Friday, June 22, 2007

Developers behind Coyote Valley planning process refusing to cooperate with the planning process

(The Committee for Green Foothills submitted the following letter to the Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force regarding developers' refusal to let the City's experts evaluate the environmental consequences of developing their land. We have received no response from the City, although one smaller landowner said the information was wrong and that he did allow access. A developer representative told us that in lieu of letting the City's experts on their property, the developers' own experts can provide that information, but that is clearly inadequate for a neutral, unbiased evaluation. -Brian)


Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force

Dear CVSP Task Force Members:

The Committee for Green Foothills learned just recently that owners of most of the land in Coyote Valley have refused to allow City consultants to access their land in order to prepare the Draft EIR. This contradicts a recent statement by City Staff that access was denied on 30-40% of the land, which itself was an alarming figure. The attached map from the City website shows that landowners who constitute principal movers behind Coyote Valley development are refusing to cooperate with the development process.

Given that the real purpose of this project from the viewpoint of those developers is to maximize the development potential, they appear to have concluded that they will be able to develop more if information about environmental impacts is constrained until a future point. That in itself is a major worry.

Beyond this problem lies a fundamental issue of why the City should even go forward with this project when the primary instigators and primary beneficiaries are refusing to cooperate with it. We recommend that the City simply suspend any further work on this project until those owners, or at least the owners of a majority of the land, decide they wish to cooperate. Any other course of action would be to hand control of the process ostensibly meant to benefit San Jose residents in general to the landowners who are impeding proper planning.


Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Expansion of the Hanson Permanente Quarry?

It's not clear yet until we get a look at the revised Reclamation Plan, but Santa Clara County is considering a revised plan that could involve expanding the area affected by the Hanson Permanente Quarry in the hills above Cupertino. It may be an expansion of "only" 30 acres, but we need to see the details to be sure there are no unwelcome surprises. Committee for Green Foothills has been following environmental issues with the quarry very closely, and we'll watch this one as well.

For those who are interested, there will be a preliminary meeting at Cupertino City Hall tomorrow (Wednesday) in Room 100 at 4 p.m. People interested in seeing the environmental report that will ultimately result from this should be able to sign up on a receiving list, either signing up at this meeting or by contacting County Planner Mark Connolly, at (408) 299-5786.

We also encourage everyone to sign up for our Action Alerts to learn about how to affect crucial decisions on this quarry and on other important environmental issues in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why Santa Clara County should not approve the Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision

(The following are CGF's main points as to why developing the 8,000 acre Castro Valley Ranch is a mistake. For more background, see CGF's newsletter article here, and our comments on the Draft EIR here. -Brian)

1. NMFS, USFWS and Cal DFG, together with all the environmental groups and some individuals, all stated they believed the project had growth-inducing impacts. Only County staff seem to think otherwise.

2. Staff stated at the Planning Commission hearing that future growth will require future environmental review. That is irrelevant and too late – the concern is that this lot line adjustment and road extension, widening, and paving will make future growth more likely. CEQA requires analysis of growth inducing impacts now, when the actions that make future growth more likely to occur.

3. Staff also stated that induced growth comes from oversized infrastructure, but the road is at the bare minimum size. This has two flaws: first, the currently-sized road presumably could bear additional traffic (staff never says how much), and having extended and widened the road will make it easier to simply widen it in the future. Second, the lot reconfigurations will facilitate development, independent of the road. The applicant has openly claimed the line adjustments are for estate-planning purposes, in other words allowing the parcels to split into separate ownership, greatly facilitating development of individual parcels.

4. The refusal of the landowners to allow the Native American group access to look for culturally-significant sites, including burial grounds, or even to meet with the group off-site, suggests that the best interest of the county in preserving the sites will not be protected. A number of Planning Commissioners expressed their concern about this issue. Representatives of the Amah-Mutsun group told me they were also concerned about growth-inducing impacts, so this is another reason for rejecting the project.

5. Staff analysis recommended approval of the project solely on the basis that it did not violate County policies (in their opinion), but this does not examine whether approval would be in the best interest of the County. There should be a pro-and-con analysis over whether the County is better off with this project.

6. A similar pro-and-con analysis should accompany a discussion of the alternatives to the project. The staff report wholly failed to discuss alternatives, virtually all of which are environmentally superior to the proposed project.

7. Failure to consider cumulative impacts from impervious surfaces and greenhouse gas emissions is a problem in this and other County environmental documents. Staff should be asked to report on whether a programmatic analysis of these issues is appropriate.

8. If approval goes forward, a project condition should be that only people with business on the property should be allowed access (e.g., landowners on Whitehurst Road should not be allowed access as a condition of a permit, not just by a simple assertion of the landowner)

Monday, June 11, 2007

The need to save Pilarcitos Community Park

(Committee for Green Foothills wrote the letter below regarding Half Moon Bay's Pilarcitos Community Park. -Brian)


June 11, 2007

Mayor Naomi Patridge and Members of the City Council
City of Half Moon Bay
501 Main Street
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Dear Mayor Patridge and Members of the Council,

The Committee for Green Foothills is deeply concerned about the City Council’s apparent interest in selling Pilarcitos Community Park, as reported in the news media, and agendized for Closed Session at the Council’s June 5, 2007 Special Meeting.

