Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What you can say in three minutes about impervious surfaces

I had three minutes yesterday to talk at a mini-workshop for the Santa Clara Valley Water District about how local governments in Santa Clara County (and probably, statewide) are violating the California Environmental Quality Act regarding impervious surfaces - paving over our watersheds. As a little blogging experiment, I'm seeing if I can attach a readable PowerPoint presentation and text below. Let's see how it goes.

Slide 1:
Good afternoon, Brian Schmidt from Committee for Green Foothills and the Creeks Coalition. This morning you have been hearing about the problems from erosive forces; I will discuss a very specific solution that is available now and is legally required…

Slide 2:
…which is tracking cumulative impacts regardless of project size, and mitigating those impacts.

Current and proposed regulations, including those discussed today, do not limit the erosion impacts from small projects, but only those adding large amounts of impervious area.

However, small projects in combination can create significant problems. The City of Palo Alto found that much of its increase in impervious surfaces came from these small projects.

Additionally, permits allow large projects to have impacts when mitigation exceeds cost limits. These small and large project impacts are ignored.

Slide 3:

A policy tool already exists that requires analysis and feasible mitigation of these impacts, the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA requires analyzing cumulative impacts that result from individually minor but collectively significant projects taking place over time. Land use agencies must do this analysis – they might choose to do it proactively, or they could end up being forced to do it.

Slide 4:

CEQA also requires reducing the impacts where feasible, and reducing impervious surface impacts is feasible. It’s easy to reduce the impervious surface area, especially for small projects that have not been required in the past to limit this impact. Using permeable pavement that allows water to percolate through it is also very feasible. Finally, CEQA allows paying into a fund for offsite mitigation that could reduce pavement elsewhere, or otherwise help mitigate the erosion impacts. Water District staff has expressed interest in off-site mitigation in other contexts.

Slide 5:

So, how to move forward? Ideally, land use agencies would do a programmatic analysis of all their watersheds to analyze cumulative impacts and propose mitigations, but they also may be forced to do an analysis. For our purposes today, though, we are asking the Water District itself act proactively by providing the technical information that agencies or advocacy groups could use to determine whether cumulatively significant impacts exist in various stream reaches. As a neutral provider of environmental information, this step would be invaluable.

Slide 6:

Committee for Green Foothills did an extensive legal white paper pursuant to a grant we received from the Water District. The white paper is available at this website address, as is my contact information for any follow-up questions.

Friday, April 6, 2007

CGF Comments on the Water District Performance Audit

(We submitted comments on a performance audit for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. I'm the environmental representative on an advisory committee, discussed briefly here.


The following are my comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Watershed Operations Audit Memorandum of the March 2007 Comprehensive Performance Audit Final Report prepared for the Water District.

(The following page references are to Appendix E of the Final Report.)

Page 2: fieldwork listed for the Watershed Operations Audit does not include interviews with outside stakeholders. I was interviewed by the auditors, primarily concerning watershed issues. My interview is listed elsewhere in the Audit, but I hope the omission here does not mean my interview was left out of consideration for the Watershed Memo. Some of my comments would have fallen into the category of “Opportunities for Improvement,” although I did not take notes when I was interviewed.

Page 4 and Page 18: Strength Finding No. 1, praising the Watershed Permit Management System, appears to conflict with Opportunity for Improvement Finding No. 6, stating the District “is not fully prepared for future permit-driven monitoring.” More explanation is needed as to why the current system will be inadequate, and if so, why the current system is not currently inadequate.

Page 6 and 7: Strength Finding No. 2, praising the “partner” relationship with the City of San Jose over Coyote Valley, is troubling. The District should be a neutral provider of information regarding environmental protection, water quality, water supply, and flood protection. If San Jose ultimately approves Coyote Valley development and the project goes forward, then a partner relationship could be appropriate, but right now this highly contentious project divides the people that the District works for – the voters of Santa Clara County. There are limits to the Baldrige business model when applied to governments, and this may be an example. At this point in time, the District should not be taking sides.

Page 8 and 9: as it appears that no one on the Clean Safe Creeks Independent Monitoring Committee was interviewed, I would like to know the basis the auditors have for concluding that the program is successful. I am not for my part stating it is successful or unsuccessful overall, and the parts I am familiar with appear to be successful, but am interested in what the basis is for this determination.

Page 11 and 12: the statement on p. 12, “the perception local agencies have of the District with respect to floodplain management probably does not match the services the District provides” is unclear as to what exactly is the problem. The worst-case scenario is that the District and the agencies both believe the other side has taken on a responsibility that it has not, and something is not being done that should be done. This needs to be clarified.

Page 15 and 16: The discussion of the Watershed Resources Protection Ordinance misses that this is primarily an environmental protection issue, and the possibility of damage to flood control structures is a secondary issue. It further misses the issue that the Environmental Advisory Committee made recommendations that were not incorporated into the final ordinance (as I understand it). The comparison between the recommendations and the final ordinance would have been a useful place for an outside auditor to determine whether performance could be improved. Issues such as whether the District gave up too much authority that it legally could have exercised to agencies that are unwilling to protect the environment could also have been discussed as part of a performance audit.

