On June 8th, the San Jose Planning Commission voted 5-3 to direct city staff to conduct a more thorough review of environmental issues with a proposed development along the Santa Teresa ridge. The 17-acre property is ecologically part of Coyote Valley but the City planning maps show it as just north and outside of North Coyote Valley. It has been identified by the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan as a critical corridor for wildlife passing through Coyote Valley. The Planning Commission also asked staff to consult with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe as the development site is part of the culturally important Coyote Creek and Laguna Seca area. We are calling on San Jose and the landowner to consider permanent protection of the property.
City Needs to Better Assess Impacts to Wildlife and Culturally Sensitive Area
City staff had recommended that the Planning Commission approve a 5,900 square-foot luxury development on 17 acres along Santa Teresa ridge, including a section of the now-dry Coyote-Alamitos Canal. The Planning Commission, made aware of the importance of the site thanks to years of diligent action by environmental organizations and activists, decided not to approve the development at this time. Instead they asked staff to do more research on the impacts of developing this crucial wildlife area and tribal cultural landscape.
The Planning Commission did not take a final decision to protect the land at its June 8th meeting, so the land remains at risk, but because it asked staff to do more research, an immediate threat of development has been rejected for the moment. We will continue to advocate that the Planning Commission reject development on this site and instead permanently protect the land.
17 Crucial Acres for Wildlife and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe Above Coyote Valley
Biological consultants at Pathways for Wildlife have identified the property as a crucial wildlife crossing site where mountain lions, badgers, deer, and other species can safely cross Santa Teresa Blvd. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has led the effort to obtain crucial environmental information about the area. The science shows clearly that a house and its associated activities, noise, lighting, and driveway on that wildlife linkage area will have a significant impact on wildlife movement. The property in question is also designated as critical habitat for the threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly.
Unfortunately, the City of San Jose has not conducted a thorough environmental review to ensure this impact is taken into consideration. In addition, there is no evidence that the City attempted any outreach or consultation with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, which should have been consulted on a project near the culturally important Coyote Creek and Laguna Seca area. We were happy to work with Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh and others to bring this to the attention of the Planning Commission. The Tribe submitted a detailed letter demonstrating thousands of years of residency in the area, including records of tribal presence very close by along Coyote Creek, and pointed out the lack of consultation. They joined us in requesting the land be protected.
Planning Commission Listened to the Community, Experts, and the Tribe
Many letters and public testimony submitted to the Commission strongly opposed the project. None of the eight Planning Commissioners supported the staff recommendation to approve the project at this juncture, and three Commissioners called for the proposal to simply be rejected. In the end, five Commissioners passed a motion directing staff to do more work on the environmental issues and to consult with the Tribe.
We are certain that an area of this cultural and environmental significance requires a very thorough Environmental Impact Report, not the more cursory review that the City did. It is unclear when the next steps will occur, but we will be monitoring the process.
Finding the Right Balance Between Housing and Nature
We can address our housing crisis by actions such as building near downtowns and transit center areas that are already urbanized, while simultaneously protecting local nature for the sake of climate resilience and biodiversity. Locating this proposed 5,900 square foot luxury home and garage in the middle of a crucially important wildlife linkage and culturally important tribal area would do great harm.
Together with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, we call on the City of San Jose for more robust environmental review including consultation with the Tribe, and for the City and landowner to consider how to reasonably protect and conserve the land for its crucial environmental value.