Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Comments on Water District concerns about riparian protection

(We submitted the comments below on attempts to fight poor implementation of riparian protection policies in Santa Clara County.  -Brian) 

October 25, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

            Re:  Agenda Item 12, BMR-10-0064 regarding exceptions to riparian ordinances

Dear Chair Santos and District Board Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills agrees with the Staff recommendation that the two options that Staff identified for performance evaluations of riparian protections would likely be unproductive for the cost involved.  However, it may be productive to broaden the BMR to consider more generally whether land use agencies have provided the adequate riparian protection that was the necessary counterpart to revoking Water District Ordinance 83-2 as well as the decision to desis from expanding the District's permit authority to a 150-foot buffer.  The BMR might also consider whether the District could do more to assist in the application of adequate riparian protection policies.

I would encourage consideration of specific examples to see whether the protection the District sought through expanding Ordinance 83-2 has been achieved under present conditions.  Several examples that immediately spring to mind include:

·         Los Altos Hills, with a 25-foot riparian buffer policy.

·         Los Gatos and the development recently proposed along Ross Creek.

·         San Jose and the relatively recent development projects on Duckett Way and Guadalupe Mines Road.

In each case the District might analyze whether it could help with riparian protection under current policies.  For example, in the case of the Guadalupe Mines Road project, the District submitted a useful comment letter prior to the initiation of CEQA review for the project, but the District did not comment on the CEQA document itself and did not provide comments when the project approval was appealed by environmental groups and another governmental agency, the Guadalupe Coyote Resource Conservation District.

We believe that more can be done to improve riparian protection.  Because we are aware of interest in different cities for improving policies (for example, San Jose's proposed Draft General Plan revision to reduce exceptions to its 100-foot buffer policy), we think this could be advanced in a way that shows the District's concern but is still productive and cooperative.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, October 22, 2010

CGF Letter requestion adequate time to comment on massive proposal on the Coast

(CGF Legislative Advocate Lennie Roberts sent the letter below requesting adequate time to comment on the newly-released document for the Big Wave project on the Coast.  -Brian)

October 10, 2010

David Bomberger, Chair and
Members of the Planning Commission
455 County Center, 2nd Floor
Redwood City, CA 94063

Re:  Request for Extension of Time to 60 days for Public Review for Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), Big Wave Project

Dear Chair Bomberger and Members of the Planning Commission

On behalf of Committee for Green Foothills (CGF), I am requesting a 60-day public review period in order to give the public and responsible agencies sufficient time to review the FEIR for the Big Wave Project.

As you know, the Big Wave Project, as proposed and described in the DEIR, is enormously complex, and includes residential, office, manufacturing and warehousing uses, as well as an onsite wastewater treatment plant, onsite wastewater recycling, conversion of an onsite agricultural well to domestic and industrial use, and solar, wind, and natural gas power generation.

The DEIR, along with its Technical Appendices and Facilities Plan, was over 2,000 pages long.  It was a daunting task to digest and comment on the DEIR.  The public is keenly interested in the project as evidenced by the 245 written comments on the DEIR.

CGF believes that given the complexity of the proposed project and the high level of interest/controversy it has raised, it is vitally important for the County to allow sufficient time for thoughtful review of the responses to comments.

Therefore, CGF respectfully requests that the review period for the FEIR be extended to 60 days.

Thank you for consideration of this request.


Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

cc:        Jim Eggemeyer, Director, Planning and Building Department
            Camille Leung, Project Planner

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comments on Water District Ends Policy Workshop

(Yesterday I attended the Water District Board workshop on changing its overall guidance policies. In addition to attending, I spoke at the meeting and submitted the letter below.  It might help to read the Board materials for October 20, 2010 and Agenda Item 4 to understand the letter I submitted. We did get some action on one item, but the others will have to wait another day. -Brian)

October 20, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors

            Re:  Agenda Item 4, Ends Policy Workshop and Recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee

Dear Chair Santos and Board Members;

I submit the following comments on behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills regarding the Ends Policies recommendations of the Environmental Advisory Committee.  We thank District Staff for their work with the EAC and other committees, and for Staff's support of the large majority of Ends Policy changes that the EAC has recommended in recent years.  In some cases discussed below we disagree with staff on certain recommendations, and in others we believe that staff misunderstood the purpose of the recommendations.

My comments refer to Attachment 2, Advisory Committee Recommendations:

Policy 1 E-2, language regarding change in winter storms from a mix of rain and snow to mostly rain.  The staff response misunderstands this recommendation to deal with water supply, possibly considering it a reference to Sierra snowpack changes.  It actually concerned our local hydrology, where winter storms that currently deliver snow at high elevations will increasingly switch to rain throughout, with a possible increase to flood risk.  While Executive Limitation EL7.7 on understanding climate change impacts might apply here, the EAC hasn't been informed that flooding forecasts have actually been analyzed to consider this issue.

Policy 2 E-2, language on policies for geographic areas outside of the District.  Staff misunderstands this recommendation to refer to adequate supplies of imported water.  It actually referred to the environmental impacts the District doubtless has on geographic areas through our imported water use and other potential effects (examples may include downstream flooding on the Pajaro and operation of the San Luis Reservoir).  The idea is that the District's interest in minimizing its environmental impact extends beyond District boundaries.

Policy 7 E-4, language regarding habitat conservation plans.  We may need more specifics on this recommendation from the EAC's July 2010 meeting.

