Community effort could soon put vineyards along San Jose's Communications Hill

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"The undeveloped slope of the hill that, right now, is just planned to be undeveloped, non-landscaped area is what we're targeting to put this vineyard in," Neighborhood project leader, Jerry Strangis told ABC7 News. (KGO-TV)

There isn't a shortage of wide views of San Jose atop Communications Hill.

Neighborhood leaders want to add vineyards to that view.

"The undeveloped slope of the hill that, right now, is just planned to be undeveloped, non-landscaped area is what we're targeting to put this vineyard in," Neighborhood project leader, Jerry Strangis told ABC7 News.

The drive to the top of the hill is currently surrounded by dry, and barren hillsides. Back in July 2017, Sky7 was over a ten-acre, wind-driven grass fire that burned in the same area.

"That was one of the big eye-opening experiences that we had," Tuscany Hills HOA Vice President, Nick Patel said. "From that, we took it and said, 'What can we do with all this dead grass around here?'"

That's when the idea of growing grapevines on the side of the hill was born.

The big hope is that once vines are fully grown, the vineyards would eliminate the dry grass and serve as a fire break.

Project leaders are currently petitioning to get the measure on a San Jose City ballot.

Eventually, Communications Hill neighbors will vote on whether they want to use existing tax funds to support the new infrastructure and any on-going maintenance.

"For the last like 20-plus years we've been putting about $500 per home into a fund," Patel said. "So, that fund is supposed to be used for landscaping and security."

Necessary steps involve the normal process for how new infrastructure is accomplished through a Community Facility District.

Community Facility Districts have been around since 1982, when California passed the Mello-Roos Act.

The city explained the district is like an HOA, where the City is a facilitator. What people vote on is related to infrastructure improvements.

There are roughly 12 community facility districts in San Jose.

"It's certainly the first time the City of San Jose has had this kind of project come forward. It's innovative and we look forward to working on it," Cheryl Wessling with the city's Planning, Building and Code Enforcement department told ABC7 News. "We'll explore the possibility of it together."

Wessling explained a fire fuels management expert would need to clarify the efficacy of vineyards as a fire break. Although she added the city is open to ideas for fire mitigation options.

On Thursday, the grand opening of William Manly park as part of a development obligation, made growth on the hill easy to see.

However, it'll be some time before visitors see vines growing on Communications Hill. Project managers are only beginning to plant the seeds of possibility.

"It's just never been done before, so it's a little challenging," Strangis said. "But we'll get it done."

The concept is to eventually have a vineyard on the hill, though operational aspects like harvesting wouldn't be decided until much later.
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