Hikers take a break to enjoy the views atop Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve in 2015. File photo.

“Amazon-style” warehouses won’t be in the future of Coyote Valley for now, as the city plans to preserve 314 acres of green space, marking a victory for local environmentalists.

The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Nov. 16 to rezone portions of the valley south of the city from industrial use to agricultural and open space use for farming and wildlife.

“There is some disagreement on how to best utilize the land, but, at least in my mind, it’s clear to me that one thing we all agree on is the inherent worth of the land and the important role it plays in our city,” said Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, whose district includes parts of Coyote Valley.

The decision could lead to legal battles between the city and property owners looking to sell portions of the valley for industrial uses.

Portions of the land are planned to be sold to real estate developer Crow Holdings International, a Texas-based real estate company. Crow Holdings is planning to build two warehouses, spanning approximately six football fields, on 126 acres near Bailey Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard. The warehouses would require tearing down the popular Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch. City officials estimate the project will bring up to 5,500 jobs.

“Changing general plan designations and zoning are not permanent solutions,” said former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, one of the attorneys representing the property owners that Crow Holdings is planning to purchase from. Reed urged the city to buy the land or development rights to protect the land instead of simply rezoning it.

According to city officials, Coyote Valley is one of the last intact valley connections between the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges. The valley accounts for approximately 50% of aquifer recharging areas in Silicon Valley—places critical to drinking water supply.

“Expanding our urban growth contributes to the issue of greenhouse gases,” Councilmember Pam Foley said, adding preservation is needed to reach the city’s recent goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. “It’s time to walk the walk.”

For years, San Jose has anticipated industry moving to Coyote Valley, particularly its northern portion. Decades ago, the city zoned the land for industrial development, hoping to woo big-name tech companies such as Cisco Systems.

According to city officials, that hasn’t panned out, leaving “little to no demand” for traditional industrial use in Coyote Valley.

Not everyone agrees, including some residents who have owned property in the valley.

“Agriculture in Coyote Valley, at this time, is no longer economically viable,” said resident Roger Costa. “I believe you all realize this fact, but won’t acknowledge it publicly for fear of offending open space and environmental interests and their votes. If you make zoning decisions for Coyote Valley which limit land use only to open space and agricultural uses, you will be engaging in a form of inverse condemnation, devaluing our land. Please stop the charade.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo said there have been efforts to preserve the land and work with developers for decades.

“I want to be clear to the land owners who feel like they have been betrayed, this is not a recent phenomenon,” he said. “It goes back to (former San Jose Mayor) Janet Gray Hayes. There are many of us who have been clear about our desire to protect against development.”

In 2011, the city estimated North Coyote Valley could eventually accommodate 35,000 new jobs. The 1,700 acres of land are home to oat and wheat farms, as well as IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab, Metcalf Energy Center and portions of Gavilan College. Currently, the area comprises 17 percent of the city’s total “employment land,” designated for job growth.

The San Jose Planning Commission voted 5-4 last month to leave Coyote Valley designated for industrial development. The majority of commissioners feared a decision on rezoning the land would cause a loss of value on the property owners’ land without means to compensate landowners. Tuesday’s council vote goes against the commission’s recommendation.

“I do wish that people who want a fair price for their land would understand that when the Open Space Authority offers you a few million dollars for your land, that is enough,” said resident Carolyn Staub. “People are there, pandemic or not, so please save the valley.”

Environmentalists say leaving the land designated for industrial use threatens the open space with development, potentially destroying the area’s landscape. Dozens of residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, many carrying black signs reading “Protect Coyote Valley.”

“Checkerspot butterflies and other species such as badgers and mountain lions look to us to preserve their habitats,” said Jennifer Dirking of the California Native Plant Society. “I hope you’ll save this land for future generations.”

The Coyote Valley Conservation Area located between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range at the southern edge of San Jose, Calif. (Open Space Authority via Bay City News)

For some residents, including mother Brie Haskel, Coyote Valley serves as an open expanse of green space outside of a sprawling city.

“It is (kids’) space to step off a concrete jungle and get into the very earth and climate we claim we’re teaching them to conserve,” Haskel said. “I beg of you on behalf of these thousands of families and students that already use this very lot of 314 acres as their playground to preserve it, to honor it.”

For years, organizations have pushed for Coyote Valley’s preservation. The San Jose City Council made history in 2019 by unanimously approving $46 million in city funds to preserve 937 acres in the valley’s northern boundary.

A coalition of government and environmental groups in 2020 purchased the 1,861-acre Tilton Ranch in South Coyote Valley for $18 million. The Open Space Trust purchased 331 acres in the valley in March for approximately $16 million. Earlier this month, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority announced a purchase of 60 acres in the Coyote Valley to protect the region’s agricultural spaces.

The valley floor is roughly 7,400 acres between San Jose and Morgan Hill. The Open Space Authority has conserved a total of 1,437 acres in North- and Mid-Coyote Valley.

Megan Fluke, executive director of Green Foothills, called the council’s decision “a historic milestone.”

“By protecting Coyote Valley, San Jose has taken a landmark step and is setting the standard in the fight against climate change,” Fluke said.

Copyright © 2021 Bay City News, Inc. This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight

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