Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More good news! Santa Clara County joins the ban on single use takeout bags

Yesterday, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to enact a ban on single-use takeout bags.  With reasonable exceptions, it bans plastic bags, bans paper bags with less than 40% recycled content, and requires a 15 cent fee on paper bag use to encourage the use of reusable bags.  We thank Supervisors Shirakawa, Cortese, Kniss, and Yeager for their votes. Supervisor Yeager in particular has been supporting this issue for several years. President Cortese also rightly applauded the cooperation by the California Grocers Association on this matter, which I've seen personally at the city and county level.

You can watch the Supervisors here (Item 7).  A Mercury News report is here.  We have been following this issue for years in San Jose, Morgan Hill and elsewhere in addition to the County level, and are glad to see it succeed.  Below are CGF's latest letter to the Supervisors and video testimony by CGF Advocate Julie Hutcheson.  Next up is to get the remaining cities in our area and elsewhere to move forward.


CGF letter:

Dear President Cortese and Board of Supervisors:

The Committee for Green Foothills proudly supports the staff recommendation to enact a ban on single use takeout bags (Item 7 on tomorrow's agenda), noting that staff's proposed ban includes certain exceptions such as the use of recycled-content paper bags sold at a small fee, exceptions for certain items and for the economically disadvantaged.

Similar actions have been taken by cities in Santa Clara County, most notably San Jose with approximately half of the County population.  Staff's proposal would bring the vast majority of the geographic area of the County in rough conformity on takeout bags, and constitutes a significant step forward in protecting resources and in protecting our streams, protecting San Francisco and Monterey Bays, and the Pacific Ocean from this destructive and unnecessary pollution.

We are happy to answer any questions and urge you to pass the takeout bag ban ordinance per staff's recommendation.

Brian Schmidt
Committee for Green Foothills

and video (speakers were only allowed one minute):

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Good news! CGF successfully urges San Jose and Santa Clara to provide an Environmental Alternative at the Water Plant

(We submitted the comments below as part of a long-running CGF campaign to protect the natural habitat near the Santa Clara San Jose water plant near Alviso.  You can watch the San Jose discussion here, and I spoke at the 2:40:00 mark.  The City Council appears to have listened and will include an "Environmental Alternative" for further consideration in the environmental planning.  As the process continues, we'll continue to fight for our local natural habitats.  -Brian)

April 15, 2011

Santa Clara and San Jose City Councils

            Re:  providing an "Environmental Alternative" for the upcoming review of the Water Pollution Control Plant

Dear Santa Clara and San Jose City Council Members;

Both San Jose City Council (in Item 7.4) and Santa Clara City Council (Item 7C-4) are considering the forthcoming environmental review for the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan.  For nearly a year, practically every environmental organization concerned with this area has sent a single clear message that has been rebuffed.  Our urgent request is to include for consideration an "Environmental Alternative" that does upgrade the treatment facility but does not convert a significant portion of the footprint to an unnecessary expansion of the existing office space glut.  We simply ask that the Cities simply consider keeping these 2,000 acres in their present, modern, and compatible use of wastewater treatment, environmental benefit and restoration, and low-impact public recreation.

Now is the time to begin planning the environmental review, and we request that both of your City Councils advise planning staff that a reasonable range of alternative must include this Environmental Alternative.  This is emphatically not the No-Action Alternative, a false choice that handcuffs environmental restoration to an increasingly outmoded treatment system.  The public, and no less yourselves as decision-makers, deserve the right to make a choice that does not include nearly-identical commercial/industria/retail development on still-available open space.

For your convenience, we are reprinting below the body of the first joint letter sent in June 2010:

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.

While there have been subsequent improvements in the planning, there is still no proposal set forth to consider this Environmental Alternative.  Numerous subsequent letters by the organizations jointly, separately, and by individuals have re-emphasized this option, with no indication yet received that it will be forthcoming.

