In 2014, Santa Clara County refused to grant an exception to the law for a landowner on Uvas Road west of San Martin. The applicant requested that his property be re-designated from “Hillside” to “Rural Residential”—a change that would have allowed him to build 12 houses on his lot rather than the 3 allowed in the Hillside district. However, the County General Plan contains very specific provisions requiring that the only parcels that can be re-designated to Rural Residential are those that are already substantially surrounded by other Rural Residential parcels—in other words, this kind of density is only appropriate when it is true infill development, not sprawl. After our Legislative Advocate Alice Kaufman led the effort to oppose this proposal, the landowner’s request was denied.
This is a perfect example of how the hillsides of southern Santa Clara County, from San Jose down past Gilroy, are under constant threat of development. Sprawling subdivisions have in some places crept up the hillsides, destroying fragile grasslands and impacting wildlife corridors as well as the aesthetic value and rural character of the unincorporated county lands. But, for the most part these golden hillsides have been protected by strong policies at the county level that require urban-style development to be confined to urban areas. These policies do not forbid all growth in the hillside areas; they only require that it be consistent with the rural character of the area and that it not impact the valuable habitat and natural resources in the hills.
These policies have been tested many times since their enactment in the 1990’s. Although few are aware of these county policies, everyone who lives in or visits the Santa Clara County hillsides benefits from them. When we go hiking in the open spaces near Morgan Hill, or enjoy fresh peaches and apricots grown in Gilroy, or simply view the undisturbed hillsides while driving on highway 101, we are receiving the direct benefits of this protection. However, the indirect benefits of open space are much greater. The financial savings from having open space to filter our drinking water, remove carbon from the atmosphere, soak up floodwaters, and grow food locally are huge. We owe it to future generations to do everything we can to preserve and protect these fragile open spaces. That is why Committee for Green Foothills continues to closely follow proposals like the one at Uvas Road. Making exceptions and amending our county’s anti-sprawl policies would have detrimental impacts on our health and future.