Heading south on Highway 101, the city in our rear view mirror, we’re actually still in San Jose until we reach Morgan Hill, though the open space may deceive us.
Looking out our driver-side window, even during our recent heavy winter downpours, we probably aren’t thinking about these still mostly undeveloped hills—capturing the rain, allowing it to percolate it down into an aquifer just feet below the surface of the Coyote Valley—as part of the largest and most important watershed serving Silicon Valley.
We’re probably not thinking about this on a hot summer day, surrounded by brown and seemingly bone-dry hills, but still drinking from its clean waters.
Few of us realize that one of the most spectacular wildflower displays on the planet is right here in these hills for a few beautiful but ephemeral weeks of spring, that tule elk roam the rare serpentine soils which sustain a dozen species of rare plants and the last population of bay checkerspot butterflies.
Looking right, we may notice the beauty of the bucolic Coyote Valley but we are still overlooking so much. Coyote Valley provides many vital ecosystem services, including natural flood control and a buffer against the severe weather events exacerbated by climate change, clean air and water, local agriculture, recreation, and wildlife habitat and corridors between mountain ranges.
We’ll lose if the valley is developed.
That’s why we’re asking our leaders to protect Coyote Valley so it can protect us. This was the idea behind “up to $50 million” for “preventing flooding and water quality contamination, including the acquisition of open space in Coyote Valley for these purposes” in Measure T. This would be a shift away from the former build-it-out vision so the City Council conducted a “study session” on this conservation vision before it decides on allocating the measure’s funds.
The San Jose council has come a long way from the ’80s and ’90s when development by Apple and Intel of this last open space between San Jose and Morgan Hill seemed inevitable. It’s come a long way even from just 2007 when a draft environmental report on build-out plans received a 1000 pages of negative comments from the public.
Most of us overlook this second-chance little sister of Santa Clara Valley. Yet the public has always been ahead of lawmakers when it comes to conservation.
Back in 2000, we easily gathered the signatures required to place a measure on the ballot to protect Coyote Valley but then dropped the effort due to the threat of lawsuits over technicalities in its language and after negotiating concessions from the development proponents. And voters supported Santa Clara Valley Open Space Measure Q with 68 percent, Bay Restoration Measure AA with 70 percent, and Santa Clara County Parks Measure A with 78 percent!
Much of the talk from proponents of developing in Coyote Valley is about how the jobs will help the city budget. But a new state vehicle-miles-traveled law coming into effect next year to address the impacts of transportation on climate places a heavy fee on traffic mileage. This commuter tax will steer development with lots of employees away from distant Coyote Valley toward existing urban San Jose where the hope is that people drive less by living closer to where they work. Large projects providing few jobs may still want to go out there but those projects won’t much help the city’s budget.
And there’s a damn good reason for the vehicle-miles-traveled fee: to push development into the hinterland would be to deny the urgency of our climate crisis.
“There is no documented historic precedent” for the action needed at this moment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote in its 700-page report on the impacts of global warming of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have just about a dozen years to correct the course we’re are on.
San Jose now has a “Downtown Strategy 2040” since city planners have learned that urban services are less expensive to deliver than those of sprawl development.
In November, voters passed Measure T with an overwhelming 71 percent of the vote. While momentum for the conservation of the Coyote Valley has continued to build with Peninsula Open Space Trust and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority announcing an $80 million effort, threats remain; warehouse proposals have come forward, and developers continue to see their own shade of green.
We can’t afford the loss of the ecosystem services—and yes, of the beauty, too.
Measure T dollars can restore the wetlands and “green infrastructure” that will provide much more flood control to downtown neighborhoods, which experienced $100 million in flood damage in 2017.
The City Council will take up the allocation of Measure T funding in early February. Let's protect Coyote Valley so it can protect us.
David Poeschel chairs the Guadalupe Regional Group Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter. Terry Trumbull is an environmental studies professor at San Jose State University. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].