We understand the reasoning that leads planners to think of economic advantages to developing this open space, a reasoning that often, and often erroneously, drives every other plan to pave and build over.  If that is the path that is ultimately taken by the decisionmakers and the public, then so be it, but good planning, responsiveness to environmental need, and the law itself demand consideration of the Environmental Alternative.  We urge you to help this happen.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

(As an experiment, we'll see if we can include below the video segment of when I spoke at the City Council.  It's only 1 minute long, so it will include speakers before me and after me.  -Brian)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

CGF comments on the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan

(We submitted the comments below on the County's Habitat Plan.  To follow along, the citations can be found here.  -Brian)

April 18, 2011

Cori Mustin, Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist

Ken Schreiber, HCP/NCCP Program Manager
County of Santa Clara Executive's Office

            Re:  Comments on the Draft Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan

Dear Cori and Ken:

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan:

Implementing Agreement:

7.4.3 Neighboring landowners:  we understand the reference and description of farmlands to exclude horse stabling except for purposes of horse breeding, and also to exclude recreational equestrian uses.  The reference to "associated activities such as … vehicle or horse use" is assumed to mean using vehicles or horses for the purposes of facilitating the previously described agricultural practices.  The above assumptions conform to the normal description of agricultural practice in Santa Clara County that excludes horse boarding stables and recreational equestrian uses.  If these assumptions are incorrect, then the language should be changed to specifically exclude horse boarding stables and equestrian recreation.

8.2.1. Exemptions:  the reference to "Table 6-10" should be "Table 6-1".

9.2.1. Conservation Easements:  if conservation organizations other than Implementing Entity hold the easements, the easements must also identify the Wildlife Agencies as third party beneficiaries.  This should be expressly stated in section 9.2.1.

9.4 Stay-Ahead or Rough Proportionality Requirement:  the language on page 30 stating "the Implementing Entity will fulfill the requirements of this Section and Chapter 8.6.1 so long as it ensures the pace…does not fall behind the pace at which Covered Activities impact habitat by more than ten percent…." presents a potential conflict with language in Chapter 8.6.1 (at 8-26) stating Habitat Plan requirements in Tables 5-11 and 5-13 still apply and must be met by Year 45 or Year 40.  To eliminate confusion, the IA language should be changed to read ""the Implementing Entity will fulfill the requirements of this Section and Chapter 8.6.1 so long as,subject to restrictions in Chapter 8.6.1, it ensures the pace…." (italicized language added).

In addition, the "Stay-Ahead" terminology is inaccurate because the Habitat Plan does not require the mitigation pace to stay ahead but instead allows it to fall as much as 10% behind.  The only term that should be used is "Rough Proportionality".

9.4.1 State and Federal Funding:  it is unclear when in the course of the permit term that the Plan will ensure that state and federal lands purchases "will not be credited towards SCVHP mitigation requirements" because this section states these purchases will be credited towards the rough proportionality requirement.  To take an extreme example, it appears under this provision that for an initial period of indefinite length, no land could be purchased for mitigation purposes, and 18,000 acres described in Chapter 9.4.3 could be purchased by state and federal funds, yet the rough proportionality requirement would still be satisfied.

If the intent regarding rough proportionality is to credit state and federal purchases toward a recovery pace requirement only, then that would solve the above problem but should be expressly stated.  If not, then there should be some other periodic check-in to ensure that mitigation is keeping pace with impacts and is not being obscured by the early application of enhancement land purchases.

If the Plan relies on purchases dedicated only to recovery to demonstrate rough proportionality, then it risks failing to actually achieve rough proportionality at a later point, because the Plan will have failed to increase mitigation requirements when it could have at an earlier point, and there will be no opportunity to return to prior-approved projects, particularly private projects, and request additional mitigation.

Draft Habitat Plan

Chapter 5:

General Comment:  for the reasons stated in the letter of April 18, 2011 from the De Anza College Wildlife Corridor Technician Program commenting on the Habitat Plan, the Plan should do much more for both 1.  permanent protection of lands in  Mid-Coyote (and we include North Coyote Valley area as well), and 2.  interim protection of lands in the same area pending future development.  The De Anza Program letter focuses on permanent protection and on Mid-Coyote, but their arguments can also be applied to North Coyote and to interim protection.

