CGF urges Gilroy to stay involved in the County Habitat Plan

(We sent the letter below to Gilroy’s City Council, urging them to reconsider a proposal to withdraw from the County Habitat Plan.  Their decision was to reconsider it a later point.  -Brian)

May 2, 2011

City Council

City of Gilroy

            Re:  Item 10b, Gilroy‘s participation in the CountyHabitat Plan

Dear City Council Members;

As an organization representing families in both SouthCounty and NorthCounty for nearly 50 years, the Committee for Green Foothills urges the City to reconsider the decision to withdraw from the County Habitat Plan before it becomes it becomes impractical to do so.

We note first of all that while the Habitat Plan only covers two-thirds of the County and not the whole region, that is not the end of the process.  We and the other environmental organizations are well aware that similar comprehensive planning must come and will come to NorthCounty, and the city governments that participate in the County Habitat Plan at the outset have a much better chance to shape the outline of the plan, and especially its initial operations, than cities that lag behind.  Furthermore, two other habitat plans are in process that cover significant parts of NorthCounty (Three Creeks Habitat Conservation Plan and the Stanford HCP) as well as significant efforts to protect burrowing owl habitat in Mountain View, the South Bay Saltponds restoration, and extensive stream restoration/protection projects in Milpitas and other cities not included in the County Habitat Plan.

Simply put, the habitat planning process is equitable between SouthCounty and NorthCounty, and early participation gives Gilroy a better chance to shape that process.

Second, Gilroy‘s financial interest and especially recovery of funds invested to date favor its continued participation.   Documents from other agencies make clear the advantage to Gilroy (such as the letter from US Fish and Wildlife pointing out the backlog in processing new HCPs, and pointing out that future increases in capacity for the South County Water Treatment Plant could be permitted under the Habitat Plan for Morgan Hill but not for Gilroy).  Something that has received little attention is the sum of over $450,000 that Gilroy has paid or owes for the Habitat Plan preparation costs to date.  The Habitat Plan allows preparation cost recovery from permit fees incurred over the 50-year course of the Plan, but that recovery won’t be available to Gilroy if the City remains outside of the Plan. The costs to complete the Plan for Gilroy over the next year are less than $50,000, so dropping out of the Plan now to save $50,000 will cost the City the $450,000 it could have recovered.

Finally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service letter notes that habitat alterations done without permission under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act will require a permit under Section 10 of the ESA.  In addition to what the letter stated, we would add that the failure to get such a permit means the habitat alteration is a violation of Section 9 of the ESA.  That habitat alteration is already happening – for example, the traffic Gilroy creates through Silicon Valley causes damage to serpentine soil habitat and ESA-listed species using that habitat.  Wildlife agencies, and others, have the ability to enforce Section 9 of the ESA.  No one has yet used that capability because of the progress that seems to be apparent both in Habitat Plan area and in North County for habitat protection, but if Gilroy definitively removes itself from the Habitat Plan process, then it needs to demonstrate what steps it will take to bring the City’s actions into compliance with Section 9 of the ESA.

The simplest and most-financially sound way for Gilroy to move forward is to reconsider a withdrawal from the Habitat Plan, making use of the additional information and the opportunity Gilroy will have to control and reduce costs of Plan administration.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt

Legislative Advocate, Santa ClaraCounty

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