Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More radio for CGF

Well, this time it's KCBS radio discussing funds held by Santa Clara County Parks, and possible acquistion of the redwood forest owned by San Jose Water Company. We're very glad to be noticed.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

More KQED Commentary on the "San Jose Process", and a response by Mayor Reed

KQED's Forum program yesterday followed up Tuesday's Perspectives piece on how San Jose shouldn't give developers control over intial aspects of environmental review.

You can listen to the Forum program here. Our issue comes up in the second half of the show.

When I heard yesterday morning that Mayor Reed would be on the show, I emailed the following question:

Yesterday’s KQED Perspectives commentary at www.kqed.org/perspectives criticized “The San Jose Process” for environmental review because unlike other cities, private developers create and control the initial, administrative draft versions of environmental impact reports. The Perspective said that process is a legacy of the previous city administration, but will you commit to at least investigating whether this system should be changed to meet the standards found in other Bay Area cities, where the cities and not the developers select the consultants who prepare the reports?

(Full disclosure: I was the person who gave yesterday’s Perspective.)

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills

When asked, Mayor Reed responded as follows (after some preliminary comments):

The environmental reports we do are the City’s environmental reports, and we rely on our professional staff to make sure that the work done by the consultants is correct and eventually if people disagree with that we have to defend it in court .... we have to prepare for that so we have to do it right, and I don’t think it matters where it starts as much as where it ends up. I can’t make a personal commitment to Brian that we’ll change that. I understand his comment, I understand the perception, but we have a really good environmental staff that makes these things work, and I’m confident we’re doing it correctly and defensibly.

My reaction:

The Mayor said he can't commit on the spot to change the system. I understood that, and had only asked for a commitment to investigate it. That's an easy thing to miss in the middle of live radio, so hopefully he will still consider investigating alternatives.

Mayor Reed says it's the end result that counts the most, and I agree with that, but throwing in a barrier to a good end result in the form of a biased starting point just makes it harder for the City's professional staff. If they can get a good result with this handicapped start, then they'll do even better with an unbiased start. I would add though that in CGF's opinion we do have a problem with some of the end results, as seen with Coyote Valley.

Finally, the City's professional staff can't go out and redo shoddy fieldwork by consultant experts. They might not even know if the fieldwork was shoddy or the subjective judgment was out of line with standard expert opinion. The vast majority of environmental reviews never get challenged in court, especially Initial Studies for smaller projects, so a court-challenge safeguard is inadequate and not the way to do quality control, in any event.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brian Schmidt on KQED Perspectives program

Today the KQED Radio Perspectives program ran my perspective on "The San Jose Process." The Perspective is a two-minute commentary piece, and in this piece I discuss the significant problem of San Jose giving control to developers over initial aspects of environmental review.

The Perspectives are from individuals, not organizations, but I enthusiastically agree with the position that I've represented on behalf of CGF and its members. On the radio today, the announcer identified me as working for Committee for Green Foothills, so our organization also received some Bay-Area wide media exposure.

Now hopefully, we'll get some action for San Jose to fix this!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Come on Stanford! YouTube tells you to do what you promised

A CGF advertisement that aired during the Stanford-USC football game several weeks ago is now on YouTube.

See it right here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition (and CGF) event on November 17

CGF is a participating member of the Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, an umbrella group coordinating stream protection in our county. I'll be mentioning SCCCC activities from time to time.

A big event coming up next month is the Creeks and Watershed Conference, an all day conference on November 17th in San Jose to educate the public about watershed protection efforts. More information is available here - please come for any part of the event, or for the whole day!


(I should note that children are welcome, but the presentations will be geared to an adult level.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

British wetland restoration at one-tenth of the cost here?

Here's an interesting article from a British news source: 400-year old dikes are being breached to restore 1,700 acres of tidal wetlands on what is currently farmland, for a price of 17 million British pounds (about $25 million). That is a restoration cost of $15,000 an acre. Wetland restoration projects in Santa Clara County routinely cost more than ten times as much.

Obviously these are very different places, but it would be interesting to see if there's any lessons we can learn on cost containment, since the costs of restoration are a significant barrier to environmental enhancement.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Checking out the Henry Coe Park fire (or trying to)

I went Sunday to Henry Coe State Park, planning to hike out to the areas that had been burnt in the fire last month. Unfortunately, park officials have closed all trails leading into or even along the burnt area. This seems hard to justify - it's hard to imagine that fire-fighting equipment has done so much damage to the trails to make them dangerous. And if firefighting has done damage to the environment, then I want to see it. But they're not showing it.

Still, there was one trail we could hike on that got within a half-mile or so of the fire. It looked not great and not terrible at that distance - it seemed like the fire burned pretty hot and took out even the trees, so it wasn't just a grass and brush fire, but it was also very spotty, leaving lots of unburnt areas. This was only a small part of the fire though, and I'm not sure what the rest looks like.

