Santa Clara County
High above Saratoga, Sanborn County Park comprises a dense wilderness of madrones, oaks, and conifers that provide habitat and connectivity for wildlife in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here, quail and turkeys, Peregrine Falcons, woodpeckers, and songbirds can be seen and heard throughout the forest. But a heated debate over a nearby abandoned Christmas tree farm has caused us consternation. The farm (about twenty acres) is part of 140 acres that are designated for development of “active recreation” in a newly initiated update to the Sanborn County Park Master Plan. The only idea for such “active recreation” has come from a group of mountain bike enthusiasts who are pushing for the parcel to be transformed into a high-impact bike park with jumps, ramps, and trails that could attract 1,000+ visitors per day. However, community members and environmental groups want to see the park left alone or restored to serve as habitat for wildlife, where only quiet, passive recreation is allowed. In November we attended a public meeting regarding the Plan, and joined the vast majority of the crowd calling for a focus on nature. We will continue to advocate for the wildlife that rely on this landscape.
A sand and gravel quarry and an endangered species mitigation bank are proposed for sections of the 6200-acre Sargent Ranch at the southwestern border of Santa Clara County. This is the latest in decades of efforts to use this land. Over time, dozens of oil wells have been constructed here, but efforts to develop golf courses, a casino, luxury homes and residential communities have all ended up in litigation and bankruptcy. SCVAS and other environmental organizations opposed the development of Sargent Ranch in the early 2000s, and we remain concerned today. The Gilroy Dispatch describes Sargent Ranch as “a magnet for real estate developers, a Holy Grail to nature conservationists, and ‘most sacred grounds’ to a local Native American tribe.” Indeed, every inch of this land is holy to the Amah Matsun Tribal Band. Wildlife are free to roam and raptors to soar. The rolling hills of Sargent Ranch hide natural seeps of oil that creep down the slopes into the sycamore-shaded (aptly named) Tar Creek. Though this area is a unique natural resource for residents and wildlife, sand is an important commodity and we expect to see support for local mining of sand and gravel. We will be watching as this plan moves forward and will consider the impacts of this project on birds and nature.
Photo: Tar Creek at Sargent Ranch by Shani Kleinhaus
As Stanford nears the completion of facilities and housing authorized by the 2000 General Use Permit, the University has applied for a new permit to add 2.275M square feet of academic and academic support (non-residential) space, 3,150 dwelling units or beds, and 40,000 square feet of additional building space to their campus between 2018 and 2035. Along with the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, we sent comments asking for bird-safe design, protections for open space, and mitigations for light pollution.
We have been following efforts to develop a 79-home subdivision on the 2,150 acres of Young Ranch, located in the southeast hillsides of San Jose. The ranch’s rolling hills and deep valleys are home to elk, deer, butterflies, birds, and wildflowers; these are beautiful landscapes that should be protected. The developers are offering to donate 58% of the parcel to the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan to help preserve the endangered species of the area, and to retain most of the developed part of the ranch as open space between and around the homes.
Although the project may initially appear to be environmentally sensitive, upon further review we discovered several reasons to be concerned. The Project amounts to spot zoning that damages natural resources in the county, setting a poor precedent for county development. We believe it violates the spirit of the Open Space Authority Measure Q, a 2014 voter approved measure delivering a strong statement by the people of the region in support of supporting the preservation of hillside areas and a minimal level of development surrounding the urbanized footprint of the region. Furthermore, the project encompasses land that belongs to the City of San Jose, but it is not compatible with the San Jose 2040 General Plan.
Young Ranch by Shani Kleinhaus
In October 2016, we sent scoping comments expressing our concerns to the County of Santa Clara, highlighting:
• Open space: a considerable amount of retained open space as proposed by the project is located amongst the development, reducing the likelihood of conservation entities managing these smaller parcels of open space
• Invasive species and disease: potential impacts of invasive species including plants from garden stores and domestic cats that may be introduced by future residents into an area that still retains endangered plant and wildlife species
• Pest control: the potential use by residents of poison-bait for rodent control could impact local wildlife
• Mitigation for aesthetics: as a mitigation measure, limiting formal landscaping to a small area immediately surrounding the residences allowed would appreciably reduce the aesthetic impacts of developing the natural terrain in addition to reducing water usage and minimizing the need for land alteration
• Precedent: Would other properties propose similar aggregation of development if this project were approved? We oppose spot zoning and the deleterious effect such zoning can have in undermining the overall integrity of planning.
We remain concerned with the effects of urban sprawl on the bird and wildlife species of our region, and the continued pressure on wildlife species as their habitats are reduced and fragmented while being invaded by humans, pets and automobiles. We will continue to advocate for the protection of this important hillside habitat from unnecessary development.