Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The great news keeps rolling in, and we can take some of the credit

Last week we could celebrate the purchase of 966-acre Rancho San Vicente, an important link in a chain of protected land extending immediately south of San Jose. Environmental opposition to sprawl in Coyote Valley was crucial for stopping the sprawl proposal that the developers originally tried at San Vicente:

Tom deRegt, a partner in New Cities Development Group, said his firm
decided to sell the Rancho San Vicente land for the same price it
paid in 1998. Back then, he said, the driving force was Cisco Systems' plans for
a new campus at Coyote Valley on Highway 101.
"We felt the jobs created by Cisco would push the need for more housing, and that there would be a demand for executive housing," deRegt said. "Obviously things changed since then."

CGF and other organizations fought the Cisco project long enough for economic conditions to derail it, and then did so again with an even bigger proposal for Coyote Valley that stopped at an earlier stage. If either project had succeeded, the the speculative sprawl potential would have made San Vicente impossible to purchase.

And yesterday, San Jose's General Plan Task Force supported staff recommendations to not plan for development in Almaden Valley and Mid-Coyote Valley, and to keep Evergreen's industrial areas zoned industrial, all of which are supported by CGF:

A special panel charged with charting San
's long-term growth has put the city one step closer to keeping its
undeveloped southern fringes — most prominently
Valley — off-limits to new housing tracts.

Citing the cost of providing services to those far-flung areas, as well
as the environmental damage that development might bring, the Envision San Jose
2040 Task Force voted overwhelmingly late Tuesday to keep the city's so-called
"urban reserves" in Coyote Valley and Almaden Valley out of any future growth

In addition, the panel unanimously urged that open space in Evergreen —
currently targeted for industrial uses — remain formally out of the mix for new

Tuesday's meeting brought out scores of green and open space advocates
who sought to reinforce those concerns and urge planners to focus on development
already inside the urban core.

"Let's fix what we have first," said Helen Chapman, a director of the
Committee for Green Foothills.

Of course they could have done more - in particular, they shouldn't continue to assume that development will come to North Coyote Valley, as the economic conditions haven't changed and the permits are about to expire. On the other hand, four years ago I really couldn't have imagined this - CGF was in the middle of a lawsuit to stop a stupid and dangerous soccer field complex in Alamden Valley farmland, and the plan to develop both North and Mid Coyote was on an express track. These changes are amazing.


UPDATE: a short video showing San Vicente is here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CGF Letter on the San Jose General Plan Revision

(We sent this letter out last week regarding preserving farmlands and stopping sprawl in San Jose. -Brian)

May 21, 2009

San Jose City Council
Envision San Jose Task Force

Dear City Council and Task Force Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills urges you seize the opportunity presented to you both to preserve the farmlands adjacent to San Jose and also to plan for a balanced future of jobs and housing, not an imbalanced one forcing thousands of drivers to live elsewhere and commute to San Jose. Specifically, we ask you to do the following:

· Withdraw the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) from South Almaden Valley.

· Plan for no development in Mid-Coyote Valley.

· Withdraw the UGB from North Coyote Valley. This would "grandfather" existing development and existing permits, but the Coyote Valley Research Park permits would not be renewed if they expire without construction, as seems very likely. A less-valuable but still beneficial alternative would be to leave the UGB unchanged but not plan for any development in North Coyote Valley during the General Plan timeframe.

· Require the development of a Farmland Mitigation Program prior to the conversion of prime farmland to other uses anywhere in the City

· Develop a "Green Vision" planning option with reasonable job growth numbers below ABAG projections, and with housing numbers that do not exceed a 1:1 Jobs:Employed Resident ratio. These are feasible numbers that keep development within the City's existing footprint without exporting housing needs to other cities and counties.

We live in a time of crisis and opportunity. We could repeat the many mistakes of previous decades, expanding development outward instead of making it more vibrant, quite possibly at the expense of making existing areas less vibrant by sucking development away from the City and into Coyote Valley. We could condemn thousands of acres of farmland immediately abutting San Jose, spreading the sprawl that currently washes from San Francisco to San Jose and bringing it so close to Morgan Hill that the alleged Coyote Valley "Greenbelt" would convert into a new wave of sprawl that merges San Francisco through San Jose all the way to Gilroy. Or we – starting with your leadership - could choose a different future.