We support permanent protection for all the reasons stated in the De Anza letter.  In addition, permanent protection is at least partially compatible with urban development in Coyote Valley, because the proposals for urban development would not occupy 100% of the land.  Plans such as the now-defunct Coyote Valley Specific Plan acknowledged a role for natural open space.  It is conceivable that even with urban development, significant amounts of natural open space would be available in Mid and North Coyote flatland in the vicinity of Fisher Creek, along the southern boundary of Mid Coyote, areas adjoining the recently-purchased Open Space Authority land at the terminus of Palm Drive, and along the northern border of North Coyote/southern edge of Tulare Hill.   Fee title and easement purchases would be appropriate in all those areas. Small areas of permanent valley-floor protection could also be useful linkages for insects and native plants between Santa Teresa Hills and the Mount Hamilton range, and useful for research purposes.

Interim habitat protection and enhancement could also serve recovery goals.  The Habitat Plan acknowledges the negative temporal impacts if an interim period occurred between an impact and its mitigation, so the positive temporal impacts of an interim protection that might not be permanent should also be included.  Equally important, there is no binding commitment by the City of San Jose to allow permanent development of the majority of Coyote Valley, so that development might not happen.  This means the Habitat Plan's interim protection has the possibility of becoming permanent protection, and is all the more valuable.  Finally, the Plan anticipates a recovery trajectory for habitats and species in the Study Area, so interim protection can provide bridging benefits until new land can be purchased, rehabilitated, and enhanced.

Specific comments on Chapter 5:

Table 5-1a Objective 2.4 Species movement via Coyote Valley:  the Plan should purchase permanent or interim fee title/lease or easements in Coyote Valley, especially near Fisher Creek and other water bodies, near Palm Drive, near the north edge of North Coyote Valley, and near important crossing points  for  Highway 101 and Monterey Highway, and manage the properties to facilitate wildlife movement.

Table 5-2b Page 9 Directed Studies:  a new directed study should purchase land or easements in Mid and North Coyote and manage it as grassland to determine its value as annual grassland, its native plant value, its usefulness in linking insect and native plant communities across the Valley floor, and as nesting and overwintering burrowing owl habitat.

Table 5-9 Ref #10:  native species likely use this linkage also include coyote, ground squirrel, and mountain lion.

Table 5-21:  a footnote 5 is in the table, but no footnote 5 appears afterward.

Figure 5-9b:  it appears unlikely that there are only two culverts on Highway 152.

Chapter 6:

Table 6-1, page 3:  we understand the exemption for areas mapped as "landfill" does not include areas that are not yet landfill but are planned to be incorporated into a landfill, such as adjoining habitat near Kirby Landfill.  The exemption should not encompass these neighboring areas.

Chapter 8:

8.6.1 at 8-26 Measurement of Stay Ahead:  the language here regarding a 10% deviation conflicts with language in Implementing Agreement 9.4, and the IA 9.4 language is preferable.  Here, the requirement for no more than a 10% deviation implies that achieving over 110% of the conservation pace expected at the particular time is non-compliant, which should not be the case.  Instead, the IA 9.4 language that requirement means the pace "does not fall behind by more than ten percent" is better, and it allows for large land purchases that may bring the total to over 110% of the expected pace.  Similarly, the concave (upper) curves on Figures 8.4a and 8.4b should be deleted.

8.6.2 at 8-32 Interim Conservation:  this section refers to Figure 5-12, but no Figure 5-12 is included in Chapter 5.  It may actually be a reference to Figure 5-4.

Chapter 9:

9.4.1 at 9-30 Nitrogen Deposition Fee:  it is crucial that this relatively modest fee be retained in the Habitat Plan funding in order to accurately reflect actual costs caused by development, and to incentivize development that produces fewer vehicle trips.  Modifications that reflect the increase costs of longer vehicle trips could be appropriate, but elimination of this fee would impose improper burdens on others who are not creating the impacts described.