The city acquired this gateway property in October, 2004 from one of the coastside’s pre-eminent growers, Nurserymen’s Exchange. Through the generosity of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST)’s no-interest loan, the city has been given three years to find the necessary funding for the park. We understand that POST has offered to extend their loan beyond the October, 2007 deadline, and to work with the city to secure grants so Pilarcitos Park can become a reality.

The 21-acre park’s creekside setting and gentle slopes make it an ideal site for active recreation including soccer and baseball fields as well as passive uses such as trails and a community garden. The park’s Master Plan, adopted in November, 2005 after an extensive public process, provides the vision and guidance for meeting some of the long-standing critical needs for recreational facilities in Half Moon Bay and the Mid-Coast.

It was the clear intent of Nurserymen’s Exchange and POST that this property should become a Community Park. It would be extraordinarily short-sighted and deeply regrettable to dispose of this property. In our view, it would also be a major breach of trust with all the citizens who have devoted their time and talent to the planning process, and the countless residents and visitors who will enjoy the park in the future.

We recognize that the city needs to find sources of funding to make the park a reality. This is not an unusual situation - every new park that we have been involved with, over the years, has had similar challenges. Yet these challenges have been overcome.

We urge you to work with POST and other interested groups and agencies to make Pilarcitos Park a great recreational asset for the city. We offer our support in this effort.


Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Friday, June 8, 2007

See the Op-Ed Sausage-Making!

One of the advantages of blogging is that it gives us a chance to write some more informal, behind-the-scenes information than appears elsewhere, like in our Green Footnotes newsletter or Action Alerts.

A while back I blogged about our Op-Ed on Coyote Valley that the Merc published. Spending time on an Op-Ed is a gamble, because it's a lot of work with no guarantee of publication. The version we sent them was the seventh draft, and although I was the named author, every staff member at CGF spent time looking at it.

To give an example of the work involved, I thought it would be interesting to show the first draft. The fact that it's very different from the final shows the work of everyone involved. The other interesting part is the effect of needing to be as clear as possible, which in practice and under the constraint of a word limit meant reducing the number of arguments from the draft below and explaining them more clearly. Anyway, I hope it's interesting!


Suggested Title: Paving Coyote Valley Isn’t Green

Like a train that jumped its tracks yet plows uselessly forward, the Coyote Valley development process recently pushed onward with its Draft Environmental Impact Report. This proposed development between San Jose and Morgan Hill would eliminate the valley farmlands that stop at San Jose’s southern limits the urban sprawl reaching down from San Francisco. Seven thousand acres are at risk from development – the northern half, 3,400 acres, would become a new city, and the more-developed, already-imperiled southern half of Coyote Valley will have trouble surviving as working farmland.

The environmental report misses or underplays many environmental impacts, but the root problem isn’t the report – it’s the underlying project. The Coyote Valley development is an office-space project with an inadequate housing component, requiring the unnecessary, massive construction of a 80,000 person city over existing farmland. Currently the Bay Area has overwhelming office vacancies, so there is no demand for new office construction. However, if all the office space planned for development there were actually built, there wouldn’t be enough housing provided. Developing new office space this far south of the city central just exacerbates commuter sprawl further south through Gilroy, San Benito County and the Central Valley.

This unfortunate legacy project of the Mayor Gonzales administration provides benefits only to the developers who own and wish to eliminate the farms. Lacking a real public benefit, Coyote Valley developers have now resorted to explanations of why destroying farmland is actually something that helps the environment.

Most prominently, they say “better here than in Central Valley” – the idea being that all the people who would live and work in a developed Coyote Valley would otherwise be forced to commute long distances by car from California’s Central Valley to the Bay Area. So many errors in such a short statement, the most prominent being that Coyote Valley development actually requires sprawl construction in Central Valley. Remember, there’s not enough housing being constructed for build-out, so where will the extra people live? Many will live in Central Valley and everywhere else hit by Silicon Valley sprawl. Suburbs will expand even further, and the car commuters will ensnarl local traffic.

The allegedly-green developers may respond that Coyote Valley will at least absorb some of the workforce that live far away and commute here anyway, but that makes sense only if Coyote Valley fails to attract additional business to San Jose. Additional business means additional workers who would not otherwise come here, so the developers contradict themselves. Either developing Coyote Valley means losing three thousand acres of farms plus additional sprawl and long distance commutes, or it provides no additional business and just destroys farms while sucking business away from the rest of the city. This is their green plan?