You have the opportunity to transform the growing Silicon Valley into the "Silicon Archipelago" whose shores begin at San Jose. Cities of economically vibrant, high-tech development would be surrounded by productive farmland and environmentally vibrant, natural open space. The San Jose/Alviso/Milpitas area, excepting development merging with Santa Clara, already qualifies with open space and Baylands on three sides. The wonderful news just this week about protection of 966-acre Rancho San Vicente adds to this legacy, a feat that was possible expressly because Coyote Valley development has been stopped so far.

San Jose has Tule elk grazing within City limits. It has one of the best wildflower displays in the state. It has the Everglades of the West being restored to the north, and verdant river and creek courses connecting natural areas. What is missing is a vision that commits to protecting these areas, along with the farmland that physically connects natural areas together and connects the present and future San Jose to its past.

Everyone without their heads in the sand knows that the future of the climate crisis will require different planning from the past, stopping outward-sprawling expansion and preserving nearby farmland that bring us nutritious food from nearby - not from another hemisphere. You have the opportunity to plan for this future that preserves what we have and will make San Jose, and the greater region, a much better place. Please do this, and leave aside the proposals that move in the wrong direction.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another victory for the environment - Rancho San Benito proposal withdrawn

Great news in the Hollister FreeLance:

DMB informed San Benito County officials today the company has
officially withdrawn its proposal for the 6,800-unit El Rancho San Benito
development northwest of Hollister off Highway 25, a planning official confirmed
to the Free Lance. DMB representatives submitted the withdrawal letter to the
county today and attributed the decision to the ailing economy, said Art
Henriques, county planning director. "They indicated in the letter, clearly,
there's a lot more going on in the world than just this project in San Benito
County," Henriques said. "They have a significant company that is dealing with a
global economy."

I'm sure economic conditions played a big role, but so could environmental opposition. While the project is in San Benito County, it is right across the county line from Santa Clara County and can have negative impacts on both counties. For example, below is a letter CGF wrote to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors:

May 4, 2009

Santa Clara County Board of

Re: The environmentally-destructive Rancho San
Benito Proposal bordering Santa Clara County

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors;

We wish to bring to
your attention, and hopefully your engagement as a priority, the issue of a
proposed massive development called Rancho San Benito that is immediately across
the county border in San Benito County. This proposal would construct
6,800 residences and funnel the traffic onto highways heading up into Silicon
Valley. The development would occur in the vicinity of the Pajaro River
floodplain, one of only two wildlife corridors connecting The Santa Cruz
Mountain Range with Mount Hamilton Range and the rest of California. The
development would convert agricultural land to other uses in area that is still
relatively close to massive Bay Area population but still undeniably viable for
farming and ranching on both sides of the county border.

Given the
above, the Committee for Green Foothills Board of Directors resolved on April
29, 2009:

1. that Committee for Green Foothills opposes the proposed Rancho San Benito in San Benito County, a massive development project adjacent to Santa Clara County; and
2. that Committee for Green Foothills urges Santa Clara County to oppose the Rancho San Benito project and to work to minimize the project's environmental harm to Santa Clara County;

We understand that other environmental organizations in the Bay Area and in San
Benito County share our concerns, and we urge the Supervisors to make this issue
a priority.

Thank you for your time, and please contact us if you
have any questions.

I delivered that letter on Tuesday and gave a public statement, and was informed that the Supervisors considered it a sufficiently serious issue that scheduled a special hearing on it.

