Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An easy (and resounding) Stanford trails victory for the environment in San Mateo County

This morning, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed their 2008 decision to reject Stanford's environmentally-destructive proposal to widen the Alpine Road sidewalk.  Stanford made the proposal in order to avoid constructing a trail on its property that it had promised in the 2000 General Use Permit that Stanford received from Santa Clara County.  The sidewalk expansion would have had significant impacts on the creeks and the local community, with almost none of it on Stanford land.  Committee for Green Foothills even litigated against the project, although the litigation was dismissed over a technical issue.

San Mateo County also reaffirmed their prior proposal that the money for this very expensive proposal instead be spent in a grant program that could actually succeed in mitigating the impacts from Stanford's new development.

The decision helps in two important respects.  First, the original decision by San Mateo County Supervisors in 2008 resulted from the leadership of two supervisors, Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon, neither of whom will still be at the County after this year and able to provide institutional memory.  This new decision reiterates the resolve of the supervisors who will still be around in 2011 and onwards.

Second, the agreement between Stanford and Santa Clara County states that Stanford has through the year 2011 to persuade San Mateo County to accept the sidewalk expansion.  Afterwards, Stanford must give the money to Santa Clara County Parks Department to mitigate Stanford's impacts - unless Santa Clara County agrees to give Stanford yet another two years to change San Mateo County's decision.  By taking this decision, San Mateo County has clearly indicated it will not change its mind, and that Santa Clara County should not cause more needless delay of the environmental mitigation that Stanford promised a decade ago.

Great work by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.  The ball is now in the court of Santa Clara County and Stanford to do the right thing.


UPDATE:  Here's the letter that CGF prepared, but turned out to not even be necessary (the Board of Supervisors thought the issue was so uncontroversial that they passed it as a "consent" item without need for discussion):

November 29, 2010
President Rich Gordon and
Members of the Board of Supervisors
400 County Center
Redwood City, CA 94063
Re:  Item #10 on the November 30, 2010 Board of Supervisors Agenda: Resolution Reaffirming the Decision of the Board of Supervisors to Reject an offer from Stanford University for a Trail on Alpine Road
Dear President Gordon and Members of the Board,
Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) strongly supports the Board’s reaffirmation of your February 12. 2008 decision to reject Stanford University’s offer of $8.4 million to widen the Alpine Road sidewalk, and instead request that Santa Clara County establish a regional grants program to mitigate the impacts caused by Stanford’s General Use Permit, issued in 2000. 
The expansion of the existing sidewalk along heavily travelled Alpine Road would disproportionately impact the Stanford Weekend Acres community and would not provide true recreational opportunities.  There are many potential trail connections and/or improvements in the communities surrounding Stanford that a regional grants program could facilitate.
Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County Legislative Advocate

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CGF comments on small-scale commercial solar facilities in Santa Clara County

(We submitted the following comments on small scale solar facilities and zoning for them in Santa Clara County.  -Brian)

Dear President Yeager and Board of Supervisors:
I regret that I will not be able to attend today's Board Meeting.  I would like to note that in addition to the written input described by staff transmittal memo, the Committee for Green Foothills testified at the Planning Commission meeting on this item.  We identified the difficulty with this issue is that it is difficult to tell at the present time whether small scale commercial solar will be only a minor addition to our rural landscape over time, in which case it is a useful if minor benefit, or whether it has potential to transform hundreds of acres to a new developed use, and should be scrutinized much more carefully.
We were glad to suggest a major review in three years to consider how solar is proceeding, and we appreciate the support from the Planning Commission for this and the other changes that we suggested.  I would suggest the Board direct staff to ensure the review in three years is put on the calendar.
The other issue where CGF expressed admittedly-vague concerns is regarding decommissioning.  Solar panels after their life span could be unsightly and interfere with other rural land uses.  They also contain toxins, and decommissioning could be expensive, raising the concern that it might not occur.  The review in three years should consider whether to require bonding for decommisioning purposes. 
The one additional suggestion CGF makes today is that the permits for commercial solar be given an expiration point after 20 years.  Staff expects that many panels would be replaced with upgrades, and a landowner in that case would likely want to renew their permit.  At that time it would be very easy to make decommissioning a condition of renewal.  As this change is just an additional mitigation, no additional environmental review would be required to add it to the proposed ordinance.
Please contact us with any questions.

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills