In a historic vote, San Jose approves $93M deal to preserve Coyote Valley

    For generations, San Jose has been divided on whether to preserve or develop Coyote Valley, the 7,400 acres of land between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo range. But for the first time in the city’s history, the conversation was finally put to rest–for good — after city leaders unanimously voted on Wednesday to preserve the land in the valley’s northern boundary.

    In a historic vote, local leaders during a special City Council meeting approved $46 million in city funds for land sales to conserve 937 acres once slated to fit 35,000 industrial jobs. But now, the land will instead be kept as a natural open reserve — an option favored by many city officials and preservationists who say the land is key for flood protection and safeguarding the valley’s ecological livelihood. The crowd loudly applauded the councilmembers after the meeting for the unanimous decision.

    The deal is worth $93 million with the Peninsula Open Space Trust pitching in $42 million and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority contributing $5 million for the land sales.

    At a news conference earlier in the day, Mayor Sam Liccardo expressed his support for preserving the land alongside Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, fellow councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Pam Foley, Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas, Raul Peralez and Johnny Khamis, and State Senators Jim Beall and Bob Wieckowski. At the crowded gathering Tuesday, the leaders eagerly thanked their partners for the strenuous preservation efforts they’ve been pushing for years.

    “We do a lot of things in this city. We don’t really know what the impact is going to be on anyone. From one week to one month, because we’re living in a very dynamic fast shifting world,” said Liccardo. “But today we can say we’re doing something that is truly going to be treasured by our children, our grandchildren and many more and so thank you all for being a part of this.”

    The leaders thanked the community for passing Measure T, a $650 million disaster preparedness, public safety and infrastructure bond for the region. Now, the city plans to use $50 million of those funds towards buying and preserving the land, owned by the Brandenburg family and The Sobrato Organization. Brandenburg owns about 572 acres of the land while Sobrato owns a combined 335 acres on two separate sites. The city, along with the Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Santa Clara Open Space Authority, will end up owning the land.

    “Today the City Council’s vote can signal a victory for permanently protecting wildlife habitat, natural floodplains and water resources in one of the Bay Area’s most significant natural landscapes, and for building resilience to future droughts, floods and catastrophic wildfires for the people of San Jose and the surrounding South Bay region,” said Andrea Mackenzie, the open space authority’s general manager. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to preserve this last chance landscape, and we are seizing it.”

    While several environmental leaders praised the city for its efforts, not everyone was happy with Tuesday’s vote. Existing landowners, including individuals and real estate giants, have in the past anticipated developing the land or selling their properties to others — including major tech companies, like Cisco Systems — to develop.

    Many of them didn’t want to preserve the land for open space and conservation. Ken Saso, a landowner whose family has been in the region for almost 100 years, said jobs and housing have been on the table since the 70s, but plans have always fallen through due to fears of flooding or for environmentalist concerns. As a result, the land has lost its value, angering landowners like himself who’d like to sell or invest in it. He claims he’s been excluded from the decision-making process.

    “Before you remove jobs and housing, which I think everybody needs, I think you need to deal with people like us,” Saso said. “This is not my first rodeo. I’ve been working on Coyote Valley with the city since 1974. I know what’s going to happen, and I’ve tried to get on a committee but the mayor’s office and the council haven’t responded.”

    But many councilmembers at the meeting said preservation is critical for taking care of the next generation and enacting environmentally-friendly policies. Despite previous city leaders voting in favor of developing the valley, the current City Council was firm on the belief that preservation is in line with the city’s climate goals.

    “We are focusing our growth right here where it should be — in the core of the downtown — and now finally preserving beautiful open space, like Coyote Valley,” said Peralez. “Today marks an opportunity, which is this tremendous preservation of open space, but it’s an ability to utilize natural lands in enhancing our flood protection capabilities to support those residents that were so deeply affected a few years ago.”

    The city plans on creating a natural preserve, intended to provide public access to parks and trails, while maintaining a critical wildlife linkage and habitat for the hundreds of rare and endangered species of wildlife that move within the corridor. City officials also hope that preserving the land will create an environmental buffer against the threat of wildfires, droughts and floods in the region.

    “We’ve created the environment for the right timing. We’re creating history,” said Carrasco.

    “We don’t get a chance to do something this big everyday,” added Khamis. “I’m delighted to support this.”

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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