Santa Clara County lawmakers this week moved to preserve open space, flood plains and wildlife corridors in the Coyote Valley but stopped short of adopting a development ban, despite pleas by environmentalists.
Although more than 1,000 acres are protected from development in North Coyote Valley, the middle and southern sections remain threatened.
Based on a December request from Supervisor Cindy Chavez, the county’s Department of Planning and Development presented options for protecting the agricultural and open space. Chavez requested the administration to move forward with a Climate Change Overlay Zone, which includes incentives and requirements for landlords to limit development, at an expedited rate.
A Climate Change Overlay Zone would help protect Coyote Valley, officials said, and could provide steps toward its permanent preservation as a landscape critical to climate change resilience.
Environmentalists say Coyote Valley is well-suited for mitigating the effects of climate change, providing greenbelt protection and flood reduction and aquifer recharge. But while officials recommended creating the zone, they stopped short of proposing a development ban due to the small number of permit requests the county receives.
County officials said such a ban requires a “current and immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare.” They recommended, however, monitoring new development requests and returning to the board should a threat emerge.
Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, urged the board to adopt both the climate action overlay and development ban. Mackenzie said development applications continue to pour in on substandard lots in Coyote Valley.
“We are aware of such building applications currently pending,” Mackenzie said.
San Jose is considering changing its urban reserve designation for Mid-Coyote Valley, Mackenzie said, which would allow for increased development applications.
“There are a significant number of substandard parcels in mid and South Coyote Valley which, if developed, would allow hundreds of new homes, each with their own impacts,” Mackenzie said. “These impacts are detrimental to the very resources the climate change overlay zone seeks to address.”
Alice Kaufman, legislative advocacy director for Green Foothills, said a new zoning policy and development ban could prevent further loss of open space farmland and impacts to wildlife, creeks, groundwater and flood resistance.
“A few (developments) every year is still a continuous loss of the open space and the environmental values of Coyote Valley,” Kaufman said. “We would like to see discussions continue on a moratorium. … We really need to preserve what we have right now while these further protections are being developed.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman said the small number of permit applications received make implementing a development moratorium unnecessary. Wasserman said it’s important for property owners to maintain their right to build a home.
“I’m thankful we can continue to allow new homes while protecting the land, water, habitat and air quality of the Valley,” Wasserman said.
Chavez directed officials to move forward with the Climate Change Overlay Zone by or before San Jose takes action on its General Plan, affecting Coyote Valley. She also asked staff to explore incentives for landowners and alert the board of any new development applications.
Her motion passed unanimously.
Justin Wang, advocacy manager at Greenbelt Alliance, told San José Spotlight an overlay zone is a critically needed tool to protect the wildlife habitat, creeks and floodplains, groundwater, farmland and other environmental benefits of Coyote Valley.
“With the invaluable ecological and climate resilience benefits that Coyote Valley provides, the Climate Change Overlay Zone will be key in ensuring the sustainability of our region,” Wang said.
Wang said Greenbelt Alliance is disappointed county lawmakers didn’t include the moratorium, but appreciates that they’ll keep tabs on development requests to monitor whether a moratorium will be necessary in the future.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]