My suggestion is the District react to this report by clarifying its role as a neutral provider of information. The District should also clarify that it is allowed to take a policy position supporting or opposing major projects like Coyote Valley, and clarify when it is acting as a “partner” and when it is acting as an expert agency.

I further suggest that any monitoring program tracking overall mitigation required of the district, also track when the District is supposed to be consulted by others. Many land use agencies, for example, will issue conditions to permits requiring landowners to consult with the District before proceeding with certain actions. While compliance in these cases is not the District’s responsibility, it would be very useful to have a single place to go to try and track down when consultation is required.

Please contact me with any questions.

Brian Schmidt

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Comments on the LAFCO ag mitigation guidelines

We submitted the following comments


Dear LAFCo Commissioners;

Per the message below, the Committee for Green Foothills supports the LAFCo staff proposal on agricultural mitigation guidelines. We additionally support the Greenbelt Alliance position:

That no less than one acre of farmland be protected for every acre paved over.

That the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act definition of prime farmland be used instead of the LESA model which has failed to protect farmland in Gilroy. In other words, fallow farmland should trigger mitigation.

Cities should craft their own ordinances that assure LAFCO that mitigation will be fulfilled at the time of development and that the mitigation requirement be recorded against the property

Finally, we note that one sentence in the staff report should be clarified by the LAFCo Commission. On page 4, the last sentence in the second paragraph reads “LAFCO’s decision on the proposal will not be based solely on the issue of impacts to agriculture or consistency with LAFCO’s agricultural mitigation policies.” While it is correct that LAFCo may make its decision based on other criteria, this sentence unintentionally suggests that agricultural impacts are insufficient grounds, standing alone, to deny an application. LAFCo retains the authority to decide that even if all other criteria are met, impact to agriculture can be so severe as to justify denial. In staff’s attempt to clarify that compliance with guidelines is not mandatory, this statement became overbroad. I suggest LAFCo state their understanding to be the following instead:

“LAFCO’s decision on the proposal will consider all criteria, not solely the issue of impacts to agriculture or consistency with LAFCO’s agricultural mitigation policies.”

Please contact me if you have any questions.


Brian Schmidt

(650) 968-7243

From: Committee for Green Foothills []
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2007 2:10 PM
To: Committee for Green Foothills
Subject: Help Preserve Santa Clara County's Remaining Farmlands!

The Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) is deciding whether to clarify agricultural mitigation guidelines that call on developers to legally protect at least one acre of farmland for each acre they convert into city land. Please contact the LAFCo Commission and tell them to support the guidelines as a significant step forward in protecting our remaining farmlands!

What's Happening

Santa Clara County LAFCo decides whether cities can expand and extend city services to new areas, such as City of San Jose is proposing to do in Coyote Valley.
This means LAFCo is a crucial agency for controlling suburban sprawl and policies it develops that require environmental mitigation for expansions that do occur are critical to reducing the impacts of suburban sprawl. This Wednesday, April 5th, LAFCo will decide whether to adopt a policy that clarifies how it will consider the loss of farmland in evaluating a proposed city expansion. This policy includes a guideline that cities mitigate for farmland converted to suburban uses through legally protecting other nearby farmland from future development.

Why this is Important

Santa Clara County used to be called The Valley of Hearts Delight because of the miles and miles of farms and orchards that used to cover the valley. Then cities raced each other to see which one could annex and develop the most farmland, a runaway process that resulted in the state law creating LAFCo as a means to referee and slow down the expansion process.

LAFCo must consider the impact on farmland when deciding whether to approve city expansions, but the guidelines for considering this impact, and whether preserving other nearby farmland on a permanent basis would make up for the farmland lost to development, were all unclear. LAFCo staff now proposes guidelines suggesting that at least one acre should be preserved for every acre lost. While the guidelines could be stronger, they are a significant improvement over current policy. The proposed guideline also clarifies that even if cities comply with this one-to-one replacement factor, they would have no guarantee of approval of the annexation, because the loss of farmland can still be significant. The guidelines are also stiffer than those proposed or in place by some cities.

What you can do

The Santa Clara LAFCo Commission meets on Wednesday, April 4th, to decide whether to approve the staff recommendation. At the same meeting, LAFCo will decide whether to approve an expansion of Morgan Hills boundaries that seems likely to violate the new policy. Please tell LAFCo to support the staff recommendation on agricultural mitigation guidelines, and also to either reject the Morgan Hill expansion proposal or send it back for analysis under the new guidelines.

1. Please fax or email LAFCo and ask them to support the staff agricultural mitigation guidelines, and to deny the Morgan Hill expansion or apply the new guidelines to the expansion. Send your comments to:

Emmanuel Abuello, LAFCo Clerk, and request that he distribute your comments to all the LAFCo Commissioners.

Fax: (408) 295-1613
2. Please send a copy of your message to CGF so we can track our efforts on this issue:

Fax (650) 968-8431 or

To learn more,
read the LAFCo staff report on agricultural mitigation.

And read the CGF letter on ways to improve the mitigation.
Thanks for speaking up for open space. Your voice does make a difference!