising temperatures mean more precipitation in the Sierras will fall as rain instead of snow, depriving us of some of our snow-pack water reservoirs. These are only some of the impacts they could have mentioned.

All the more reason to fight climate-destroying sprawl.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why Reject Alpine Road Sidewalk Expansion

This article was submitted to the Menlo Park Almanac last May (2006) but covers some of the history about why the Committee for Green Foothills thinks moving ahead with the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion is not wise. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on Tuesday, March 27th at 10 am on a recommendation to reject Stanford's offer to build this trail.

Guest Opinion
Almanac News
May 19, 2006

On Tuesday, May 23, from 4-7 pm, at Woodland School’s Multi-Use Room in Ladera, Supervisors Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon will solicit community reaction to Stanford’s proposed expansion of the existing sidewalk/trail along Alpine Road.

On behalf of Committee for Green Foothills, I urge San Mateo County and Portola Valley to decline Stanford’s “offer” of $11.2 million to expand our perfectly usable Alpine sidewalk/trail. An expanded sidewalk does not repay the debt Stanford owes to the community from its expansive development, and foisting new impacts on our creeks and communities to solve Stanford’s problems cannot be allowed.

As mitigation for the increased need for recreational opportunities resulting from the 5 million square feet of housing and academic development allowed by its General Use Permit, Stanford agreed to dedicate, construct, and maintain a trail crossing Stanford lands on the Santa Clara side of Los Trancos/San Francisquito Creeks (the “C-1” Trail).

Last December, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (Liz Kniss dissenting) capitulated to Stanford’s intense lobbying and punted the “C-1” Trail out of Santa Clara County and onto the Alpine Road sidewalk/trail. This facility is not on Stanford lands, is already constructed, and there is no funding proposed by Stanford for maintenance.

Instead of being a bona fide mitigation, the proposed urban sidewalk would cause significant new adverse environmental and community impacts.

Specifically, the so-called “improvements” would intrude into sensitive creek and riparian habitats, armor the creek banks with engineered walls in ten locations, require major cutting into the hillside opposite Bishop Lane, remove trees that screen Ladera Oaks tennis lights and noise from Ladera neighbors, and cross many private driveways at Stanford Weekend Acres.

Spending an astronomical $11.2 million to expand a 3 mile long existing trail in Portola Valley and San Mateo County is not only wasteful, but is inconsistent with Alpine Road’s scenic corridor policies and numerous County, State, and Federal watershed protection mandates.

Stanford has said that San Mateo and Portola Valley can modify the plans. But Stanford will not agree to any relocation of the trail away from busy Alpine Road, onto Stanford lands, or across the creek into Santa Clara County.

San Mateo County and Portola Valley should reject Stanford’s attempt to fulfill its mitigation obligations with an unsafe, environmentally harmful, and unnecessary project. Redirecting the $11.2 million back to Santa Clara will provide far greater public recreational benefits to Stanford and its neighboring communities.

Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Press release on Stanford Trails

Committee for Green Foothills



Holly Van Houten, Executive Director (x360)
Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate (x313)
phone (650) 968-7243 *
Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate (650) 854-0449

San Mateo County Supervisors Set to Reject

Alpine Road Trail

PALO ALTO, CA -- Stanford University’s proposal to construct an environmentally-destructive sidewalk expansion in San Mateo County instead of a promised recreational trail on Stanford land faces a recommendation to “reject” the expanded sidewalk at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ meeting scheduled for March 27th.

“We are pleased by San Mateo County Supervisors Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill’s recommendation to reject the Alpine Road sidewalk proposal. Stanford tried to get out of its obligation to build a trail crossing its land in return for substantial development rights it received by moving the trail into San Mateo County,” said Holly Van Houten, Committee for Green Foothills’ Executive Director. “This recommended action validates our opposition to the proposal. This sidewalk is not wanted by the community and is too destructive to the environment.”

Stanford and Santa Clara County did not seek approval of San Mateo County before deciding in December 2005 to replace a required trail on Stanford land with the proposed Alpine Road sidewalk expansion. Residents strongly opposed the proposed 16-foot wide sidewalk because of safety concerns where the expanded sidewalk would cross many private driveways in the Stanford Weekend Acres area, environmental impacts to adjacent sensitive creek and riparian areas, the need to armor the creek banks to support the expanded sidewalk, as well as the proposal to cut into a steep hillside to move Alpine Road to make road for the expanded sidewalk.

