For more than five decades, 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. This week, city leaders are expected to make major moves toward preservation.
San Jose elected officials on Wednesday will vote on whether to approve $46 million in land sales to conserve 937 acres once slated to become home to 35,000 disappearing industrial jobs in the northern part of Coyote Valley. If approved, the land would 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 the Valley’s ecological livelihood.
“Coyote Valley has captured the imagination of San Joseans for generations, but also has sat within the crosshairs of development proposals,” wrote Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez and Pam Foley in a memo to the City Council. “Only recently did we start to embrace a more future-focused vision for Coyote Valley — one that views nature and green infrastructure as our allies in the face of climate change.”
But that vision of preservation is relatively new. The land has long been earmarked for jobs, as Silicon Valley’s growing population and companies continue to spill outside of its boundaries.
Existing landowners, including individuals and real estate giants, have in the past anticipated developing the land or selling their properties for others — including major tech companies, like Cisco Systems — to develop.
The debate was reignited earlier this year when the City Council mulled over how to spend $50 million of Measure T funds, a $650 million disaster preparedness, public safety and infrastructure bond for the region.
City officials planned to set those dollars aside for preservation efforts, but Councilmember Johnny Khamis asked to hear from different actors such as environmentalists, developers and landowners to determine if some of the land could be used for economic development, in line with the Envision San José 2040 General Plan.
“North Coyote Valley is an integral component of the focused growth, regional employment center, and fiscally strong city major strategies, since it… represents 16 percent of the city’s total employment lands,” said Kim Walesh, director of the Office of Economic Development. “In protecting North Coyote Valley for open space purposes, it is possible that only a portion of the jobs can be expected to be reallocated elsewhere.”
In the end, preservation won, which is a major policy shift, Walesh noted. City leaders are proposing to use the Measure T funds to buy 937 acres of space in the northern boundary of the valley, 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 will end up owning the land, though a slew of purchases and transfers between the two entities, if the sale is approved.
The city recommends 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.
The catch is that many of the 35,000 planned jobs, which would’ve provided industrial work opportunities for those without college degrees, will not be able to be relocated because there is little land left for such industries to grow in San Jose.
The other portions of the valley, mid-Coyote Valley, is designated as an urban reserve for future mixed-use development, while south Coyote Valley will be used as a permanent “greenbelt buffer between San Jose and Morgan Hill.”
Several local leaders praised the city and its partners for their efforts in conserving the land, citing massive gains for the city as it transitions to greener and environmentally friendlier policy standards, consistent with its Climate Smart San Jose Plan.
“With this agreement, we offer an invaluable gift to our children and future generations,” Liccardo, Jones, Jimenez, Peralez and Foley said in their shared memo Monday. “Our preservation of Coyote Valley makes good on our collective obligation of stewardship for our — and more importantly, their — planet.”
If the purchase is approved at the meeting Wednesday, city officials and regional partners expect to close the transaction with the landowners by Nov. 26.
The City Council will meet at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday inside the council chambers at San Jose City Hall for a special meeting, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.