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The Fight for Coyote Valley Continues
Yes on Measure T: Another Opportunity to Protect Coyote Valley
Main Article of the November-December issue of The Avocet, written by Dashiell Leeds and Shani Kleinhaus
SCVAS has been fighting development in Coyote Valley for decades, with the hope of saving this important habitat for birds and wildlife, and restoring historical landscapes of wetlands, oak woodlands, and valley floor grasslands. In June, we successfully campaigned against San Jose Measure B and averted residential development in Coyote Valley. However, the risk of industrial development in North Coyote Valley remains.
On November 6, San Jose voters will have the opportunity to vote YES on Bond Measure T to secure and preserve land in North Coyote Valley. Measure T will allow the City to allocate $50 million dollars for the purchase of land in Coyote Valley, which will then be preserved to prevent flooding and water quality contamination. San Jose has recognized Coyote Valley’s critical role as a natural floodplain and aquifer, and seeks to protect the land from construction and industrial development. Outside the scope of Coyote Valley, Measure T also allocates funds for urgently needed infrastructure improvements in San Jose, such as repairing deteriorating roads, bridges, and sewage systems.
Coyote Valley by Ralph Schardt
A Crucial Place for Wildlife
The open space of North Coyote Valley is crucial to the lives of many species. Over 224 species of birds have been observed in the area. One can often see large flocks of mixed blackbirds sweeping across the sky. Water sources and alfalfa provide a feeding ground for many different species of insectivores. One might spot the raptors of Coyote Valley—hawks, eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls—swooping down to feed on mice. A fortunate spectator might catch a glimpse of a rare Ferruginous Hawk, or even a Burrowing Owl that spends its winters in Coyote Valley. Among the birds observed in Coyote Valley, 22 species are of special concern, threatened, or endangered.
Mammals also rely on Coyote Valley. Deer and Mountain Lions use Coyote Creek as a pathway to move across the valley. Bobcats and Coyotes also use the valley as a breeding and foraging habitat. For many species, Coyote Valley functions as a bridge between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range.
Water Quality and Flood Prevention
The natural ecosystem of Coyote Valley is essential to the lives of humans as well. The Coyote Creek Watershed covers over 320 square miles, and is the largest watershed in the Santa Clara Basin. Open space in Coyote Valley naturally absorbs and filters rainwater to recharge underground aquifers. In a future made uncertain by climate change, we must do everything in our power to protect naturally occurring sources of clean water for future generations.
Coyote Valley Open Space also acts as a giant sponge, absorbing storm water that would otherwise flow into Coyote Creek. On February 22, 2017, San Jose experienced a massive storm, causing water to overflow Anderson Dam and spill into Coyote Creek. When Coyote Creek could not hold all of the water, it surged over the creek’s banks, forcing the evacuation of over 14,000 people and causing over $100 million in property damage. Had Coyote Valley been built out, this devastation would have certainly been far worse. Global climate change is causing more extreme weather patterns to occur more frequently and a flood on the scale of February 2017 is likely to happen again. We must protect Coyote Valley, for it is truly our last line of defense in the event of another major storm.
Peace of Mind for a Valley Under Siege by Developers
As has been previously reported in The Avocet, Coyote Valley has been under the shadow of devastation since the 1980s, when the City of San Jose first designated the ecologically diverse area of North Coyote Valley for industrial development. Since then, Coyote Valley has been repeatedly threatened by massive construction projects, which have been resisted by community members, SCVAS, and other environmental organizations.
In 1981, the ROLM Corporation sought to build a new manufacturing plant in Coyote Valley. ROLM withdrew its proposal after pushback from community members and environmental organizations. In 1983, 5,000 acres of residential development were proposed. Although the City decided not to allow residential construction, it designated North Coyote Valley as a site for industrial development. In 1999, Cisco attempted to build a 6.6 million square-foot campus in Coyote Valley. Thanks to litigation by the Sierra Club and SCVAS, this project was delayed and ultimately defeated. In 2000, San Jose created the “Coyote Valley Specific Plan,” which called for massive industrial, commercial, and residential construction. After meeting strong resistance from the community and from environmental organizations, San Jose backed away. North Coyote Valley, however, kept its designation as a site for industrial development.
