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Preventing Development of Water Pollution Control Plant Buffer Lands

Eight South Bay cities and 1.4 million residents rely on the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) to clean and recycle their sewage water. The Plant is run under a joint powers agreement between the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara and also serves Milpitas, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and two unincorporated districts of Santa Clara County.

The Plant acreage lies along the bottom of the San Francisco Bay, adjacent to parts of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and abuts against the 237 Freeway. In 2001 an 856 acre salt pond was added to the 1,627 acres of land that the plant has used to treat sewage since the 1950s. An additional 201 acres are under a Santa Clara Valley Water District Easement.

Advocating for Open Space and Nature

New technology is planned to reduce the size of plant operations and the need for odor buffer zones. The City of San Jose Environmental Services Division (ESD) headed up a Citizens' Advisory Committee to address planning for these public lands. Bob Power was part of this committee and with help from SCVAS Environmental Advocate, Shani Kleinhaus, they successfully advocated for a Burrowing Owl enhancement plan on the site. Burrowing Owls have nested on these lands for many years.

Unfortunately, the planning process presented to the committee and citizens required allocating these public buffer lands to a multitude of new uses including retail and R&D/industrial uses with roadways to serve those new uses. Along with other environmental organizations, SCVAS requested a "no-development" scenario for these public lands.

Open space by the bay is irreplaceable. While SCVAS appreciated the efforts of the ESD planning team to include ecological land uses and recreation, we believe that it is wrong to assign hundreds of acres of public land for additional commercial and industrial development on the bay, especially at a time when vacancy rates of similar developments are so high and climate change is forecasted to raise the water levels on our bay.

Mitigated Negative Declaration comments (PDF) were submitted in June 2011 to the City of San Jose to highlight the precarious situation of Burrowing Owls in the south bay. These comments helped motivate the city to proactively enhance owl habitat.

Our Voice is Heard!

Shani Kleinhaus, SCVAS Environmental Advocate, and dozens of volunteers attended meetings, wrote letters and requested a no-development option for these unneeded buffer lands. Our voice made a difference - at the City Council meeting, council members Liccardo, Rocha, and Kalra, all asked for an environmental alternative to be analyzed.

Paul Rogers' followup story on April 19, 2011 in the San Jose Mercury News reported: "Agreeing with the concerns [of our environmental community], Councilmen Sam Liccardo and Ash Kalra secured a commitment from the staff of the Environmental Services Department to include an option in the environmental study that would look only at modernizing the plant -- which serves 1.4 million people in eight cities -- but add no development on surrounding lands."

It took us nine months of hard work for them to agree with the no-development option. There are decades of projects embedded in this plan, but at least at the beginning, the environment has a chance.

Environmental Review - the Next Step

The City of San Jose, as the lead agency, is currently working on the Environmental Review of the Plant Master Plan, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Shani submitted extensive scoping comments to be considered during this review. Our next step is to evaluate and respond to the Environmental Review once it is published.

How you can help!

• You can help with these or other projects that interest you by becoming a Volunteer for Conservation. We have many ways that you can help from writing letters to joining our Environmental Action Committee (EAC).

• Make a tax-deductible donation to support these and other local conservation efforts.


Updated November 2011.


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