County’s Historic Coyote Valley Vote Matches San Jose’s

Coyote Valley landscape
Coyote Valley by Ron Horii

On December 14, Santa Clara County Supervisors voted unanimously to designate the part of Coyote Valley under its jurisdiction a Climate Resilience District. This new District will strengthen protections against monster estate development that is a significant cause of farmland loss in rural areas. This action matches and supports the decision by San Jose to stop planning for urban development in its portion of Coyote Valley.

County’s Action Supports and Strengthens San Jose’s Decision In Coyote Valley

On November 16, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to change the land use in North Coyote Valley from an industrial designation to open space and agriculture, and to remove the Urban Reserve designation from Mid Coyote Valley. With that vote, San Jose finally ended the decades of attempts to urbanize North Coyote Valley and Mid-Coyote Valley.

The action by San Jose means that Mid Coyote Valley will never be annexed for residential subdivisions, which for decades was the expectation of the landowners there. If the County had not approved the Climate Resilience District, some of those landowners might have attempted to maximize the value of their land by building egregious, monster-sized luxury mansions in this rural area.

By restricting the total footprint of new non-agricultural buildings, the Climate Resilience District will better support agricultural land use in Mid and South Coyote Valley. In addition, for lots larger than 5 acres, any new residences must not conflict with the required on-site agriculture. The County took this action in response to San Jose’s request, and the staff recommendation to protect open space in Coyote Valley received unanimous support from the County Planning Commission before it was forwarded to the Supervisors. Green Foothills actively supported the County throughout the year-long process to move forward in protecting open space.

Local Agriculture Is an Essential Part of Climate Resilience

Agriculture plays an important role in Santa Clara County’s economy, local food security, and climate resilience. Local farms provide us with locally grown food, open space, opportunities for education, and many ecological services such as flood control, groundwater recharge, pollinator habitat, fire hazard mitigation, and carbon sequestration.

Luxury housing in rural areas is one of the biggest causes of loss of farmland in the county. Although landowners generally have the legal right to build one house per parcel, the Climate Resilience District will restrict egregiously sized new homes and ensure they don’t conflict with using land for agriculture. The new state law allowing lot splits, SB9, does not apply to Coyote Valley.

Big Coyote Valley Successes, but the Work Continues

Decades of work by Green Foothills and countless allies for Coyote Valley have resulted in the fundamental protections by San Jose in November and by Santa County this month. While these two actions are the most important policy changes that could be made, important work must still continue.

While egregiously-large homes are stopped, some landowners will still push proposals that could harm agriculture or wildlife, and they should be stopped. Also, the City of San Jose will be undertaking an economic study of properties along Monterey Road that could allow for more intense uses than what is now permitted in Coyote Valley. We will be working to ensure this study properly accounts for the environmental risks of such uses.

There are also projects and proposals that require support. An upcoming funding discussion in 2022 will consider financial incentives that include promoting regenerative agriculture practices which benefit the environment. County staff’s proposed guidelines that would protect soil health by limiting cement-floored greenhouses over the valley floor needs to be finalized. The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority will be developing its Coyote Valley Conservation Areas Master Plan, and public input will be needed. A proposed program of “climate resilience credits” can also help permanently protect land in Coyote Valley as mitigation for impacts of development elsewhere.

Supporting wildlife linkages through Coyote Valley, preferably in habitat that wildlife can live in and not just pass through, will also require ongoing work; as will the long-term goal of a wildlife overpass over Highway 101 and Monterey Road as has been done in other parts of the country. High Speed Rail, if it moves forward, also has to be carefully monitored, and potential impacts to wildlife movement through Coyote Valley adequately mitigated.

The big successes in 2021 will lead to more work and incredible opportunities for wildlife and people in a restored and protected Coyote Valley.

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