If Measure T passes, Coyote Valley may no longer be targeted for industrial development. Instead, the City may join forces with open space agencies in recognition of the crucial role that the Coyote Valley plays in the lives of San Jose residents. In complete reversal of San Jose’s decades old industrial policy, the siege of Coyote Valley will finally be lifted. After decades of struggle, this vulnerable land may be permanently protected.
Looking to the Future
In Measure T, the City of San Jose has embraced the philosophy of using green infrastructure and nature to protect the city. This is a major reversal of previous policy, and is a worldview that can bring us forward into a more sustainable future. We encourage San Jose residents to vote YES on T. For more information and to volunteer for the campaign, see safersanjose.org.
Photos by Ryan Phillips (left), Merav Vonshak (right)
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has been fighting to preserve open space in Coyote Valley for decades. At 7,400 acres, the valley between San Jose and Morgan Hill is breathtaking in its beauty and is critically important for resident and migratory bird species, wildlife, and water supply.
In the 1980’s, San Jose City Council designated North Coyote Valley for industrial development. Later, the City of San Jose designated Mid Coyote Valley as urban reserve, and South Coyote Valley as protected greenbelt, but North Coyote Valley - the most ecologically important area of the Valley, is still designated for industrial expansion.
Why is it important to protect Coyote Valley?
• Birds: over 215 species of resident and migratory birds have been observed in the mosaic of habitats in North Coyote Valley. Many of these species are protected by state and federal law, but the habitat that supports them is not protected - it is our quest to protect it.
• Mammals: The valley with its open space and and waterways forms an important link in connectivity for wildlife in California between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Mount Diablo Range. This land connection is especially critical for large animals such as deer, bobcat, badger and mountain lion.
• Water: North Coyote Valley is crucial to water supplies for San Jose residents. At 322 square miles, the Coyote Watershed is the county’s largest. During the wet season, Coyote Valley swells with water: heavy rains are absorbed by soils and dispersed into wetlands, contributing to San Jose's flood control capacity and recharging the aquifer.
What you can do
Please visit protectcoyotevalley.org to pledge your support! And please - tell your friends and neighbors about the valley and the threats to its future!
A Win for Wildlife!
In late February 2018, we learned that a site immediately adjacent to Coyote Creek in South San Jose was being considered for a bridge housing community. While SCVAS is supportive of transitional housing for the homeless, we believe this site is not in an appropriate location for a bridge housing community considering the sensitive riparian habitat and the distance from public transit and amenities (it’s isolated in an industrial area). We wrote a letter to City Council urging them to drop the site from consideration and instead expedite the process for a more appropriate site in District 3. Just a few days later, we learned that the site was removed from the list and the land will soon be transferred to County Parks!
Nurturing Nature in San Jose Parks - San Jose's Greenprint Update
In our ever-expanding cities, nature often gets tossed to the wayside and considered only as an afterthought. However, parks can play a vital role by providing critical wildlife habitat in urban landscapes, and so we continue to advocate for a focus on nature in various cities’ parks plans. For the past year, we have been engaged in the steering committee for San Jose’s update to its Greenprint - a long-term strategic plan that guides the future expansion of San Jose’s parks. In November 2017, when the City Council was presented with an update on the Greenprint process, we encouraged them to include nature and habitat quality when assessing existing parks and identifying future park sites. Thanks to support from Councilmember Don Rocha, our recommendations were added to the motion and approved unanimously by City Council.
Photo: Western Bluebird in a San Jose park, by Mackenzie Mossing
Almaden Lake Open Space and Wildlife Corridor Saved!
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society advocacy team worked closely with Almaden Valley residents in opposition to a proposed housing and trail development on a hillside near Almaden Lake. This land on Winfield Road, at the edge of the City’s boundary, was designated private open space in the 1980’s and is used by deer, California quail and other wildlife species as a corridor for moving from the Santa Teresa Foothills to Almaden Valley. Building homes here would have significantly degraded the aesthetically pleasing views of the hillside from Almaden Lake Park and Alamitos Creek Trail. We felt that protecting the views, the wildlife habitat and the wildlife corridor was far more important than few luxury housing units and public access everywhere. With the community and other groups, we provided comment letters, engaged in advocacy with decision makers, and helped gather over 1200 signatures on a petition. In addition, after learning that the land was promised to remain open space forever, Councilmember Johnny Khamis did not support the residential development there. Valley Christian, the landowner, dropped the application and we are glad that the deer, rabbits, and variety of birds that are often spotted on the hillside will remain protected from encroachment on their habitat by inappropriate development.