North Coyote Valley to be preserved for open space, agriculture

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOV. 10: Bailey Avenue cuts through the Coyote Valley, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in south San Jose, Calif., near the proposed site of a massive warehouse facility. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

After years of speculation, a longtime vision of transforming an open, green swath of land on the southern edge of San Jose into an employment center where thousands of people could work has officially been taken off the table.

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a series of land-use changes meant to indefinitely protect the bulk of North and Mid-Coyote Valley from major development. As part of the vote, city leaders rezoned 314 acres of remaining undeveloped land in North Coyote Valley from an industrial park designation to agricultural — a move aimed at blocking the potential construction of giant warehouses and distribution centers on the valley floor.

“I think today what the city is doing is pointing in a particular direction as to where we want to see Coyote Valley go in a more definitive way than we have in the past,” said Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, who represents the district that encompasses the valley.

Councilmember Pam Foley added that she felt preserving the land was “unquestionably the right thing to do,” especially given the “undeniable environmental and social benefits” that it would create.

Coyote Valley comprises 7,400 acres of primarily rural land spanning from the southern periphery of San Jose to the northern edges of Morgan Hill. Since the 80s, the northern section of the valley, which is located entirely within San Jose city limits, has been designated as a promising area to add thousands of new jobs. Meanwhile, Mid-Coyote Valley — which includes portions of incorporated Santa Clara County — was zoned residential, with the intention of giving those who work in North Coyote Valley a place to live nearby.

But environmental groups have spent decades pushing back against these plans, since the 80s to the early 2000s when tech giants like Apple, Tandem and Cisco Systems were interested in building campuses in the valley.

Environmentalists have long advocated that it should remain as open space and agricultural land for the farmers and wildlife who live there, and over time city officials have indicated that they felt the same. In November 2019, for example, the city partnered with the Peninsula Open Space Trust, an environmental group based in Palo Alto, and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to spend $96 million to acquire 937 acres in North Coyote Valley from developers Brandenburg Properties and the Sobrato Organization.

At this point, the only viable employment use for North Coyote Valley was in the warehouse and distribution sector, which city planners estimated could support approximately 5,500 jobs there. City leaders and environmentalists, however, argued that placing a new job center in a rural area without public transit would negate the city’s progress toward its climate goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Instead, they intend to add those additional jobs in the city’s downtown core and around other urban transit corridors.

Advocates of preserving Coyote Valley say that it is one of the Bay Area’s most critical landscapes and highlight its importance in reducing flood risks in San Jose, safeguarding water quality and wildlife, supporting small farmers and boosting recreational opportunities for the community. The Coyote Valley is the last remaining open valley floor in the Bay Area for wildlife to migrate between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range.

Megan Fluke, executive director of the environmental nonprofit group Green Foothills, called Tuesday’s night vote by the city council 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,” she said in a statement.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOV. 10: Bailey Avenue cuts through the Coyote Valley, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in south San Jose, Calif., near the proposed site of a massive warehouse facility. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Although the council’s decision was celebrated by environmentalists like Fluke, it’s likely to create some blowback — and potentially a legal battle — from some of the affected Coyote Valley landowners whose properties will now be under new zoning restrictions.

Most of the Coyote Valley landowners who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting told stories about their family’s long history of farming in the valley but expressed that agriculture was no longer a viable use of the land — a claim refuted by some city and council officials and environmental groups.

“Saying that you want to preserve farmland sounds good and noble but it doesn’t make sense, especially to the landowners who are subsidizing it,” said Janet Costa Hebert, whose family has owned property in Coyote Valley for more than a century. “So many people have opinions about what should happen to the land in Coyote — land that belongs to other people. …If the masses feel strongly about how the land should be used, then buy it, and buy it for a fair price.”

A handful of landowners are already under contract to sell their land to Texas-based real estate developer Crow Holdings Industrial, which plans to build two warehouses — both spanning the length of more than six football fields — at 8820 Santa Teresa Boulevard. The project would replace 126 acres of mostly vacant farmland, as well as the beloved Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch and fruit stand.

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