CGF-Sierra Club comments on Santa Clara County HCP Planning Agreement

Sierra Club asked CGF if we would join them in sending a letter commenting on the Draft Planning Agreement that local agencies are submitting to state and federal wildlife agencies. The agreement would help plan out how the local agencies will develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for Santa Clara County, which will greatly influence future development and wildlife protection in our County. Sierra Club did most of the writing, but I couldn’t resist throwing in a few arguments and lawyerish footnotes.

Our organizations will be tracking this process – it’ll be a long haul, but we will stay focused on it.

Scott Wilson, Central Coast Region
California Department of Fish & Game
PO Box 47
Yountville, CA 94599

April 15, 2005

Re: Proposed Planning Agreement for Santa Clara County Regional NCCP/HCP

Dear Mr. Wilson,

The Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club and Committee for Green Foothills are pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed planning agreement for the Santa Clara County regional NCCP/HCP. This planning approach has great potential for protecting species and their habitats in light of ongoing demand for development. The key to wildlife and native plant conservation is the continued existence of diverse natural ecosystems and the preservation of native biodiversity. The Sierra Club is committed to maintaining our remaining natural ecosystems, and, where feasible, to the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Wildlife, plants, and their ecosystems have value in their own right, as well as value to humans and to the health of the biosphere. The ecosystem approach inherent in a regional NCCP/HCP is the best tool available today to ensure the long term protection of Santa Clara County’s natural heritage.

Our comments are as follows:

Coyote Valley Must Not be an Exception

As described in the Memorandum of Agreement among Local Partners, it is the intention of the partners to develop a plan that will allow incidental take permit coverage to expand individual projects in exchange for defined mitigation or conservation action. In the draft Planning Agreement, section, it is noted that the Coyote Valley Specific Plan (CVSP) is considered an interim project under the agreement and should not be delayed by the HCP/NCCP project. We strongly object to this exception as there is no need for the CVSP to move to completion now or within the planning horizon of the HCP/NCCP. The 7,100 acres of the CVSP is known to have threatened and endangered species and important wetland habitat. As acknowledged at Task Force meetings and within the consultants plans Coyote Valley provides an important wildlife corridor between the Hamilton Range and the Santa Cruz mountains. Furthermore, the serpentine soils of Coyote Ridge are already impacted by car exhaust and other human activities and additional development in the Valley is certain to exacerbate this effect. It is therefore critical that Coyote Valley be considered wholly within the HCP/NCCP process so that impacts across this biologically rich area can be addressed at the ecosystem level.

We further note that the sentence, “Consequently, the Parties agree and acknowledge that the CVSP is an Interim Project under this Agreement and that the CVSP and its implementation will not be delayed by development of the Plan” appears to abdicate, in advance, state and federal agency authority to halt CVSP for violations of FESA and CESA. Prior sentences refer to some unexplained process for using FESA Section 7 compliance for aspects of CVSP that do not appear to involve federal permits, and omits entirely a discussion of how to comply with CESA in the interim. FESA Section 7 will not provide adequate project-wide coverage, the omission of CESA means no CESA protection, and the abdication of responsibility in the last sentence of Section was not even made dependent on fully adequate FESA and CESA compliance through FESA Section 7, assuming such a thing is even possible. This sentence in particular should be deleted.

Section should be deleted in its entirety and replaced with a statement that CVSP should be delayed until the Plan has been developed and accepted by the Wildlife Agencies. Absent that decision to expressly delay CVSP, Section should simply be deleted, which would leave CVSP as being treated no differently than any other proposed interim project. While we oppose treating CVSP as an interim project, the City should at least not be allowed to tie the hands of the Wildlife Agencies in determining how to treat this particular project. It should be made clear in this Agreement that interim projects do not overrule FESA and CESA compliance, but rather state and federal law has the last word, even if that means delaying the interim project until the Plan is complete.(Footnote 1)

Expand the Definition of Species for Inclusion

We would like to see an expansion in the definition of species beyond the limits of legally defined threatened, endangered or special concern. South Santa Clara County has a rich ecological diversity and due to extensive amounts of land in private holdings it is unlikely that current knowledge covers the actual diversity and potential threats. In addition, we would like to see every effort made for a comprehensive species list for consideration as early in the process as possible.

Expand the Geographical Areas Included in the Project

The currently proposed project area covers important habitats ranging from wetlands to serpentine. We strongly urge the continuing inclusion of these areas and offer the following areas to consider for expansion of the project area. The continuing threat of the construction of a highway over Mt. Hamilton raises a need to immediately capture and plan for the existing resources of the area east of Mt Hamilton. Another area that is under significant development pressure is the area just north of Calero Reservoir moving northwest to Highway 17 and north to Highway 85. It includes areas of proposed development on a large scale (South Almaden Urban Reserve), an expanding north Almaden Valley, Santa Teresa Ridge (excellent serpentine habitat) and the Lexington basin.(Footnote 2)

Organizational Structure Must Reflect Commitment to Public Participation

We are disappointed that a stakeholder entity is not provided for in the Local Partners Memorandum of Understanding, Section 8 Organizational Structure and Governance. While there is an acknowledgement of the importance of public participation (Section 14) the lack of an explicit commitment in the organizational structure provides little assurance that meaningful public participation will occur. The description of public participation in the draft planning agreement (section 5.1.6) provides more detail of how stakeholder participation will occurs, yet this document also omits an explicit inclusion of a stakeholder group among participating parties (section 3). It is our intent to apply for formal stakeholder status and work hard to ensure a meaningful public participation process as it is critical to a successful outcome for the project.

The importance of the success of the HCP/NCCP for south Santa Clara County and the future of the area’s diverse ecosystems (from the South Bay to the San Benito county line) should not be underestimated. As recently noted in a local paper, population growth has been strong in Santa Clara County and it is reasonable to expect it to continue into the future. The natural resources of South Santa Clara County require our commitment to protect them. The HCP/NCCP has the potential to not only identify a means to do this, while balancing the demands of growth, but it offers a unique opportunity to bring a wide range of interests together to learn about the delicate balance between nature and society and work towards achieving a long term vision of maintaining that balance in Santa Clara County.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Planning Agreement and provide input into how the Local Partners will work wildlife agencies on the HCP/NCCP for Santa Clara County. We are eager to support this effort and welcome any input from you and the California Department of Fish & Game. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.


Melissa Hippard
Chapter Director

Brian Schmidt
Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

FN.1. Section should reflect this understanding by stating “mitigation may include delaying the project until the Plan is in effect.”

FN.2. We additionally note that all serpentine soil habitat communities should be within the geographic scope of the Plan, not just that of Coyote Ridge.

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