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.

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