Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sprawl effect from San Jose planning scenarios

San Jose has the following scenarios in its proposed General Plan for future growth:

Scenario K - 339,530 new jobs and 158,970 new dwelling units (1.0 J/ER) (Jobs:Employed Resident ratio)

Scenario E - 360,550 new jobs and 135,650 new dwelling units (1.1 J/ER)

Scenario C - 346,550 new jobs and 88,650 new dwelling units (1.2 J/ER)

Scenario J - 526,000 new jobs and 88,650 new dwelling units (1.5 J/ER)

Generally accepted figure is that residences will have an average 1.7 people who are employed full time (or the equivalent of full time when multiple people employed part time are counted). Scenario J has a massive imbalance of housing and jobs. The 88,650 residences will provide housing for 151,000 employees and their families, while the 526,000 new employees will actually need 309,000 residences. The outcome then is that 158,000 residences will have to be built, somewhere, to accommodate these people. Most likely they'll be built in Central Valley, and those employees will be commuting. How this fits the City's claim to be planning for compact development is less than clear.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CGF comments to San Jose City Council Meeting today

(I would have made the comments below to today's City Council meeting on its General Plan, but the mayor cut the time in half. I summarized instead. -Brian)

(UPDATE: The City Council protected Almaden Valley and mid-Coyote Valley, but not north Coyote Valley. So not too bad, but there's more to do.)

I want to address the suggestions in the supplemental documents for this item. The second Supplemental, from June 15, contains landowner suggestions to develop Almaden Valley and Coyote Valley Urban Reserves, and I think Councilmember Liccardo addressed this.

Developers have proposed in the June 3d Supplemental memo, suggesting that Scenario K be modified to add 10,000 residences to the proposed 50,000 jobs in North Coyote Valley. This is a bad idea, maybe the most environmentally destructive one in the packet. I would describe it as a "zombie idea," the walking dead version of the Coyote Valley Specific Plan that we thought we had been put down to rest in peace over a year ago. The proposal is really a stalking horse to get residential development and downplay jobs. All the reasons for not doing this became clear during the collapse of the Coyote Valley proposal and it shouldn't be revived now.

So what would be better? We suggest modifying Scenario K to remove the proposed 50,000 jobs from North Coyote Valley, based on the assumption that the Coyote Valley Research Park permits will expire without being used in 2011, as now appears highly likely. A certain number of the 50 thousand jobs could occur elsewhere, but mostly this scenario could be made much more politically realistic by somewhat reducing the total number of jobs and housing while keeping an appropriate balance. There is no need to expand the city outward and destroy this environmentally crucial area.

All the environmental and economic reasons for not developing urban reserves also apply to CV

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poaching risk for state park shutdowns

The state budget emergency has led the governor to suggest closing most of California's state parks. Henry Coe Park, here in Santa Clara County, is one of the ones at risk, and Supervisor Yeager has proposed a temporary county takeover to keep it open.

One reason to do this is the increased problem of poaching in California. Wildlife is both more plentiful in parks and less wary of hunters, so the parks are targets for poachers. Full staffing by rangers, and the presence of witnesses in the form of park visitors, would be the best way to keep poaching limited.


(Also worth adding is the problem of marijuana growers using public lands, an illegal, environmentally destructive, and potentially violent risk that could increase in closed parks.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rescuing "sustainability" from the vaccuum of meaninglessness

(Below is a piece I submitted to the KQED Perspectives program about the Stanford Sustainable Development Study. Unfortunately they thought the focus was too narrow for the broader Bay Area, but I still think it's worth getting the word out. -Brian)

Everyone talks about "environmental sustainability," but do we know what it really means? Claims of sustainability may amount to little more than greenwashing, with no more content or definition to them than being "Earth-Friendly".

This problem has happened in Santa Clara County, with an unfulfilled promise made by Stanford University. In return for massive development rights, the university promised a Sustainable Development Study to consider the sustainability of future buildout on its core campus land. Stanford recently turned in its Study and the County approved it.

The problem? Stanford refused to study the effect of buildout for more than twenty-five years into the future. But sustainability, if it means anything at all, can't ignore the effects beyond a single generation. Climate change, for example, would drop considerably as a priority if, like Stanford, we refused to consider development and consequences for more than twenty-five years. Stanford might not want to consider long-term sprawl effects, but is a short time frame sustainable?

These aren’t questions about an academic exercise but about the essential meaning of sustainability. Here's how little importance Stanford placed on sustainability – they refused to even define "sustainability" in their Sustainable Development Study. Good definitions exist – just ask former Stanford professor and Obama science advisor John Holdren – but here the long-term timeframe of sustainability definitions lost out to the desire to leave the door open for expanding development.

Being "Earth-Friendly" may now mean almost anything, but we can still rescue sustainability. For example, Stanford did accept that it would do another Sustainable Development Study for its next major permit. Next time, Stanford's famed academic rigor could be applied to the Study itself, with sustainability defined, with measurement criteria included, with performance analyses developed, and with defensible conclusions about the long-term sustainability of its land use. The next Study can still do it right.

If the concept of sustainability is itself going to be sustained, we must give it meaning, and we can't start too soon.

With a Perspective, I’m Brian Schmidt.