Also below is a letter we wrote but didn't send yet to San Benito County (needs to be revised now, obviously):

San Benito County Board of Supervisors
Mr. Art Henriques, County Planning

Re: Opposition to the environmentally-destructive Rancho San Benito Proposal

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors and Mr. Henriques;

The Committee for Green Foothills' mission is to protect open space and natural resources in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Protecting these counties necessarily overlaps with protecting similar environmental qualities with neighboring counties including San Benito County. While we do not regularly operate in San Benito County, we recognize that stopping sprawl, reducing traffic, protecting air quality, preserving farming and ranching, and keeping viable and healthy populations of fish and wildlife are issues that cross county borders.

For all these reasons, the Committee for Green Foothills' Board of Directors decided in April to officially oppose the unnecessary and environmentally-destructive Rancho San Benito Proposal. This proposal to create a large new city in San Benito County without incorporating the new city will have significant traffic impacts, in effect "jumping the line" of every single commuter in San Benito County today that heads north for work. The proposal would impose a city, unnecessarily, in the vicinity of the Pajaro River corridor, a crucial environmental corridor of streams, natural habitats, and farmland that keep the California coastal mountain ranges connected to the Mount Hamilton Range and the rest of California. The proposal would harm the farming and ranching business in an area where that business is currently thriving, and recreate the same urban-agricultural interface that has created problems in the past.

These are only some of the potential environmental problems of the Rancho San Benito Proposal. Given the redevelopment possibilities elsewhere, there is no need to consider this project. And these impacts are not just limited to San Benito County – the same traffic impacts, Pajaro corridor impacts, and farming impacts will occur in Santa Clara County. For those reasons, we have already asked the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to oppose this project and to closely monitor and be involved with environmental planning for the project.

If the project proponents and the County decide they will continue planning this project, it will be essential that an extremely thorough environmental review accompany the project. The project will likely require many environmental mitigations to reduce its environmental impacts, if it is approved at all. It may very well additionally require significant downsizing from the current proposal of 6,800 residences. The best approach is simply not to start.

We anticipate that if this planning continues, we will continue to monitor it closely, as well as ensure that Santa Clara County does its share of due diligence over the issue.

We thank the Supervisors for their time, and please contact us if you have any questions.

Previously we wrote a comment letter to the Notice of Preparation for the environmental report. I attended a meeting in San Benito County and another in Monterey County about the project, and several in Gilroy that partially concerned it as well. While CGF was one of several groups showing their concern, I think the fact that environmental groups weren't going to let this project skate by with minimal review was obvious, and played a role in the decision to pull it.

The future of the south Santa Clara County and San Benito County, or at least a hopeful future, is not Silicon Valley sprawl. It's a Silicon Archipelago, of vibrant towns with housing and jobs, surrounded by a rural atmosphere that people love to reach, and not miles of suburbia. Rancho San Benito adds nothing to existing towns and cities, and instead detracts from them as well as threatening farmland and natural lands. This proposal stopped for the time being at least, and that's a very good thing.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Tom Jordan: An environmental perspective

CGF Board Member and former CGF President Tom Jordan gets a wonderful and well-deserved retrospective of his environmental career at the Palo Alto Weekly:

With his law office in San Jose, Jordan became chairman of the San Jose
Goals Committee, a quest to make the rapidly developing City of San Jose a more
attractive place. "Our No. 1 recommendation was to hire a professional planning
director for the city," Jordan recalled. At the time, the city's public works
director, who was in charge of roads and sewers, also handled city

"San Jose was growing rapidly, absolutely everywhere," Jordan said. "You'd
drive down to the south or east and go through 300 yards of orchard -- and then
there'd be a housing development."It's not so much that it was bad; it was just
completely unplanned."

The city hired its first professional planner. "He did quite a bit to make
San Jose look better than it would have without him," Jordan said.

Later in the 1960s Jordan joined the board -- and became president -- of
the Committee for Green Foothills, a nonprofit organization protecting local
open space, which counted acclaimed novelist Wallace Stegner its first president
in 1962.

It was because of the Committee for Green Foothills' "squeaky clean" reputation, Jordan thinks, that he was asked to head up the "residentialist" forces in an epic Palo Alto political battle in 1967, when a pro-development group attempted to recall the entire Palo Alto City Council.

As they say, read the whole thing. And congratulations, Tom!