SJ puts stop to massive warehouse development in Coyote Valley, protecting 'last great open space'

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose city councilmembers vote unanimously on Tuesday, to protect the future of Coyote Valley. City leaders made the landmark land use decision, despite potential plans for massive warehouses at Santa Teresa Boulevard.

Originally zoned for commercial industrial use, city leaders voted unanimously to protect the landscape by rezoning to secure an additional 314-acres as open space and agriculture.

The move means the potential development of two warehouses- each planned to span the length of more than six football fields-- will not replace farmland.

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Main focuses for residents who spoke publicly on Tuesday were wildlife, flood mitigation and future experiences for the generations to come.

"It is their space to step off of a concrete jungle and get into the very earth and climate that we claim that we are trying to teach the next generation to preserve," resident and mother Bree Haskell told council.

Resident Steve Godwin warned, "If you put in any kind of a structure, you're going to have a tremendous traffic problem everywhere. 101 to Monterey Road and on."

"If built, huge warehouse complexes would blight that view forever," another resident shared. "And there would be no way to camouflage it- this gigantic footprint in the middle of it all."

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Before the vote, the 314-acres of develop-able land had long-time plans to be transformed into an employment center with massive warehouses.

Instead of rezoning, lawyers and landowners pushed back, and encouraged the city to purchase the land from them. There's fear that removal of existing developmental rights will impact property values.

"You will be engaging in a form of inverse condemnation, devaluing our land," landowner Roger Costa told council. "Please, stop the charade."

Another woman who spoke in over ZOOM said, "I'm not here to speak to you about profit, the economy, to bribe you toward justice. I am here to remind and warn you this land has nothing to prove to you. This land owes us nothing and we owe it our very life."

Before the vote, ABC7 News connected with conservation groups about what the decision would mean for the vast Coyote Valley.

"In large part, it will really determine what the future of Coyote Valley will be," Santa Clara Valley Open Space AuthorityGeneral Manager Andrea Mackenzie told ABC7 News.

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She described the Santa Cruz Mountains in the Diablo Range come together in North Coyote Valley.

"This is the last undeveloped valley floor where wildlife can migrate between the two mountain ranges," Mackenzie shared. "Coyote Valley is also very important because it lies on top of our drinking water supply, and it helps reduce flood risk in Downtown San Jose."

The project in question was expected replace 126-acres of farmland, including the Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch and fruit stand site.

Former SJ mayor Chuck Reed, now representing valley families, said long-time property owners have a lot to lose.

"The problem the families have is if you remove their existing development rights, it devalues their property and leaves them with no economic, reasonable economic value, to use their property," Reed told ABC7 News.

Instead, he maintained an investment from the city could secure the open space.

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"The only way to do it on a permanent basis is to buy the land or the development rights that goes with the property," he explained. "And the families are willing to sell."

He said the families can lease their land for farming operations. However, he added it is not usually enough to pay the insurance and the taxes on their properties.

"You can't trample on the rights of the property owners and just take away their development rights without compensating them for the value of the property," Reed continued.

In November 2019, the City of San Jose partnered with Peninsula Open Space Trust and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to protect almost 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley. The deal cost a monumental $96-million.

On Monday, Mayor Sam Liccardo reminded 71% of 2018 voters said they'd be willing to invest city dollars to protect the land.

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"That kind of support should tell us very clearly what our residents want. They want to protect Coyote Valley for future generations," Mayor Liccardo told ABC7 News. "For recreational space, for agriculture, for trails. To protect the underground aquifer, which is so important for water. That is both today and in future years."

"We've got a lot to protect in Coyote Valley and this isn't the time to be allowing developments to move forward that are inconsistent with that vision," he added.

Tuesday's vote will determine the future of the open space area that for decades has been marked for development.

"This is a different time now. It's time for future generations to consider what will happen to our future generations if we pave over the last great open space in the city of San Jose," Mackenzie said.

She also pointed to the city's resolution to become carbon neutral by 2030.

"How do you do that if you have truck trips, 500 different truck bays and 2-million square feet of industrial development in the heart of conserved lands, farmland habitat, floodplains, water resources," Mackenzie told ABC7 News. "How do you do that?"

According to Mackenzie, more than $150-million now protects 1,400-acres on the valley floor.

Mayor Liccardo, Mackenzie, Green Foothills Exec. Dir. Megan Fluke, Tribal Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area and a couple councilmembers are expected to address the vote during a scheduled press conference on Wednesday morning.

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