We might be leading the way but we need to do more. As the climate heats up, we need to protect more local wetlands and floodplains to help restore groundwater and protect against flooding. We need to conserve more local farmland for food security. And we need to steward more corridors of open space to give local wildlife and plants the chance to migrate to survive.
Change has to happen incrementally and with community engagement. Below are just a few of the outstanding local land use decisions that can either move us closer to or further away from 30x30 goals. The organization I work for, the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Green Foothills, is working on these land use issues with our community partners. Visit our website at greenfoothills.org to learn more about these issues and the other land use issues our organization is working on.
Stanford's Academic Growth Boundary (AGB), which is part of the Stanford Community Plan, has protected thousands of acres of hillside open space from development since it was approved by Santa Clara County in the year 2000. This landscape provides not only a scenic vista but also habitat for threatened and endangered species like the California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog. However, the AGB's ban on development is not permanent. Currently, a supermajority vote (four of five Santa Clara County supervisors) is required to allow development in the Stanford foothills, but that requirement will expire in 2025. Now the Board of Supervisors is considering amendments to the Stanford Community Plan, including the extension of the supermajority vote requirement for the AGB for another 99 years. At a minimum, this supermajority vote requirement should be extended, if not made permanent.
The city of East Palo Alto is currently conducting an environmental review of a proposed update to the Ravenswood Business District Specific Plan, which could allow massive development near the wetlands and only Bayfront open space preserve in the city. Wetlands are incredibly effective at capturing carbon. They also protect communities against sea level rise by absorbing storm surges and provide essential habitat for many at-risk species. Green Foothills supports East Palo Alto residents, who are asking the city council to ensure equitable public access, protect natural habitat, and create new urban green space.
One of our region's worst polluters, Lehigh Quarry — located just south of Palo Alto — wants approvals to expand its mining activity. This is laughable given the 2,000 violations of laws and regulations at the federal, state and local level they have racked up over the past 10 years, including air pollution and water quality impacts to Permanente Creek. A moonscape now, this is an over 800-acre area that could be protected and restored as habitat. On June 7, the county Board of Supervisors directed staff to explore the possibility of revoking the use permit for the Lehigh Cement Plant.
Supervisors also directed staff to explore whether the Lehigh Quarry (as separate from the cement plant) could be considered a public health and safety nuisance due to these violations. This report will come back to the board and the county Planning Commission at a future date. When the decision returns to the board, the community should rally to support the closure of this polluting operation.
A San Diego-based debt acquisition company has proposed an open-pit sand and gravel mine, the Sargent Ranch Quarry, on the sacred Indigenous landscape and critical wildlife corridor of Juristac, located in the hillsides southwest of Gilroy. Juristac is both the most sacred site of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the only pathway for animals such as mountain lions, bobcats and badgers to migrate southward out of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The county has conducted an environmental review of the impacts of the Sargent Ranch Quarry and found 14 separate significant and unavoidable impacts, including unmitigatable harm to the Juristac tribal cultural landscape, to wildlife movement corridors, to air quality, and to the scenic views of the hillsides. The public is encouraged to submit comments on the proposed mine by emailing the county at [email protected] The county should deny this incredibly destructive open-pit sand and gravel mine and protect this irreplaceable sacred site and wildlife habitat.
30x30 is part of the new story we are writing as a species. These are just some of the land use issues happening in our backyard, and there are dozens more local threats and opportunities that our community needs to address to fight climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Our region is taking the lead on climate action but we need to do more to reach 30x30 goals. Green Foothills has been working to protect local nature and farmland since 1962, and we'll continue to support communities to advance 30x30. As the adage goes, we must think globally and act locally.
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