Coyote Valley: With Progress, New Threats Are Looming
Main Article from the January-February 2018 issue of The Avocet; By Shani Kleinhaus and Mackenzie Mossing
Coyote Valley by Ralph Schardt
Nestled in the southern reaches of San Jose, Coyote Valley is a beautiful, unique and irreplaceable landscape of regional importance. Over 200 species of local and migratory birds can be found here as they seek sustenance and protection in agricultural fields, oak savannahs, creek corridors, and vernal pools. Bobcats, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife use the valley to migrate between the Diablo Mountain Range and Santa Cruz Mountains, while also relying on the valley floor for habitat and vital resources. 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. Unfortunately, all that Coyote Valley has to offer could be lost forever, as the threat of development continues to loom over this spectacular place.
A History of Repeated Development Attempts
Coyote Valley has been targeted for industrial development for decades. Land use designations currently allocate North Coyote Valley for ‘Campus Industrial Area’ (1,400 acres), Mid-Coyote Valley as ‘Urban Reserve Area’ for future urban growth (2,000 acres), and South Coyote Valley as ‘Greenbelt Area’ (3,600 acres) to separate San Jose from Morgan Hill. However, agricultural infrastructure (primarily greenhouses) and supporting development have mushroomed in South and Mid-Coyote Valley. North Coyote Valley remains open space, with orchards, vegetables, and hayfields, but we have fought to keep it that way.
When corporate and residential developers looked to continue San Jose’s sprawl into the valley, they were met with relentless opposition. Again and again, development proposals for North Coyote Valley came knocking on the door and were met with fierce opposition from SCVAS and other environmental groups. North Coyote Valley only narrowly escaped being covered with asphalt and concrete thanks to unyielding advocacy efforts and economic downturns.
SCVAS advocates spent the better part of 2016 and 2017 fighting a proposal to transform thirty acres of open space into a gargantuan distribution center along Fisher Creek in North Coyote Valley that would significantly impact wildlife movement. A harmonious voice of opposition from environmental organizations and the local community (including many Audubon members) participated in letter-writing efforts and in public meetings, making our opposition clear to City officials and project proponents. This activity may have influenced the developer, who eventually dropped the proposal. The land was sold to Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in June 2017, protecting the parcel from development in perpetuity.
Around the same time, Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA) released their Coyote Valley Landscape Linkages Report, which establishes a clear vision of functional land connection for wildlife and protected water resources in the valley. The report uses scientific evidence to validate what we have always known: that preserving Coyote Valley is critical to the welfare of both people and wildlife in our region. Indeed, last winter’s flooding in San Jose would have been much worse had Coyote Valley been covered with asphalt and concrete.
The release of OSA’s report coincided with an announcement by POST of plans to spend $80 million dollars to link 1.1 million acres of open space between the Diablo Range and Santa Cruz Mountains. In October, POST purchased a 63-acre property in Mid-Coyote Valley within the Fisher Creek floodplain, an important component of the critical ecological connection.
Evergreen Senior Homes Initiative: An Attack on Coyote Valley
But while SCVAS and other environmental groups have been organizing to bring an ecologically-focused, resilient vision for North Coyote Valley to fruition, a new threat is starting to bare its teeth. Masquerading as a socially responsible solution to the Bay Area’s housing crises, the Evergreen Senior Homes Initiative is actually a covert attack on Coyote Valley. Hiding behind a guise of affordable housing for seniors and veterans, the initiative secretly creates a new “senior housing” land use for San Jose that will be cast onto all “under-utilized employment lands” in the city for ten years. The authors of the initiative conveniently excluded a definition for this term, opening the door for senior housing subdivisions on any land that currently supports or is designated for employment.
Considering North Coyote Valley is predominantly undeveloped open space designated for industrial use, it did not take us long to connect the dots: Coyote Valley is the intended target. Should this ballot measure pass, developers who have been unsuccessful in developing Coyote Valley thus far could jump on the opportunity to cover the valley in gated communities, eradicating any possibility of preserving the area for wildlife and flood control. The initiative will be on the ballot during the June 2018 primary election – we urge you to participate and vote!
What Can You Do?
In the face of incessant development proposals to transform Coyote Valley into corporate campuses and distribution centers, SCVAS is collaborating within a regional campaign to protect the valley in perpetuity. Together with the Sierra Club - Loma Prieta Chapter, Committee for Green Foothills, Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, and Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), we are working to establish an ecologically resilient vision for Coyote Valley – one that serves people, birds, and wildlife. Join us in this last chance opportunity to protect the valley. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and pledge your support at protectcoyotevalley.org.