The Lehigh Hanson Cement Quarry has been polluting air and water in Cupertino for decades, discharging mercury into the air, and selenium, a chemical compound toxic to birds and other animals, into Permanente Creek and area ponds. Endangered species such as the California Red-legged Frog live in the creek and are subject to selenium toxicity. Birds and other wildlife feed on these smaller animals, putting them at risk for bioaccumulation of selenium - a gradual increase in this element may eventually lead to toxicity. Unsurprisingly, the creek is now listed as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. Is this the type of habitat we want to provide for our most sensitive species?
Opened in 1939, the plant has ranked at or near the top for emissions of greenhouse gases and airborne mercury amongst Bay Area industrial sites, making it one of the largest polluters in the region. Between 2009 and 2014, the quarry discharged wastewater containing levels of selenium in excess of its permits into Permanente Creek resulting in a $7.5 million agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in spring of 2015.
In November 2016, we joined approximately 100 people in an annual informational public meeting regarding the quarry. Government agency officials comprised a panel to answer questions from the community and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian. We conclude from this meeting that little is being done to protect the fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds that depend on Permanente Creek for habitat and food. Given the known impacts of selenium on these animals, we are disappointed that government agencies are not acting faster to stop selenium pollution generated by the quarry. We will continue to follow future plans for the quarry and advocate for clean water and air.
Between late 2014 and early 2015, we engaged in a campaign to save the Stevens Creek Corridor nature preserve and park from over-development. As one of the few natural parks left on the Santa Clara Valley floor, the Stevens Creek Corridor is a critical resource for native wildlife in the city, a center for nature-oriented education, and a recreation magnet for birding, walking, jogging, and nature‐play. Over 130 species, including declining populations of state and special status birds, have been documented in the riparian and meadow habitat found throughout the corridor.
In the spring of 2014, the City of Cupertino hired a consulting group to develop three designs (Design Alternatives A, B, and C) for the Stevens Creek Corridor Master Plan. When the designs were presented during a public meeting, we were disappointed that they introduced multi-use sports fields, roads and trails along the creek, extensive parking, bridges and an expanded pool complex. All of these invasive and impactful elements would require mitigation for environmental impacts in a park that is loved for its wildlife and environmental programs.
In response to the proposed designs, our advocacy team worked closely with Cupertino residents and other environmental organizations to develop “Alternative D” which aimed to protect and enhance habitat, restore natural elements, reduce development along the creek and protect nesting sites for birds and refuges for large mammals.
For four months, we campaigned for the support of our alternative by attending community and volunteer events, reaching out to local schools, talking to park visitors, and door-to-door campaigning in surrounding neighborhoods. At the end, hundreds of Cupertino residents engaged in this effort, showing just how treasured the natural park was to Cupertino residents.
In a crowded City Council meeting, Cupertino Council members made it clear that our requests for a focus on nature and restoration were heard. Council members expressed:
• Unanimous support for further restoration of Stevens Creek
• No sports fields
• No new spine road through the golf course
• No new bridge in McClellan Ranch
• No new constructed play areas
• No increased use of the pool
• Interest in a new sustainable and natural golf course design
We are extremely appreciative of Cupertino’s City Council, Parks and Recreation Commission and staff for their responsiveness to our concerns and dedication to nature. We are also grateful for the residents of Cupertino who helped us show the City that we value nature before human development-together, we have made a difference!