The other environmental claim is that it’s better to plan now than to do a rush job later. Certainly, one could point to the Coyote Valley Cisco project during the Gonzales administration as a rushed job with poor planning and environmental harm. However, if we put off development now and at a future point a developer felt a tremendous urge to rush things, then a future mayor who is competent and not in the developer’s pocket could demand more environmental protections and public benefits to accommodate the rush, not fewer. Bad past planning is no reason to destroy farmland unnecessarily.

More important, what’s the rush? The last time we felt a hurry to build more office space, we couldn’t have been more wrong and are now living with the consequences. Maybe Coyote Valley will actually need to start development in twenty years, or forty years, or longer (maybe never). But what hubris for us to claim in 2007 that we can better plan the Coyote Valley city to be constructed in the year 2027 than the next generation can in 2022. Past trends have been to expect more environmental protection over time. Locking in “protections” that may be state-of-the-art now and potentially antiquated in the 2020s doesn’t help the environment, but only sets up an obstacle that future environmentalists would have to overcome.

Right now, thousands of acres of farmland persist up to the limits of a major Bay Area metropolis. Wild badgers and elk even manage to cross Coyote Valley. These are not things to be given up cheaply. Calling the loss of all that “green” when it clearly is not, fails to hide the price that comes from filling developers’ pockets while inflicting sprawl, traffic, and pollution on the rest of us. Developing Coyote Valley is a mistake.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Nature Deficit Disorder radio show

Following up on a previous blog post and the Spring 2007 Green Footnotes book review of "Last Child in the Woods," there's a good discussion of the lack of access to nature for children on the KQED radio show, Forum, available here.

We need to protect local open space so the kids have somewhere to connect to nature.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Redwood City Saltworks Forum on Open Space and Recreation

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to Redwood City residents at a forum about recreation and open space at the site of the Redwood City Industrial Siteworks/Seaport Wetlands (depending on your point of view). The forum was hosted by Cargill/DMB, the group doing public outreach in advance of submitting a plan to the city for this 1,400 acre site located at the foot of Seaport Boulevard.

About 170 people turned out for the meeting, many if not most of them supportive of the concept of restoring the site, currently in salt production, to wetlands and open space. There was also a contingent of folks concerned about the lack of recreational space for youth sports, but many of them also supported restoration, as long as some accommodation could be made for the sporting facilities.

This site has special significance as it is the last large parcel on the Peninsula's bayfront not included in the efforts to restore the South Bay salt ponds. I urged the developers to think regionally when putting together a plan for the site, including making provisions to close a 2-mile gap in the SF Bay Trail and cooperating with efforts to restore wetlands. I also pointed out that the developers would need a change in zoning to support development on the site, currently most of the site is zoned tidal floodplain and 2/3s of the site designated for open space uses only. With the recent estimates that this part of the bay would be inundated with rising sea level and national trends post-Katrina not to build in floodplains, the developers would be wise to consider these major site constraints and trends in preparing whatever plan they do for the property.

At the end of the evening, the project lead for DMB called me the "MVP" of the evening since I ended up fielding most of the questions from the audience. I was very happy that most of the questions showed a real interest in seeing this property protected as open space and included in the wider wetlands restoration efforts.

To participate in future forums, please check out the DMB website for the property: The next important step is to participate in the City's general plan process to retain the current zoning to protect this property. If you are a Redwood City resident and want to add your name to our action alert emails for this project, send your information to

~ Holly Van Houten, Executive Director

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ten of the most endangered charismatic megafauna

Scientific American has a nice post and slideshow about ten endangered animals that may go extinct in the next 10 years. They all are found outside of the US (except for the leatherback turtle that occasionally enters US waters) and so the Endangered Species Act does relatively little to help them. Still it might indicate something about the ESA that no domestic species is shown.

It might indicate something else about the ESA and about the slideshow that the animals are charismatic megafauna. Species that are less charismatic, like endangered mussel species, have done less well, because they get less attention.

Our area has its share of endangered species. We like the term "charismatic microfauna" for the federally-threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly, and we're working hard to protect it.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Do land use regulations help or hurt private property values?

A landowner might think about how much more her property would be worth if she could just add another floor or build closer to a creek, without considering what would happen to her property value if all her neighbors and everyone for miles around were free to do anything they wanted with their property.

Via an excellent post in Gristmill, there's a Georgetown University study on property values in Oregon that found land use regulations actually increase property values. Prior to 2004, Oregon had the strongest land use regulations in the country. A private-property interest voter initiative in 2004 threw that system in disarray. The study found that until the voter initiative went into effect, property values in Oregon equalled or exceeded performance in similar but less-regulated counties in Washington, and also with Washington and California as a whole. As Gristmill describes:

How can restrictions on property increase value? Well, you'll have to read the report for a full explanation. But the simple answer is that while growth regulations may decrease the development potential, they can raise values through amenity values, scarcity, tax reductions, and agricultural protections, just to name a few.