9.4.1 at 9-37 Temporary Impact Fee:  the description of temporary impacts on page 9-37 as those that "alter cover for less than one year and that allow the disturbed area to recover to pre-project" conditions appears to conflict with the formula on page 9-38 that allows the impact to occur for multiple years.  If this is for frequent, returning impacts, the language should be clarified.

Temporary impacts to grassland should be allowed in-lieu mitigation through interim grassland conservation actions in Mid and North Coyote Valley, such as temporarily enhancing the existing baseline conditions to facilitate grassland and wildlife linkage uses.  This comment also applies to Page 9-45, Implementing Conservation Actions in Lieu of Development Fees.

9.4.2 at 9-49 Land Acquisition by Other Local Land Agencies, Non-Profits, and Foundations:  this section should note that much if not nearly all of these acquisitions are likely to be limited to promoting recovery and not used as mitigation.

9.4.3 at 9-53 Measuring State and Federal Contributions:  see comment regarding Implementing Agreement 9.4.1 (If the intent regarding rough proportionality is to credit state and federal purchases toward an enhancement pace requirement only, then that would solve the above problem but should be expressly stated.  If not, then there should be some other periodic check-in to ensure that mitigation is keeping pace with impacts and is not being obscured by the early application of enhancement land purchases.)

Table 9-1 Remedial Measures:  the word "construction" after "Remedial Measures" should be deleted, because remedial measures deal with a wide variety of changed circumstances beyond just that of construction.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CGF Position Statement on the proposal to destroy farmland for east-side Gilroy high speed rail station

(CGF issued the following position statement earlier this year.  -Brian)

Committee for Green Foothills
Policy Opposing a Proposed Eastern Location for the Gilroy Train Station
February 16, 2011

Committee for Green Foothills is reviewing the as-yet incomplete information on the alignment and potential impacts of High Speed Rail between San Jose and Merced.  Even at this early stage, however, we are deeply concerned about the proposed location of a Gilroy train station on working farmland east of Highway 101.  This location could cause a significant loss to vital urban edge agriculture that currently limits destructive sprawl. This loss would result both from the footprint occupied by the station and by the tracks leading north and south from the station. The east station would pull Gilroy development in general away from downtown and towards outward sprawl - directly aimed at the stronghold of Santa Clara County agriculture currently existing to the east and south of Gilroy.  The station would increase the likelihood that the rail alignment from Gilroy to San Jose would further destroy even more farmland on its route.  

Additionally, the proposal would orient the train station to servicing cars instead of public transit.  A downtown location would encourage customers to arrive and depart by public transit, while the Highway 101 location would require auto use.  The potential Highway 101 station would make it easier for sprawling hillside subdivisions to be created an hour's drive away in multiple directions from Gilroy, where commuters would drive in on the highways and then take the High Speed Rail to their jobs.

Placing the station east of Hwy 101 in Gilroy completely ignores and is counter to the HSR Authority’s prescribed criteria for HST Station Area Development: 1
·          To be considered for a station, the proposed site must have the potential to promote higher density, mixed-use, pedestrian accessible development around the station.
·         As the HST project proceeds to more detailed study, and before a final station location decision is made, the responsible local government(s) are expected to provide (through planning and zoning) for TOD around HST station locations.
·         Give priority to stations for which the city and/or county has adopted station area TOD plans and general plans that focus and prioritize development on the TOD areas rather than on auto-oriented outlying areas.
·         As the project proceeds to more detailed study, local governments are expected to finance (e.g., through value-capture or other financing techniques) the public spaces needed to support the pedestrian/bicycle traffic generated by hub stations, as well as identifying long-term maintenance of the spaces.

Committee for Green Foothills opposes any use of the limited transit and high speed rail funding for the further planning of this destructive site proposal.

1. Draft: HST Station Area Development: General Principles and Guidelines, August 6, 2010