Tuesday’s anticipated Board action would reject the Alpine Road Trail and instead encourage Santa Clara County to establish a grants program to make the $8.4 million Stanford is required to pay available to recreation projects. “There are many better uses for this money than the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion,” said Lennie Roberts, Committee for Green Foothills’ San Mateo Legislative Advocate. “Everybody, including Stanford residents, wins with the creation of a grants program that makes the best use of these funds. We hope the funds can be made available as soon as possible.”

Under the agreement between Santa Clara County and Stanford University, Stanford could wait until 2011 to see if San Mateo County would change its mind before paying the fees.

Background: Stanford required to provide two trails

The Santa Clara County 1995 Trails Master Plan identified two trails crossing on the northern and southern sides of Stanford lands, identified as the “C1” and the “S1” trails. As a condition of Stanford University’s 2000 General Use Permit that allowed the University to build an additional 5 million square feet of housing and academic facilities, Stanford was required to come back to the County with a plan to move forward with ‘building, dedicating and maintaining’ these two trails on University lands by the end of 2001. “During this 5 year period, Committee for Green Foothills and other community members proposed several alternative alignments and several compromise alignments, all of which were rejected outright by Stanford,” said Jeff Segall, board member for Committee for Green Foothills.

In 2003, the County decided to split the planning of the two trails and moved forward with planning for the less-controversial “S1 Trail” first, and initiated an extensive review process to determine the S1 Trail alignment. Stanford offered an alternative alignment for the S1 Trail that moved it away from Page Mill Road, but when the County indicated in the fall of 2005 that it would accept that offer, Stanford added another condition. It offered to make the “S1 Trail” available immediately, but only if the County immediately decided to exclude the second trail, the “C1 Trail” from crossing Stanford lands in Santa Clara County. Stanford proposed that instead of going forward with the C1 Trail within its lands, it would offer to pay San Mateo County and the Town of Portola Valley to expand an existing sidewalk along Alpine Road. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to accept this proposal in December, 2005. The County’s approval did not contain any environmental review of the C1 alignment, even though the environmental review for the S1 Trail had been extensive.

Stanford and Santa Clara County also changed plans without environmental review by agreeing to take money instead of a trail if San Mateo County or Portola Valley rejected plans for an expanded sidewalk. This decision to eliminate a potential Santa Clara County trail in return for money is another approval made by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors without environmental review.

Committee for Green Foothills Litigation on Stanford Trails

Open space advocacy group Committee for Green Foothills filed suit on June 9, 2006, against Stanford University and Santa Clara County, arguing that the County’s decision to exclude a required trail from Stanford lands in the County violated state law because it was done without any environmental review.

The lower court ruled in October that Committee for Green Foothills had only 30 days to file suit over the decision that Stanford and Santa Clara County made in December 2005. The Committee had filed suit in June 2006, under the belief that a 180-day deadline should have applied. “There’s a striking contrast between the S1 Trail decision with a full scale Environmental Impact Report, and the more-destructive decision on the Alpine Road sidewalk, which was made with no environmental review at all,” said Brian Schmidt, Santa Clara Legislative Advocate for Committee for Green Foothills. “That was our basis of argument that the 180-day period in which to file suit should have applied.”

Committee for Green Foothills filed an appeal in December, 2006, which is still pending before the court. To date, the court has not reviewed the merits of the case, but the appeals court should take a broader review of the issues.

# # #

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Coyote Valley at San Jose City Council and in Wikipedia

I was at San Jose City Council late last night, trying to save the riparian zone of Calabazas Creek from a Duckett Way development that was using loopholes to bust the City's 100-foot buffer policy (we were mildly successful).

Since I was there anyway, though, I took advantage of the Open Forum to announce that City staff had informed me that they didn't plan to respond to our criticism of the Draft Fiscal Analysis for Coyote Valley. I said it was critical that the City respond, because the analysis was flawed and the project jeopardizes the City's finances. We'll see what happens, but at least the City Council now knows about it.

And thinking about the subject made me decide to update the Wikipedia entry for Coyote Valley to include the fiscal analysis issues.

We're getting the word out!