Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good news - Santa Clara County Supervisors reject Planning Commission advice to weaken water conservation standards

Yesterday I attended the County Board of Supervisors meeting, where they were considering a new landscaping water conservation ordinance.  The Planning Commission had recommended several steps to weaken the ordinance proposed by County Planning staff, which was strange because the staff version basically followed the state model ordinance, and state law says the alternatives must be at least as effective in water conservation.

Committee for Green Foothills spoke against the proposed changes, and I'm relieved to announce that the Supervisors voted unanimously for the staff version.  There was a proposed change that would eliminate maintenance requirements, which would be a very bad idea, and it's not totally clear to me whether that flaw has been fixed - we'll have to see when the draft ordinance comes out.

Overall, some good news at yesterday's meeting!

-Brian Schmidt

Monday, September 27, 2010

Letter to Santa Clara County on Parkland Acquisition Plan

(Committee for Green Foothills submitted the letter below to Santa Clara County Supervisors on improving the Parkland Acquisition Plan.  -Brian)

September 27, 2010

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

            Re:  Item 20, Study Session on the County Parks Acquisition Plan – comment for the Study Session and response to the Draft Summary of Public Workshops

Dear President Yeager and Board of Supervisors:

CGF submits the following comments on the County Parks Acquisition Plan as well as some disagreement with the Draft Summary of Public Workshops ("Summary") for the Parks Acquisition Plan.  As an initial matter, we thank County Staff for all the extensive outreach work that they did.

On page 8 of the Summary, the document states there was confusion in the public comments relating to "the appropriateness of using the Park Charter Fund monies to acquire lands for [County Habitat Plan] mitigation not related to the mission of the Parks and Recreation Department."  We don't believe this summary captures the point that CGF and others were expressing.

We have two concerns regarding the relationship between the Park Charter Fund and Acquisition Plan on one side, and the County Habitat Plan on the other.  First, to the extent that the Park Charter Fund is used to mitigate impacts created by other County government agencies, an environmental benefit that would otherwise accrue to the taxpaying public has been lost.  This is because to the extent used as mitigation, the benefit of preserving endangered species habitat will be balanced with an equivalent level of harm caused to endangered species habitat by other County agencies.

Second, the criterion in the draft Acquisition Plan that would support acquiring parkland that fulfills the County Road Department mitigation requirements under the County Habitat Plan (phrased as fulfilling "Valley Habitat Plan Priorities" on Page A-4 of Supp. Info. 1a on the agenda), has the exact negative effect that Committee for Green Foothills predicted three years ago when we opposed this use of Park Charter Fund.  We said the effect would be to skew the acquisition process, from the endangered habitat that is most in need of preservation to habitat the Roads Department and other County agencies want purchased.  This appears to be happening.  We also anticipate that removing the obligation of County agencies to pay for habitat mitigation will also remove their incentive to minimize the impact.

For the above reasons, the Committee for Green Foothills supports an increased emphasis on parkland acquisition that protects endangered habitat, but not one that changes the benefit of increased protection into the neutral value of mitigation that only balances habitat destruction.  We request that acquisition emphasize the protection of endangered species habitat that is not needed by other County agencies to mitigate their habitat impacts.

We also request that the Draft Summary be amended to reflect the concerns listed above, concerns that were presented at one of the Public Workshops.

Please contact me with any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Advocate, Julie Hutcheson, joins Committee for Green Foothills

(We're extremely happy to have Julie join our team and expand our efforts to help preserve the natural resources, working farmlands, and native habitats of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.  -Brian)



 Environmental group hires new Legislative Advocate
Activist will join Brian Schmidt and Lennie Roberts as County watchdogs

PALO ALTO, CAEnvironmental nonprofit Committee for Green Foothills announced today that the organization has hired local activist Julie Hutcheson to serve as the organization’s third County Legislative Advocate.  Hutcheson will join longtime Legislative Advocates Brian Schmidt and Lennie Roberts, who will also continue to work on open space issues throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
Hutcheson, a native Canadian and long time Morgan Hill resident, has been involved locally advocating for preservation of farmland, improving and sustaining smart growth and quality of life, and open space protection.  She is the founder of Thrive! Morgan Hill, was active in the 2009 Measure A campaign for the Downtown Morgan Hill, has been an advocate of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Business Advocacy Committee and the Environmental Affairs Council.  

