On February 26, over 200 guests attended Green Foothills’ event The Future of Coyote Valley: An Evening of Celebration and Conversation to cheer the recent conservation victories in this valley and more importantly, to hear what local leaders had to say about what’s next. The message was clear: the work of protecting Coyote Valley is not yet done, and it’s going to take inter-agency collaboration to fully protect this important open space area.
The panelists – which included Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Mayor Sam Liccardo, San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, Assemblymember Ash Kalra’s Chief of Staff Chris Reefe, and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority’s General Manager Andrea Mackenzie – were all in agreement that we need to continue working to protect the remainder of the natural and working lands in Coyote Valley. Each speaker emphasized the importance of open space and pledged to work together to achieve their shared vision for Coyote Valley as a place for wildlife habitat, floodplain and groundwater protection, farmland, and enjoying nature.
Local Leaders: Preservation is the Future of Coyote Valley
Supervisor Chavez’ message was to the point: “We are all in this together. No matter what advocacy issue you care about, you should care about the environment.” She emphasized that Mid Coyote Valley, as well as many other parcels in the rural areas of the County, is zoned for agriculture, and underlined the role the County can play not only in raising funds to purchase agricultural easements to protect these lands but to see they are actually farmed. Calling attention to the $300 million in agricultural production in the County in 2018, Supervisor Chavez noted how preserving our local farmland is an economic issue in addition to a food security and climate resilience issue. Regarding the latter, she also brought attention to the need to preserve lands near the Bay such as Alviso, in light of threats from sea level rise.
Mayor Liccardo reiterated the City’s new vision for North Coyote Valley as being entirely preserved for open space. He remarked that last year, the City Council voted unanimously to shift all the jobs that were previously planned for North Coyote Valley into other areas in the City, and predicted that Mid Coyote Valley would no longer be considered for development either.
Councilmember Jimenez was keen to recognize the workshops recently hosted by SPUR to bring together City and County staff in a joint planning effort for Mid Coyote Valley, and suggested that the Council could allocate funding for City planning staff to focus on this effort. With the many policies and plans that the City has enacted in recent years focused on climate change resilience and sustainability, investment in protection of open space is the necessary next step.
Andrea Mackenzie praised the efforts of the City, congratulating the Mayor and Councilmember Jimenez on San Jose’s Measure T. The infrastructure bond passed by voters in 2018 was innovative in that it included a $50 million investment in Coyote Valley as essential natural infrastructure. She said that if all concerned entities worked together in a thoughtful and integrated way, working together across political boundaries, “we can do amazing things to benefit this County and the City of San Jose.”
Coyote Valley is the top conservation priority for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA). As the last remaining wildlife linkage on the valley floor between the Santa Cruz and Diablo Mountain ranges, the last remaining floodplain in the South Bay providing flood risk reduction for downtown San Jose, and the Coyote Valley basin which provides drinking water to 1.8 million people, Ms. Mackenzie stated that “if that isn’t important enough to conserve, if that isn’t a home run for conservation, I don’t know what is.”
The lively and wide-ranging panel discussion, moderated by former Mercury News editor-in-chief Barbara Marshman, also touched on a number of other points such as plans for high-speed rail to provide eight under crossings for wildlife passage in Coyote Valley, and using cap and trade funds for climate resilience programs on natural and working lands. To the later point, Chris Reefe spoke on how the passage of Assemblymember Kalra’s bill AB948 (Coyote Valley Conservation Program) and the synching up of County and City plans for Coyote Valley will help in trying to get state funding directed toward achieving the conservation vision to increase local climate resilience.
But There Is Still More Work To Do
Prior to the panel discussion, Matt Freeman, Assistant General Manager of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (OSA), spoke about the agency’s upcoming master planning process for the 937 acres of land that were recently acquired for conservation. OSA has started hosting tours of the site, and is recruiting volunteers to help clean up the land. This summer will see the launch of a multi-year master planning effort to determine the future of this site.
In welcoming the audience at the beginning of the program, Green Foothills Executive Director Megan Fluke highlighted the powerful support of the community and activists in achieving the permanent protection of the Coyote Valley region. But she also reminded supporters that “we are not done yet and there is more work to do.” Recalling that for decades the only plan for Coyote Valley was urban sprawl, she lauded how far we have come as we now recognize the invaluable ecosystem services provided by Coyote Valley.
Many thanks to all the speakers, to all the organizations that partnered to make this event possible, and to everyone who took time out to attend!