Policy 10 E-4.1.3, recommending a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore the natural physical stability/dynamic equilibrium of streams."   Staff disagree with this recommendation for two reasons.  First they say (correctly) that the concepts are considered at Staff level.  While true, the question is whether Objectives set by the Board provide sufficient direction for Staff to execute the Board Policies.  The existing Objective most closely related to this issue is E-4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources."  (See Attachment 6, page 1.)  The opinion that EAC members and subcommittee members have expressed is that Objective 4.1.2 does not provide adequate direction.  While details done at Staff level are helpful, they do not make up for inadequate direction given at the Board level in the Objectives.

The second objection raised by staff is that many factors need to be balanced for District projects.  The EAC concurs and raises no objection to existing Objective 4.1.1, "Balance water supply, flood protection, and environmental stewardship functions."  The proposed Objective no more conflicts with this balancing provision than does existing Objective 4.1.2 to improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources.

Policy 11 E-4.1.4, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance and restore thriving populations of key species indicative watershed health." The same issue arises here as above, that Staff interpretation does not remove the need for adequate Board direction, and Objective 4.1.2 is too general to provide adequate direction.

Staff also state that restoring habitat is better wording than restoring species.  If the Board agrees with Staff, then the solution here would be to reword this Objective rather than reject it outright.

Policy 12 E-4.1.5, a new Objective to "Protect, enhance, and restore riparian and in-stream and tidal habitat conditions conducive to watershed health, including diked historical bay land wetlands and former salt ponds."  Same issues as with the previous two Objectives, that existing Objective 4.1.2, "Improve watersheds, streams, and natural resources," does not provide real direction to Staff.

We appreciate Staff's support for Policies 14 and 15, as well as Staff support for many EAC policy recommendations that have already been incorporated into Board policies.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Letter to San Jose on Brookside Estate project

(We wrote the following letter to San Jose City Council saying that we weren't going to litigate over the flawed Brookside Estate project, but that we would follow up on better riparian protection policies and on followup approvals for that project.  -Brian)

October 12, 2010

San Jose City Council

            Re:  Brookside Estate project on Guadalupe Mines Road

Dear Mayor Reed and City Council Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills believes that the Brookside Estate rezoning project on Guadalupe Mines Road suffers from both legal flaws and policy flaws.  The legal flaws stem from the beginning of the project when environmental groups were not notified of the environmental review, and from the dismissive response of a Negative Declaration for a project that uproots hundreds of trees, requiring years and decades before the replacement trees will grow to size (if they actually grow successfully).  Legal flaws also include the vast expansion of the use of the site from the limited intensity of activity only during the work hours for five days a week, to a 24-hour, seven days a week activity of nearly 90 residences.  Policy flaws include the significant job losses to the City from the permanent jobs from the company that is presently on the site, to the decision to ignore the recommendations of both Planning staff and of the City's Planning Commission and exempt this project from the 100-foot riparian buffer policy that the City talks so proudly about in other contexts. Flaws also include a lack of contact or follow through with regulatory agencies, ignoring that that there are special status species in the vicinity, and a faulty method of determination of ‘riparian edge’.

Despite all the above, and while the Committee for Green Foothills has openly considered litigation regarding this project, we are also aware of good faith efforts by staff, the Mayor's Office, and by Council Members Kalra and Pyle to address the issue of stream protection.  While every effort would be made to separate that work from ongoing litigation, some defensiveness is inevitable. 

Given the potential conflict, the potential for progress on overall policy, and the subsequent planning that will still occur on the Brookside Estate project, the Committee for Green Foothills' Board of Director members support a dual path in lieu of litigation at present, where the Committee will stay intensely involved in all subsequent planning for Brookside Estate, and the Committee will be involved with better overall policies.

We hereby request that from this time on, unlike the previous practice, that we and all other environmental organizations be notified of any project, permit, or environmental review related to Brookside Estate.  We appreciate the willingness to improve the present policy, and hope to achieve substantial improvements to protect the environment and surrounding community near the Brookside Estate project.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Letter to Palo Alto City Council on house size limits in Foothills

(We wrote the letter below urging the City to adopt maximum house size limits to control monster mansions in the foothills.  Unfortunately the City declined to do so after some landowners called for time for "present restrictions to work."  We'll have to give it a little time, and then try again.  -Brian)

September 29, 2010

Palo Alto City Council

Dear Mayor Burt and City Council Members;

The Committee for Green Foothills regrets that the Palo Alto Planning Commission, in our opinion, failed to follow City Council direction to provide real options on house size limits.  Instead the Commission returned to the Council a simplified recommendation that provided fewer options than what the Council originally had, when it directed to the Planning Commission to research this issue.  We accordingly recommend that City Council take no final action on this issue at the Monday meeting, and instead direct staff to create a range of house size options and provide them to the City Council at a later date.

Please see the attached letter from Committee for Green Foothills dated February 18, 2010 that explains the appropriate reasons for house size limits and our suggestion of how they could be done.

In its simplest form, the question is whether the Buckingham Palace should be considered a single family residence for an elderly couple.  If you agree that is an inappropriate designation, then we need to work on specifics, and these were not given to the City Council.  The "one size fits all" category of 12,000 square feet with additional loopholes fails to provide a range of real options, as well as being so loose as to be nearly meaningless.

The one idea not mentioned in our February 18 letter is to encourage the City Council to direct staff to provide an open-ended exemption.  Let an applicant demonstrate through the applicant's own creativity and diligence that the proposal exceeds the environmental value of a smaller project, and it could be approved.

Finally, if the City decides not to impose realistic limits, we request that you direct staff to consider development restrictions that encompass the many environmental parameters that are not addressed under current development standards, like the carbon footprint from increased transportation for the staff needed to service monster mansions, the increased habitat loss from the need to construct a defensible fire perimeter around large structures with large perimeters, and changed hydrology from increased impervious surface area relative to smaller structures.

We encourage you to consider the specifics listed in our letters, and ask that you direct staff to return to you with additional ideas.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County