Monday, January 31, 2011

CGF's Action Alert and joint letter on the 2,600 acres of Bayside land in the Wastewater Treatment Plant area

(CGF sent out the Action Alert below regarding the Wastewater Pollution and Control Plant used by San Jose, Santa Clara, and surrounding cities, and situated on 2,600 acres of mostly-undeveloped Bayside land.  -Brian)

Dear Friend,

The 2,600 acres of mostly-natural Bayside habitat visible north of Highway 237 is undergoing a massive planning process that could both help and harm the environment.  This area contains the massive wastewater treatment plant serving San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, and neighboring cities, and the aging plant must undergo major upgrades.  New technologies open up possibilities for restoring natural habitats but also make unnecessary sprawl possible in buffer lands.  Please submit comments by January 30 telling the planners to stop excluding from consideration an Environmental Alternative that keeps the land in its current use of wastewater treatment and natural habitat without unnecessary, unrelated development!

Why this is important
This is one of the largest, if not the largest, Bayside habitat areas in the South Bay that is not permanently protected. Originally the treatment plant needed unoccupied buffer lands because of odors and because of the need for sewage settling ponds.  The uplands of the property function as one of the last strongholds of our diminishing burrowing owl populations, while lowlands are wetlands and former sewage pond buffer lands which offer the extremely rare chance to restore natural habitats.

What's happening
New, closed-building sewage treatment systems eliminate the need for settling ponds and may reduce odors that previously required bufferlands north of Highway 237.  Developers see the possibility of using publicly-owned land for commercial developments, city governments see potential revenues from the developments, but the public can see the possibility of protecting the crucial habitat and getting a tiny fraction back of all that has been lost.

What you can do
The planning process has focused on variations of future plans for the 2,600 acre property, all of them with some valuable environmental components, but all of them also including commercial development.  Committee for Green Foothills and a broad coalition other environmental organizations have been saying for months that the process must include at least one Environmental Alternative that stays with the original uses of the area - water treatment and natural habitat, with only low-impact recreational uses included that do not fundamentally affect the property.

Comments are being accepted at the main website for the planning process:
Please comment by January 30, telling them to stop excluding the Environmental Alternative proposed by environmental groups, and to allow the public consideration of this one alternative that best preserves the environment by excluding unnecessary development that is unrelated to water treatment, leaving the remainder the land as natural and restored habitat.

For more information on the Environmental Alternative, read our letter here:

More information on the plant is here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CGF-Coalition letter on Environmental Alternative for Bayside Water Treatment Plant

(CGF and a coalition of environmental groups sent the letter below last summer about the 2,600 acre wastewater treatment plant area north of Highway 237 that is currently undergoing master planning.  -Brian)

June 28, 2010

Matt Krupp, Project Planner
Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan
Santa Clara San Jose Water Pollution Control Plant

Re: Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan Alternatives

Dear Mr. Krupp,

We submit this position on the Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan Alternatives on behalf
of Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Committee for Green Foothills, Loma Prieta Chapter of
the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, Save The Bay, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge,
Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant
Society, San Francisco Baykeeper, and the thousands of individuals we represent.

In May 2010, after a three-year effort, the planning team for the San Jose-Santa Clara Water
Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) revealed three land use alternatives for the Plant Master Plan.
While we appreciate the attempt to provide alternatives, the alternatives are so similar that they
fail to provide an adequate range of alternatives for good planning. The proposed alternatives
consist of the same elements at various proportions. We argue that the three presented
alternatives fail to analyze an adequate range of possibilities for the treatment plant land, and fall
short of the excellent planning we all hope for. All three alternatives inherently provide the same
option – significant development unrelated to the water treatment purpose of the plant, and
significant development unrelated to the current and historical ecology of the Bay, the land and
nature in the area.

Proper planning requires the development of a truly different alternative. We urge planners to
return to the drawing table and create an “Environment, Ecology and Water Alternative” that
would allow developed land uses solely for development addressing the water treatment purpose
of the plant. All other land uses should be based on the existing environment, view-sheds,
ecology, connectivity, the historic Bay ecology and environment, and recreational uses consistent
with the ecology and the nature of the land and its restoration.

