Monday, October 26, 2009

Wrap-up: CGF comment letters on Gilroy sprawl applications

(Going through files I remembered two comment letters we wrote on the now-defeated Gilroy sprawl applications that hadn't been posted here. I'm adding them below. -Brian)

Committee for Green Foothills' continued opposition to all Gilroy Urban Service Area expansions
Dear Planning Commission members,

I regret that a scheduling conflict prevents me from attending tonight's Planning Commission meeting, but I wish to reiterate in this letter the Committee for Green Foothills' continued opposition to the three USA proposals from Wren, Lucky Day, and Shapell. We believe these are unwise proposals that should not be considered until the City actually needs them - approvals now will just tie the hands of future Planning Commissions years down the road that will have a much better idea of what best fits the needs of the broader community.

Equally important, any approval of one or all of these projects right now would be a violation of CEQA for the reasons spelled out in the numerous, highly detailed and critical comment letters. The Shapell project in particular is in CEQA violation for similar reasons as the others, particularly climate impacts, and failed to prepare even as much as the inadequate DSEIR found with the other two projects.

We urge you to reject the projects, give a negative recommendation to the City Council, and preserve the opportunity for outward development, if the City needs it in the future, to be used only when necessary and according to a design that can be better determined at that time.

Please contact me with any questions.

Brian Schmidt

October 19, 2009

Gilroy City Council

Dear Mayor Pinheiro and Councilmembers:

The Committee for Green Foothills opposes the Wren and Lucky Day USA Projects (Projects) that are to be considered at tonight's City Council meeting. The City of Gilroy cannot legally approve these projects due to violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, and we urge the Council to reject both projects due to the legal flaws and due to the projects' simply being bad for the City. (We understand the Shapell/Thomas proposal has been withdrawn, and we oppose it for identical reasons). Please note that the Committee retains all legal options to stop the projects if the City does approve them in violation of CEQA.

Climate change impacts dealt with inadequately.

As stated in previous letters and throughout the record for these Projects, the City's failure to establish a threshold of significance for climate change impacts and failure to determine whether impacts from the Projects are significant are violations of CEQA. Those violations remain unchanged in the FSEIR. In particular, the failure to acknowledge the impacts' significance means the City decision, if it approves the Projects, lacks the legally-required statement of overriding considerations and findings of infeasibility for alternatives or mitigations.

The FSEIR does contain a number of changes from the DSEIR that fail to mitigate climate change impacts or, even if they could change those impacts, constitute substantial new information that require recirculation of a revised DSEIR.

The changed Climate Change Program "mitigation" does not mitigate the Projects' impacts because neither the Projects nor subsequent development at the Projects are required to comply with the Climate Change Program. The Program as written also contains flaws that allow significant climate impacts:

Timing. The requirement to "prepare" a Climate Action Plan within 36 months does not mean "adopt" the Plan with 36 months.

Targets versus requirements. The Plan is to reference AB 32 levels for greenhouse gas emissions for its "targets," without saying those targets are mandatory requirements.

Consistent versus not-to-exceed. The Plan will establish targets that are "consistent" with AB 32 but does not specify whether exceeding the targets by some percent could be consistent. The City may end up with a Plan that it might deem consistent with AB 32 while allowing excess emissions that could constitute significant impacts under CEQA.

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan applicable to these Projects does not include mandatory requirements for compliance with AB 32 or any other proposed significance threshold under CEQA. Furthermore, and unlike the discussion of the Climate Change Program which said the Program "will include" the listed components, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan "could include" the listed components, leaving open the possibility that any of the listed components could be excluded despite being feasible mitigations that might reduce the Projects' impacts. Eliminating all net increases in greenhouse gas emissions from the Projects is a mitigation that could have been applied here, but the failure to do so without findings of the mitigation's infeasibility violates CEQA.

Finally, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan does not include any standard to eliminate climate change impacts from the Projects entirely, or even to reduce emissions by any measureable amount. While both the Climate Change Program and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan are improvements over the status quo, as implemented here they do not eliminate the significant climate change impacts from the Projects.

The Committee stands by our other criticism of these Projects, and urges the City to reject them.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, October 23, 2009

Great news from Gilroy - last two remaining sprawl proposals defeated

(I just wanted to put a link to this Gilroy Dispatch article, and we'll add more later. -Brian)

Citing uncertainties over environmental reports, the council voted 4-3 - with Council members Dion Bracco, Bob Dillon and Craig Gartman dissenting - against two annexation requests that would eventually lead to residential development. Gillmor's Lucky Day Ranch application proposed the incorporation of 285 hilly acres straddling Burchell Road north of Hecker Pass Highway for up to 193 homes and 244 acres of open space and parks - just a sliver of the applicant's original proposal to annex 2,014 pristine acres stretching up to the Corde Valle Golf Course in San Martin. The council also rejected a separate application from Wren Investors to annex 48 acres near Christopher High School for up to 430 dwellings.

Environmentalists, rural residents and county representatives encouraged the rejections by arguing that at least 2,100 additional residents, about 4 percent of Gilroy, will tax the city's stressed school and emergency services. That many new residents could cost the county and Gilroy hundreds of thousands of dollars over a 10-year period, according to staff projections that considered property and sales tax revenues against city and county expenses on the hypothetical residents.

"We've just gone through a huge budget crisis and are looking to hire more police (officers) and (firefighters) just to catch up," Council member Peter Arellano said. "I'm not looking forward to trying to find another amount of money to catch up with these developments."

Opponents also stressed that Gilroy - which has exceeded its self-imposed growth limit - already has enough vacant land to develop 3,500 homes over the next 11 years, according to conservative city estimates. They also decried the projects' preliminary environmental reports as lacking carbon footprint analyses and avoiding scenarios based on an exact number of homes. Other residents had simpler concerns about the region's tranquility.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A short CGF interview

(Experimenting with our new video camera. I interviewed CGF Board Member, Tom Jordan -Brian.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

CGF at Morgan Hill City Council

Morgan Hill puts its City Council meetings online, so I wanted to point to two items where we were involved.

We announced our Nov. 7th event on the South Valley in Gilroy:

City of Morgan Hll City Council Meeting 10-7-2009 Part 1 from Larry Talbot on Vimeo.

(You need to let it buffer for a few minutes and then move to the 11:15 minute mark.)

Also, I summarized our concern about the proposed outward expansion of Morgan Hill into farmland:

City of Morgan Hll City Council Meeting 10-7-2009 Part 2 from Larry Talbot on Vimeo.

The item starts at minute 22, citizen comment at minute 33:30 with me first, then followed by Julie Hutcheson and Beth Wyman. The City Council made sympathetic noises about the concerns we raised, but unfortunately they then just did what staff recommended. We'll just have to follow the EIR process to make comments.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Lunar impact, light pollution, and the sky above South San Francisco Bay

At 4 a.m. last night (this morning?), my friend Ted and I were on Skyline Drive in San Mateo County, finishing setting up a 12-inch telescope that we share. We were attempting to watch the explosion from the NASA LCROSS satellite hitting the moon, and like most observers, we didn't see an explosion. Still, we had some great views of the moon and the Orion Nebula, so it was still worth it.

We went up to Skyline to escape the fog blanketing lower areas, and we ended up having some of the best night skies I've seen in the area, because the fog blanked out most of the light pollution from down below.

It was a great reminder that one of our natural resources that Committee for Green Foothills seeks to protect is our dark skies and the ability to see the stars. When we fight the ridiculously light-polluting lamps spilling out from the Lehigh-Hanson quarry, that's just one example, and we're watching for other problems as well.