Spring began this year with extremely welcome news, that the land developer entity calling itself the Coyote Housing Group had decided to withdraw its proposal to destroy three thousand acres of working farmland and vital wildlife habitat in Coyote Valley. While the environmental community cannot claim the sole credit for victory, our successful effort to force consideration of environmental issues was a necessary element in stopping it. The simple fact is that destroying the environment is costly and time-consuming, and that fact combined with the uncertain economy to end the project.
This view of Coyote Valley won’t change for a while — photo by Cait Hutnick
Our fight to save Coyote Valley combined efforts across the environmental community. Committee for Green Foothills worked together with the local Sierra Club and Audubon chapters and with the Greenbelt Alliance to stop this project. In the last year, student researcher-activists at DeAnza College provided essential scientific observations and supplied welcome energy to our effort. The groups occasionally disagreed and were occasionally divided, but much less so at the end, and were all the stronger when united.
We at the Committee participated in every effort as much as we could with our professional staff, our active Board of Directors, and countless email Action Alerts from members. We particularly provided leadership for the effort on two fronts. First, we showed the fiscal analysis to be irredeemably flawed through reliance on an unsustainable housing boom. Because fiscal problems were the final blow, our pressure on the fiscal analysis helped pull back the curtain to end the project.
In addition, we led in pointing out San Jose’s mistake in allowing the land developers to choose the developer-hired consultants for the city’s own environmental and fiscal analyses. Despite the fatal flaws in both analyses, developers insisted in maintaining this “right,” and it may have helped lead to city hesitations and the project’s end.
Developer control over environmental documents remains a problem with San Jose, alone among the Bay Area cities (the other cities choose their own consultants). This points to how much work remains for us. We need to fix San Jose’s environmental review process so we can avoid a repeat of the Coyote Valley travesties. We need to critically question new proposals to destroy farmland in Coyote Valley suggested by Gavilan College, as well as revived-and-wrong proposals from ten years ago. San Jose desperately needs stronger “triggers” in its General Plan to prevent expanding outwards until absolutely necessary.
Despite all the work remaining, we can celebrate this wonderful victory for the environment. What is particularly encouraging is that five years ago, we fought Coyote Valley development even though we did so without much hope. We fought it because fighting it was the right thing to do, despite the political and economic juggernaught we faced. It turned out that doing the right thing has its rewards — sometimes, you win.