Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 5, 2007

Asking important Coyote Valley questions

In 50 or 60 years, if Coyote Valley Specific Plan creators have their way, Coyote Valley will be an urban, high-density community with at least 25,000 homes, 50,000 jobs, and 80,000 residents. As San Jose planner Darryl Boyd said at last week’s South County stakeholders meeting, “That’s a city the size of Mountain View.”

The meeting was held to work on a combined South County response to the Coyote Valley Specific Plan EIR.

I came away with several questions.

• Where were South County residents?

This meeting was held in the same room as the Morgan Hill Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee meeting six days earlier.

The BTAC meeting attracted scores of residents prematurely alarmed about a proposal for trails near Jackson Oaks.

The Coyote Valley meeting reviewed scientifically studied unavoidable negative impacts to South County from Coyote Valley development, but attracted about six members of the general public.

• Where were Gilroy officials?

Only one Gilroy representative attended – traffic engineer Don Dey. No Gilroy elected officials or senior staff were there.

Traffic – Dey’s area of expertise – isn’t the only impact that Coyote Valley development will have in Gilroy.

Traffic will be hugely affected, to be sure. As County Supervisor Don Gage said, “In 2030, it’s going to take two hours by car to get from Gilroy to San Jose.”

But Coyote Valley development will pollute South County’s air. A slide Boyd presented said that the project “would generate regional pollutants in excess of BAAQMD … significance thresholds” and “standard mitigation measures would reduce impacts but not to less than significant level.”

It will tax limited water resources. To meet water demands estimated at 18,500 acre-feet per year, Coyote Valley planners depend on “new investments in recycling, desalination, and/or storage.” Necessary water conservation measures are “aggressive” and rely on recycled water (water that’s been through a sewage treatment plant) for both potable (drinking) and non-potable uses.

• Does the specific plan attempt to do too much?

This plan and its EIR predict development over 50 to 60 years. The typical general plan, as Morgan Hill consultant David Bischoff pointed out, has a 20-year horizon.

Cisco’s ambitious Coyote Valley plan was derailed in less time by drastic, unanticipated economic changes. Can the Coyote Valley Specific Plan and EIR make more accurate predictions over a much longer time frame? I doubt it.

• Why are unelected task force members deciding where, how many, and what kind of schools will be built by the Morgan Hill Unified School District?

After hearing about disputes about how many students Coyote Valley development will generate, whether to build one or two high schools, and more, I asked this question during the public comment period.

Answers centered on the long-simmering dispute about insufficient MHUSD representation on specific plan task force, and I was told that district officials are working with San Jose officials instead of task force representatives.

My question was broader than that. I was trying get officials to address the idea that these discussions, debates, and decisions shouldn’t occur in San Jose City Hall offices or at task force meetings, but at public MHUSD school board meetings with all of MHUSD’s elected trustees.

Coyote Valley’s impact on MHUSD – doubling the number of students it serves, burdening it with building at least 13 new schools, creating an urban district in the middle of a suburban one, and Coyote Valley eventually outvoting the rest of MHUSD – need to be addressed in that venue, not anywhere else.

• Can we thoroughly study the option of Coyote Valley seceding from MHUSD?

I mean a full-fledged study – not the halfhearted attempts made by MHUSD so far – of creating a separate Coyote Valley school district. Is it fiscally and legally possible to excise Coyote Valley from the MHUSD, while keeping Morgan Hill, San Martin, and the area north of Coyote Valley (where two schools and significant numbers of current students reside) in MHUSD, perhaps by keeping the area to the east and/or the west of Coyote Valley in MHUSD to create a contiguous district?

Kerry Williams, Coyote Housing Group president, attended last week’s meeting. Her group spent $10 million to fund the Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force. I asked her if Coyote Housing Group would fund such a study for MHUSD. She said yes.

Let’s take her up on the offer and find out if it makes sense to form a separate, urban Coyote Valley school district that controls its own destiny and minimize impact on suburban MHUSD.

Concerned? You should be. Visit the specific plan’s web site and comment on the EIR by June 29.

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