Protect Coyote Hills


Putting off development shows mayor's political maturity
San Jose Mercury News, July 2, 2007

Political leaders like to talk about their accomplishments in terms of making things happen, whether it's building a park or improving services like police protection. But sometimes it's more important to stop something from happening. That's the kind of victory San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed should be celebrating this holiday week.

At last week's final council meeting before summer recess, Reed made sure no houses will be built in the rural Coyote Valley until the effects on the rest of the city are clear.

Specifically, on a 10-1 vote, he persuaded the council to reaffirm the "triggers" in place to determine when Coyote should be developed. This makes it nearly impossible to alter those triggers before a review of the citywide general plan is completed several years from now, placing potential Coyote growth in the context of the whole city's goals and quality of life.

This may seem an esoteric accomplishment, but it's not.

The triggers are supposed to ensure that when Coyote is developed, it will improve the city's financial health. Otherwise, there's no reason to pave over some 3,500 acres. Since business growth is what provides the tax dollars to support neighborhoods, one of the triggers calls for significant numbers of jobs in the valley before housing is added.

In 2002, a city task force began designing a Coyote community with the population of Mountain View that would mix homes, offices, stores, parks, schools and open space into walkable neighborhoods. The work made sense at the time because existing industrial-zoned land in the city was filling up.

Two things have changed. Recovery from the dot-com crash has been slower than expected, so millions of square feet of office space still go begging in Silicon Valley. And in 2005, the city council added 26.7 million square feet in job capacity to North San Jose, where new development can make use of existing roads, sewers and other costly infrastructure.

That means Coyote is unlikely to be needed for economic growth for decades to come. But developers want to build housing now, since it would be immediately, immensely profitable.

They had hoped to persuade a council majority this winter to alter the triggers so housing could be approved before the general plan review was complete. They hired a herd of lobbyists and built a coalition that includes labor - all those construction jobs - and some housing advocates, since the plan calls for 20 percent of Coyote housing to be affordable - although high-density affordable homes in a remote valley with no place to work nearby would be dubious.

The council's decision last Tuesday to reject premature development was reassuring. Three members - Madison Nguyen, Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio - favored putting off any alteration of the triggers for a decade or more. Oliverio voted against Reed's proposal because he said it didn't go far enough.

Nguyen, Liccardo and Oliverio had the right idea. But Reed's measured approach was politically wise, making it all but impossible for the rest of the council to dissent.

This was a preliminary victory, of course. The debate now moves to the general plan arena. But the mayor, the planning department and others will at least have an opportunity to build their case to the task force and the public. The lobbying juggernaut will be less invincible in a forum of neighborhood leaders and others who aren't dependent on developer support for elections.

Comments from Friends of Coyote Hills: This article shows a mayor with vision and leadership, not influenced by special interest groups such as developers, who want immediate profits at the expense of citizens’ quality of life and tax burden to support city services (schools, police, fire, water, etc). 

Furthermore, we agree that “business growth is what provides the tax dollars to support neighborhoods, one of the triggers calls for significant numbers of jobs in the valley before housing is added.” While there is abundant housing development in Fremont, the city continues to lose companies to other cities, such as Protein Design Labs (an established biotech company), Scios (a Johnson & Johnson company), and others. Take a look at the large surplus of office space throughout the city.

Fremont citizens have the opportunity to give input now, as the General Plan is updated, on what’s important for our future—schools that are not crowded because of overdevelopment, protection of open space (including prime farmland) and quality of life for present and future generations.



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