Op-ed: It’s time to finally protect Coyote Valley
Coyote Valley is pictured at sunrise in this file photo.

Coyote Valley, at the southern end of San Jose, is an open space area marked for development since the 1960s. Only in recent years have we as a city come to realize, not only that sprawling into our open space is a bad idea both from a business and an environmental perspective, but also that Coyote Valley is a unique gem that deserves to be protected for the benefit of all our residents.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council will have the opportunity to choose a new vision for Coyote Valley—one that centers on climate resilience and protections for wildlife, groundwater and local farms. As members of the San Jose General Plan Task Force who voted for this change in policy, we urge the City Council to take this action and finally protect Coyote Valley.

The journey to protect Coyote Valley has spanned many decades. It reached a crucial milestone in 2019 when San Jose, together with the Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, struck a deal to purchase almost 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley for conservation. This purchase was partially funded by 2018’s Measure T, by which voters approved $50 million to acquire this land. The deal left only a few hundred acres of land in North Coyote Valley still in private hands and designated for industrial development.

Last year, as part of the General Plan Task Force, we recommended changing the land use designation for North Coyote Valley—the portion within city limits—from industrial to open space and agriculture. We also recommended removing the “Urban Reserve” designation from Mid Coyote Valley—the portion just south of the city border—to make it clear that San Jose has no intention of annexing Mid Coyote Valley for urban development. It’s now up to the City Council to act on the task force’s recommendations.

Why are these changes needed? Coyote Valley isn’t just the last remaining open space on the valley floor in San Jose—it’s uniquely important as a wildlife linkage, as a floodplain and groundwater recharge area and as farmland.

Coyote Valley’s location makes it one of the only pathways for animals to migrate between the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and the Diablo Range to the east. Without Coyote Valley’s open space, our local population of mountain lions, which has recently been made a candidate for listing as a threatened species under state law, would be at risk of inbreeding due to the difficulty of migrating out of the Santa Cruz Mountains to find mates.

In addition, Coyote Valley provides an important floodplain area that can reduce the risk of downstream flooding like the 2017 floods that devastated homes and neighborhoods along Coyote Creek. Coyote Valley’s high water table and permeable soils also make it a place where our drinking water aquifer can replenish from rainfall. And finally, Coyote Valley contains some of the last remaining prime farmland that can supply our communities with locally grown food.

Protecting Coyote Valley is also a climate change issue. A recent study conducted by the city as part of the Climate Smart plan indicates limiting North Coyote Valley to non-urban uses will have a greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefit equivalent to approximately 94,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2040.

With the current climate crisis, we cannot afford to allow development in Coyote Valley or our other open space. The answer is to densify in our infill areas, thus reducing vehicle miles traveled and building housing that is affordable for the majority of our residents, rather than large estate homes that would fragment our open space.

The days of sprawl development are past. Decades ago, tech companies showed interest in building large campuses in places like Coyote Valley, but no longer. Today, the trend is for such companies to redevelop infill parcels closer to downtown areas. Coyote Valley would only support uses such as warehouses and distribution centers, land uses that provide few jobs. In fact, a preliminary application has been submitted to the city for a 2.3 million square foot warehouse proposal in North Coyote Valley—right across the street from the area protected with Measure T funds.

The choice before the City Council is simple. They can cling to the outdated patterns of the past, disregarding the need to address the climate crisis and to protect wildlife, groundwater and farmland—or they can look to the future and protect this critical open space area for our children and grandchildren. We hope the City Council will make the right choice and protect Coyote Valley.

Leslye Corsiglia is an affordable housing consultant with L Corsligia Consulting. Juan Estrada is an advocacy associate and organizer with Green Foothills and president of District 5 United. Jason Su is executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy. All three co-authors are members of the San Jose General Plan Task Force.

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