A Historic Moment: Coyote Valley Finally Protected From Urban Development

Aerial image of Coyote Valley looking west. Photo by Derek Neumann

Last week, San Jose took a historic step by declaring Coyote Valley a place for open space and farmland. The unanimous vote by the San Jose City Council reversed decades of misguided planning policy and declared over 3,000 acres of open space off-limits to urban development. We thank the City Council, staff, and all our environmental, tribal, and community partners for their efforts in achieving this landmark moment!

City Council Decision Signals New Era for Coyote Valley

The City Council voted unanimously on November 16 to change the General Plan land use designation in North Coyote Valley from industrial to open space and agriculture, and removed the Urban Reserve designation from Mid Coyote Valley. There were also several other minor changes to the General Plan and zoning code, including a proposal for a future study of the Monterey Road corridor.

The decision to “downzone” North Coyote Valley in this way was a nearly unprecedented step. Although cities have the legal right to change land use and zoning, this almost never happens due to the immense pressure to continue approving sprawl development. The City Council deserves credit for standing up to that pressure and instead protecting Coyote Valley for its wildlife habitat and connectivity, flood and groundwater protection, ability to produce locally grown food, and climate resilience benefits.

Please join us in thanking the City Council: Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, David Cohen, Magdalena Carrasco, Dev Davis, Maya Esparza, Sylvia Arenas, Pam Foley, and Matt Mahan.

San Jose City Council Chooses Climate Resilience Over Warehouses and Sprawl

The importance of the Council’s decision was highlighted by the fact that a developer submitted a last-minute proposal for a massive, Amazon-style warehouse on the site of the popular Spina Farms cornfield, farmstand and pumpkin patch in North Coyote Valley. Although the warehouse proposal itself was not up for approval at that point, a vote to retain the industrial land use would have clearly signaled the Council’s intent to allow such a use.

The removal of the Urban Reserve designation means that Mid Coyote Valley also will no longer be threatened with urban development. While North Coyote Valley is within city limits, Mid Coyote Valley is in the County’s jurisdiction and has always been zoned for agriculture. But for decades, San Jose has viewed Mid Coyote Valley as a potential area to annex for future urban residential development. The City Council’s action effectively renounced all intentions of future annexation. Thus, between North and Mid Coyote Valley, over 3,000 acres of land that were formerly threatened with urban-scale development will now be free of that threat for the foreseeable future.

Unprecedented Public Support Points to Equity, Climate Resilience and Future Generations

Among the unprecedented aspects of the vote at the San Jose City Council was the monumental flood of support from every part of the community for the Council’s action. Over 2,500 people submitted emails of support including from race equity leaders, business and housing organizations, Indigenous tribes, farmers, and government agencies and elected leaders.

During public comment at the City Council meeting, many speakers mentioned climate change and the opportunity that Coyote Valley provides to help the city meet its climate goals. A key part of climate resilience is protecting open space. Our natural and working lands help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and protecting them from sprawl development means that we avoid significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions from additional vehicle miles traveled. And since climate change has a disproportionate impact on low-income and historically marginalized communities, climate resilience is an equity issue as well as an environmental issue.

It is imperative to the health of our children and their children to discontinue the misguided development patterns of the past. Indeed, Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area spoke these words at the press conference following the San Jose City Council vote:

“Last night, we witnessed the courage of San Jose’s leaders when they voted to protect Coyote Valley from development. . . . It appears to be true what they’re saying: we’re living in a time of great change. A time when social, racial, and environmental justice truly matters.”

We at Green Foothills stand with Indigenous peoples, with our partner environmental organizations, and with the San Jose community in recognizing the San Jose City Council for this action.

Is Coyote Valley Protected Forever?

Unless and until all the land is acquired for conservation, similar to the 2019 acquisition of 937 acres in North Coyote Valley, a future City Council could theoretically reverse this decision and open up Coyote Valley for development once again. But land trusts such as the Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority consider Coyote Valley a high priority for conservation due to its fragile but vitally important wildlife linkage between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range, as well as for its many other natural and agricultural resources. State and other funding is available for this type of conservation purchase.

What San Jose has done, other cities can do! By prohibiting sprawl and focusing growth in already-developed infill areas, every community can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. San Jose’s actions should be the new standard in the fight against climate change.

Please join us in thanking the City Council for their actions!

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