And if the firefighting had gone overboard and did any damage, we were too far away to know.


Monday, October 8, 2007

More good news from last week - County denies sprawl proposal near Morgan Hill

We'll have an article mentioning this in the Fall 2007 Green Footnotes - Santa Clara County last week rejected a proposal to redesignate 60 acres of land on Watsonville Road from Hillside designation to Rural Residential. The redesignation would have tripled the amount of allowed development, and because only about one-third of the parcel touch Rural Residential parcels, it would have stretched the concept of "infill" beyond recognition. This isn't what we need, especially so far away from city limits.

Instead, the Supervisors voted 5-0 to reject the idea. It didn't seem like we'd have such a resounding victory at the beginning - we at CGF spent a lot of time calling Supervisors, meeting with them and their staffs, and appearing at the hearing. We're very glad to have stopped a bad precedent and maintained a good one.


Friday, October 5, 2007

CGF scoping comments on the proposed Stanford Shopping/Medical Center Expansion

(CGF submitted the following comments on the scoping (preparation) of the environmental review for the Stanford Shopping Center and Medical Center expansions. We'll also review the actual environmental documents when the drafts are available. -Brian)

October 1, 2007

Steven Turner
City of Palo Alto

Re: Scoping comments for the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center Expansion EIR

Dear Steven;

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments for scoping the EIR for the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center:

· The purpose of the approval for this project must be defined by the City, not by the applicant. If the purpose that the permissions the applicants seeks (such as improving medical care) can be done in a way that the applicant does not seek, that option remains within the purpose of the City. Legally, the applicant cannot define the purpose in a way that artificially narrows the scope of the project and its alternatives. Because the City is deciding whether to approve the agreement, it has to define the purpose.

· The EIR must consider a “no expansion/seismic only upgrade” alternative for the Medical Center.

· A “no increase in medical office space” alternative should be included. Conditions should be placed defining what type of activity or organization may use “medical office space.”

· Any relaxing of existing zoning standards will violate thresholds for environmental significance that the standards are meant to protect, unless compensatory environmental mitigation is required. This is especially true given the large size of the project. For example, easing density restrictions should be compensated with open space protection.)

· Increased building height and density should be compensated with open space protection. Decreasing views of hillsides and of natural areas are visual impacts that can be appropriately compensated for by open space protection.

· Increase utilization of recreational resources must be analyzed in the EIR for direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. The City should compare the analysis used for the Stanford GUP in Santa Clara Clount’s EIR for comparison. Increased utilization is a significant impact unless mitigated.

· The EIR process should analyze the phasing and mitigation monitoring used in the Stanford GUP EIR to avoid similar problems. For the Stanford GUP, six years after the impacts have occurred, the promised trails have not yet been constructed. Mitigations should not just be begun before the impacts have occurred, they should be completed, or at least a schedule established with clear stop dates.

· The hospital opening should be in phases, with none the medical office space opening until all environmental mitigations have been complied with. This will make mitigation monitoring and enforcement more credible if it stops use of medical office space until environmental conditions are complied with as opposed to stopping use of the hospital.

· Any net increases in greenhouse gas emissions are cumulatively significant.

· “Green building” standards should be required.

· The impact on housing will be significant unless mitigated and must be analyzed. The impact will also affect open space and traffic, because if new housing is not constructed by Stanford, it will be constructed mostly in Central Valley and elsewhere, with workers commuting in on area highways. The City must do its own calculations about the number of jobs generated by the amount of space created. Secondary (off-site) economic impacts must also be considered in determining the net demand for housing created by this project.

· All newly-created housing demand should be fully mitigated with housing creation that matches the income level of housing demand generated.

· Any analysis that concludes a “no net increase” mitigation standard for transportation is not feasible, must also determine why it is feasible for the much larger Stanford GUP expansion but not for this project.

· Significant and unavoidable impacts must be compensated for in a comparable manner. For example, the visual impact of Medical Center skyscraper will be unavoidable, but rather than simply accept that as the cost the community must bear, it should be compensated for with open space protection where buildings do not predominate views.

· Eliminate Stanford’s “plateau bargaining” through the use of binding promises in the process. For example, Stanford has made promises on where it would agree to place the S1 Trail on its property, and then after much work had been done by the County so it could accept the offer, Stanford reneged on the promises unless dramatic new concessions were added. This problem can be stopped by spelling out in advance when and which parts of a promise are binding.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt

Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

CGF-sponsored forum on Habitat Plan for Santa Clara County this Wednesday

Should be a very useful public education forum on the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan, and is co-sponsored by CGF.

It will be here at the Peninsula Conservation Center, 3921 East Bayshore Road in Palo Alto, tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.

More info here.

Hope to see you there!