Asking the public to select one of the three proposed alternatives channels the input by survey
participants to a predetermined set of very similar outcomes. The undersigned organizations
request that the planning team develop the fourth “Environment, Ecology and Water Alternative”
and offer it to the public for review.

Brian A. Schmidt                                         David Lewis
Legislative Advocate                                  Executive Director
Santa Clara County                                    SAVE THE BAY

Charles G. Schafer                                   Eileen P. McLaughlin
Chair, Executive Committee                     Advocate, San Jose Shoreline
Loma Prieta Chapter Sierra Club              Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge

Michele Beasley                                      Mondy Lariz
Senior Field Representative,                    South Bay Director
Greenbelt Alliance                                 Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition

Shani Kleinhaus                                        Kevin Bryant
Environmental Advocate                           Chapter Council Chair
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society         Santa Clara Valley Chapter
                                                               California Native Plant Society

Deb Self                                                  Hon. Clysta Seney
Executive Director                                 Former Director, District 3
SF Baykeeper,                                      Santa Clara County Open Space Authority

John Stufflebean, Director
City of Jose Environmental Services Department

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yet another financial model for preserving land

A non-profit founded by rock-climbers, the Access Fund, has purchased a conservation easement on private land near Sonora California to retain public access to a rock-climbing area on the property.  Agreements like this one and trail easements do not guarantee a reduction of sprawl and environmental damage from development, but they help - any development is legally restricted from impairing the access, and that tends to benefit natural resources.

Other interest-based non-profits like Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited have an even longer history of purchasing easements or land to protect their interests.  Not much of that has happened in our area, but we have ducks, trout, and rock-climbing cliffs, so we can always hope it will spread here.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Unaffordable land stunts farming - yet another reason to fight sprawl

Good article in the Mercury News:

Unaffordable land stunts new generation of small farmers in California

PESCADERO -- In 2005, would-be farmers Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson spotted an old barn along Highway 1 that would make a good produce stand, along with 13 acres of prime coastal property, available for $1.25 million. They jumped at the chance to buy it.
"We were incredibly lucky," Vail said. "It's a lot of money, but it's actually pretty good."
Indeed, Vail and Lawson, who operate Pie Ranch, a nonprofit educational farm on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, were lucky to find land to farm.
They are part of a new and growing generation of farmers who aspire to deliver locally grown organic food to their communities but can't usually afford the land to do so.
Access to land is the main impediment to beginning farmers and ranchers today, said Reggie Knox, Central Coast coordinator for California FarmLink, a nonprofit that works to preserve family farming and conserve farmland in California.
"Small farmers like to be close to urban areas," said Knox, who has a long waiting list of people who are looking for affordable farmland. "Land values are going up around all the urban areas, so it's harder to get into land."
But even though the amount of California farmland in production has been falling for decades, and the average California farmer is now 58 years old, the latest agricultural census reveals another trend: The number of small farms -- 49 acres or less -- in the state has grown by more than 4,000 since 2002.
Many of these operations are founded by people in their 20s and 30s for whom earning a profit may be secondary to their real goal of producing wholesome, seasonal food and teaching others about farming.
Most farm program graduates won't be as fortunate as the founders of Pie Ranch, who turned to the Peninsula Open Space Trust to help them buy the first 13-acre parcel and the old barn. The farm produces many ingredients found in a pie, such as eggs to strawberries. It connects high school kids to the land and sells produce in the old barn.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust applied a conservation easement to the land to prevent development. Pending a capital campaign, Pie Ranch will soon own the land outright.
"This is part of a larger vision of a sustainable agriculture corridor from San Francisco down through Santa Cruz," Vail said. "We need to have more farmers, and they need to be able to access land and make a living and pull it off. We can't be the only ones doing that."

This is yet another reason to fight sprawl:  only where land is clearly delineated as urban or rural is there a chance for farmers to buy land for its intended agricultural and ranchland use.  It can be done, but strong policies against sprawl are necessary to foster the growth of small, urban-edge farms.