 “Julie brings to our team a strong working knowledge of county issues and policies.  Her first-hand experience with local land use issues and grassroots organizing is invaluable to the Committee’s work in the County,” said Cynthia D’Agosta, Executive Director.  “We are excited about adding her expertise and passion to our team of Advocates and increasing our capacity to fight for protection of local lands for future generations.”

About Committee for Green Foothills
Committee for Green Foothills is a regional grassroots organization working to establish and maintain land-use policies that protect the environment throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.  Committee for Green Foothills, established in 1962, is a Bay Area leader in the continuing effort to protect open space and the natural environment of our beautiful area.  For more information about the Committee, visit
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Post by CGF Intern Anthony Aerts

(CGF Intern Anthony Aerts gave us this final write-up about his time with us this summer.  Thanks for all the help, Anthony!  -Brian)


My Time at CGF

Today was the final day of my summer internship with CGF. It’s hard to believe that ten weeks can go by so quickly. During my time here, I was fortunate to be given the responsibility and independence to complete three diverse projects. I was also lucky to be able to work and learn from both Brian and Cynthia on a one-on-one basis. For ten weeks, I felt not like a grunt worker, but a part of the CGF team.
Some of my earliest work consisted of researching the current hillside development regulations in place for various jurisdictions in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. I collected data from the each jurisdiction’s zoning code for relevant regulatory measures. These measures included green building standards, house size limits, building height limits, light reflectance values, and transferable development credits. As a final product, I combined these findings into a forward-looking project proposal for future hillside development research to combat urban sprawl in the Bay Area.

Second, I worked closely with Cynthia to develop a write-up on the historical ecology of the San Francisquito Creek watershed. This watershed will face many biologic and jurisdictional challenges in the years to come, and CGF may have a role to play. My summary was used to compliment the more extensive cultural study done on the Creek’s lower watershed by co-intern, Annika Christensen. Hopefully this project can be of use to the debate and planning around one of Santa Clara’s most valuable natural resources.

Finally, the project which required most of my time involved creating, with Brian’s help, a position statement on subsidized water for urban edge farms. While subsidies are normally discouraged by environmentalists when they lead to waste, we had reason to believe that this label may not necessarily be appropriate for urban edge farms who engage in water conservation practices. CGF considers all farms in Santa Clara County to be urban edge. As such, they provide many environmental benefits as buffers to urban sprawl and preservers of cultural/historic values. I was fortunate enough to conduct informational interviews with five farmers in the region, and the testimony I collected formed a supporting document to the position statement. We concluded that water subsidies do play a role in helping these urban edge farms stay economically viability and continue to provide the above mentioned environmental benefits. This project was an important exercise in unifying the visions of the farming and environmental communities; something that will be increasingly important for both sides going forward.

I appreciate all that I have learned here at CGF and all of you who I met this summer. 

Happy trails -- Anthony

Thursday, September 9, 2010

CGF Comments on the draft Stanford HCP and EIS

(We submitted the comments below on the draft Stanford HCP.  -Brian) 

August 30, 2010

Sheila Larsen
Gary Stern
Fish and Wildlife Service and
National Marine Fisheries Service

            Re:  Comments on the Draft EIS and HCP/ITP for Stanford University

Dear Sheila and Gary:

Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) submits the following comments on the Draft EIS (DEIS) and HCP/ITP (HCP) for Stanford University:

I. Relationship to Searsville Dam and operations

The EIS, on pages 3-24 and 3-25, discusses an alternative that covers modifications to Searsville Dam and Reservoir for Flood Control, and concludes that this alternative was rejected from further consideration because no specific modifications have been evaluated for feasibility, and there is a large array of flood control measures that the Army Corps and the JPA will be analyzing and considering in the future.  The EIS does not discuss an alternative that covers modifications to Searsville Dam and Reservoir for the purpose of benefitting steelhead.  The HCP (Section 1.3, page 11) states that future structural changes to the dam could be covered by an addendum to the HCP.

Potential removal or modifications of Searsville dam to allow fish passage, while potentially beneficial for fish, could also have potentially adverse impacts to steelhead downstream of the dam due to increased sedimentation of the main stem of San Francisquito Creek. The large sediment load that originates in the Corte Madera Creek sub-watershed currently accumulates in large part behind the dam.  Searsville Lake and associated marshes and riparian areas provide habitat for species that would be greatly altered if the dam were removed.  These unknown impacts, particularly to aquatic avian species and bats, could outweigh the benefits of increased spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead upstream of the dam.   Downstream sedimentation associated with removal or modification of Searsville and potential increases in flood hazards in East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park is another complex issue that must be carefully studied and thoroughly evaluated.

CGF supports a comprehensive study of options for Searsville Dam and Lake in collaboration with Stanford and other stakeholders.  Such a study should include analysis of beneficial and adverse impacts to species as well as downstream flood hazards.  CGF does not oppose inclusion of a sufficiently-comprehensive study in this HCP, even recognizing that such a study would necessarily delay the HCP.  CGF further believes, however, that a comprehensive study could also be done as an amendment to the HCP/ITP.

II. The HCP and DEIS fail to address the Stanford Sustainable Development Study

The wholesale failure to include discussion or analysis of the Stanford Sustainable Development Study (Sustainability Study) constitutes a significant oversight in the HCP and environmental review.  Stanford authored both the Sustainability Study and the Draft HCP, making the oversight particularly jarring.  Correcting this oversight will require significant rewriting of the HCP and EIS to reflect the Sustainable Development Study's conclusions about the amount of campus development that will be needed to occur beyond the Academic Growth Boundary (AGB).

The land outside the AGB and subject to the Sustainability Study analysis is likely to contain the majority of habitat potentially affected by the HCP, so conclusions in the Sustainability Study about level of anticipated development should weigh heavily on the assessment of anticipated impacts from the HCP.  Historically, the level of development of Stanford land in San Mateo County has been quite small – most development occurred in Santa Clara County.  The vast majority of habitat in Santa Clara County is outside the AGB.  Important exceptions occur in the vicinity of San Francisquito Creek and Lake Lagunita, but both of those areas will be subject to special restrictions in the HCP. 

The Sustainability Study analysis covers approximately half the time period of the proposed HCP, also making it highly determinative of projections for the second half of the HCP time period.  There is no reason for assuming a sudden explosion of development after the current General Use Permit and Sustainability Study analysis end, so the best practice would be to rely on these existing analyses to project outward for an additional 25 years.

III. The HCP and DEIS overestimate the amount of habitat that Stanford may want to impact

HCP and DEIS should examine actual habitat development rates under the GUP for purposes of projecting future needs.  The DEIS states that under the existing GUP, Stanford "could" develop up to 30 acres of potential habitat.  DEIS at 3-2.  No citation is given for this statement, and the GUP in any event is not the final word on new development at Stanford.  To assess future habitat development rates based on the GUP, the HCP should instead examine what acreage of habitat has been developed in the nearly 10 years that the GUP has been in place.

The 180-acre estimate double-counts the 30 acres for the GUP.  As discussed below, the projection of 50-150 acres of anticipated development overstates the existing trends and contradicts Stanford's own analysis.  Even if the trend of 1-3 acres annually were correct, however, that would cover the time period and geographic area of the GUP.  There is no analysis supporting the conclusion that Stanford would damage habitat at its pre-GUP rate, and then in addition to that impact, would destroy another 30 acres through the GUP.  The already-inflated and incorrect 150 acre estimate of habitat impact forms a ceiling.

The Sustainability Analysis estimates significant constraints on future development that need to be included the HCP analysis.  To our knowledge, the Sustainability Study is left unmentioned in the HCP and DEIS, especially its conclusion that essentially no development need occur beyond the AGB in Santa Clara County.  While it is not binding, the Sustainability Study is Stanford's own analysis of future impacts that it should not ignore simply because it is not currently discussing the sustainability of development patterns.

The Sustainability Study indicates the level of impact on acreage beyond the AGB should be near zero for the 25 years covered by the Study, and the HCP impact levels should be adjusted to the reflect that fact.  The Sustainability Study further indicates a likely constrained level of development in other habitat areas and constrained development in the area beyond the AGB after 2035.  No evidence has been provided for a different trend in the future than the trend anticipated by Stanford itself in its own study.  That trend should be extended forward to cover the period of the HCP.

Simply put, the HCP and DEIS provided an incorrect trend line for anticipating future habitat development that would require a permit.  It has not provided a habitat development rate for recent years under the GUP, nor has it included the constraints on development that Stanford itself acknowledged in the Sustainability Study.  Reduced impact figures should therefore be included as constraints on the terms of the HCP.

IV. Stanford's authority over the land trust significantly reduces the trust's ability to do its job and avoid conflicts of interest.

The land trust that is to be the recipient of conservation easements from Stanford needs to be completely independent of Stanford and ready (if needed) to even bring legal action against Stanford to enforce the easements, yet Stanford is given authority to set up the trust with no details on how that will happen.   Establishment of a trust directed in whole or even in part by persons receiving paychecks from Stanford would create irreconcilable conflicts of interest, as Stanford's ability to exercise control over its employees could influence whether the trust could exercise its legal obligation to protect the conservation easements.  Disclaimers that "Stanford would never do such a thing, even 50 years from now" are wholly irrelevant, whether such disclaimers are accurate or not.  The conflict of interest exists regardless of good intentions.

The trust also needs sufficient resources to monitor and defend the easements that it owns.  This could include litigation both litigation and ability to call on independent scientific expertise.  The land trust needs to be adequately funded by Stanford[1], and run by worthy people nominated by Stanford in advance of approval, who are not Stanford employees, and who appoint their own replacements so that Stanford has no subsequent appointment power.

V. Additional issues

            CGF provides the following short-but-important comments:

The HCP needs to integrate and work with downstream impacts of San Fracisquito Creek on endangered species.  The San Francisquito Creek flood control project in particular should be discussed in the HCP as an opportunity for potential cooperation.

The HCP needs further specificity in describing areas that are to be preserved away from the riparian zones.

            Undevelopable areas placed under conservation easements should not be credited to Stanford as mitigation for development elsewhere.  In particular, streambeds are essentially undevelopable.  Stanford will never have an opportunity to develop those areas and creation of conservation easements therefore does nothing to mitigate impacts elsewhere.  The conservation easements should have to extend an additional distance away beyond streambeds to include areas that have some potential for development in order to act as real mitigation.

            As the red-sided garter snake habitat is unprotected and increasingly likely to be destroyed south of Stanford, it is also likely that intergrade garter snakes at Stanford will increasingly belong to the San Francisco garter snake gene pool and should be treated as a listed species.


            We urge the HCP and DEIS be revised to reflect the comments in this letter.

            Please contact us with any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt                                                                                    Lennie Roberts
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County                                                 Legislative Advocate, San Mateo County

[1] One possibility is a funding agreement with Stanford that allows the trust to obtain funding from Stanford for consultants and even to oppose the university, such as in an enforcement action.  This agreement would have to be clear in that there could be no possibility for Stanford to evade its responsibilities, and also requires a truly independent trust to function.