(The following is from a press release CGF sent out yesterday. -Brian)
Committee for Green Foothills
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 17, 2007
Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate
phone (650) 968-7243 * email@example.com
The “San Jose Process” Resulted in Coyote Valley
Debacle, Environmentalists Say
SAN JOSE DIFFERS FROM MOST CITIES IN ALLOWING DEVELOPER-SELECTED AND CONTROLLED EXPERTS DETERMINE INITIAL ASPECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW
The Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) alleged today that the “San Jose Process” of using developer-selected and developer-paid consultants for the city’s own environmental review is a systematic problem that resulted in the extensively criticized and withdrawn Coyote Valley Draft Environmental Impact Report. “Most other cities in the Bay Area have abandoned the practice of letting developers themselves select and hire the consultants to prepare the administrative draft versions of Environmental Impact Reports, but not San Jose,” said Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate for CGF. “The Coyote Valley Draft EIR only varied slightly from the usual San Jose Process where the City ‘adopted’ consultants previously hired by Coyote Valley developers in a no-bid arrangement. This slight improvement still resulted in a terrible, flaw-ridden document, but the only difference is this time there was intense scrutiny. The San Jose Process needs a systematic fix,” Schmidt continued.
In most Bay Area cities, when a developer applies for a permit that requires the city to do environmental review, the developer pays a fee and the city then uses the fee money to hire expert consultants to prepare the environmental report. San Jose, by contrast, allows the developer to directly select and hire the environmental consultants who prepare an administrative draft of the environmental report. While San Jose may then modify the administrative draft, the developer-controlled draft is biased to play down the impacts. The direct expertise is in the hands of people loyal to the developers, not to the City or to a neutral evaluation process.
“The Coyote Valley EIR actually improved modestly on the usual San Jose Process, and still produced a completely inadequate analysis that had to be withdrawn,” Schmidt said. “In this case, the City took over from the developers earlier than it usually does, but even that didn’t fix the biased report. The only real difference between this EIR and what San Jose usually produces from developer experts is that this time, people paid attention, and nobody liked what they saw.”
The City received over 1300 pages of comments from agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals. The widespread scrutiny and criticism led to the decision to withdraw, revise, and recirculate the Draft EIR.
“San Jose has not yet fixed the San Jose Process,” Schmidt continued. “That Process is a holdover from a previous administration, but the new Mayor and City Council have the opportunity to make a change. The City should stop right now in its current plans to use the same biased consultant work. They should stop any decision on the Coyote Valley EIR until after the City’s General Plan has been revised. As part of the General Plan revision, or even earlier, the City should adopt the modern process used by almost everyone else, and have the City choose and direct the consultants that prepare the technical reports and Administrative Draft EIRs.”
Draft EIRs are the first version of the Environmental Impact Report circulated for public comments, and if not found to be significantly flawed, become the basis of the Final EIR. Administrative Draft EIRs are the initial versions of Draft EIRs that summarize and draw conclusions from the information found in the technical consultant reports on subjects such as impacts to air quality, traffic, and wildlife. Most cities require developers to pay a fee so the cities control all consultants involved in this process. The San Jose Process gives all control up to the Administrative Draft EIR to the developer. The extent to which the City even disputes developer bias is unknown as it all occurs behind the scenes, and the City has no right to access information created by consultants unless the developer allows it. For Coyote Valley, the City did ultimately hire the technical consultants and the consultants who prepared the Administrative Draft EIR, but only after those consultants had first been selected and paid for by the Coyote Valley developers (see Exhibit A to this Press Release).
In the mid-1990s, the Santa Clara County government under the leadership of then-Supervisor Joe Simitian switched from a developer-controlled process to the current process, and there has been no effort since to switch back.
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About the Committee for Green Foothills
Committee for Green Foothills is a regional grassroots organization working to establish and maintain land-use policies that protect the environment throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Committee for Green Foothills, established in 1962, is a Bay Area leader in the continuing effort to protect open space and the natural environment of our Peninsula. For more information about the Committee for Green Foothills or about our work on this issue, visit www.GreenFoothills.org.
Labels: CEQA, Coyote Valley, San Jose