By Meghan Hall
In the Bay Area’s current development climate, every last bit of space seems to be snapped up for redevelopment. Urban infill is often the name of the game, although developers still grapple to get their hands on the few remaining large parcels of land for building. While development helps produce jobs and contributes to the economic health of the region, San Jose’s City Council unanimously voted yesterday afternoon to do something drastically different: preserve open space. The City voted to spend $93 million to purchase 937 acres of land in the Coyote Valley. According to city officials, it has taken a “herculean effort” to get this far to be able to preserve the land.
With approval now in hand, the transaction will be the largest municipal investment in natural infrastructure in California’s history. The initiative to buy the land was overwhelmingly backed by voters, of whom 71 percent voted in favor of the agreement.
“Coyote Valley has captured the imagination of San Joseans for generations, but also has sat within the crosshairs of development proposals— for everything from Apple’s world headquarters, to campuses for Tandem, Cisco, and Xilinx, to tens of thousands of units of housing,” stated Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, Councilmember Raul Peralez and Councilmember Pam Foley in a joint memo November 1st. “Only recently did we start to embrace a more future-focused vision for Coyote Valley—one that views nature and green infrastructure as our allies in the face of climate change.”
The City of San Jose is purchasing the site with the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) from the Brandenburg family and Sobrato Organization. The City plans to fund the acquisition of the properties using up to $50 million in Measure T funds, money that is allocated toward road improvements, flood control and emergencies. Currently, Brandenburg owns 572 acres of the land that the City intend to purchase, while Sobrato owns 335 acres. The anticipated closing date on the sale is November 26th.
“It would not be overstating it to say that the proposed acquisition and preservation project before you of almost 1,0000 acres in the North Coyote Valley is one of the most complex and consequential conservation projects of our time,” said Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the Open Space Authority, who will lead the master planning process once the sale closes, during Wednesday’s meeting. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to protect and preserve one of the Bay Area’s most significant natural landscapes to benefit nature and people, and to be a model for other municipalities, in the state and nation to follow.”
The land is part of a 7,400-acre expanse that sits between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo range. As part of San Jose’s General Plan, the property was originally slated for industrial use and was expected to bring some 35,000 jobs to San Jose. As a whole, North Coyote Valley represents 16 percent of total employment lands, according to industry reporting, an important economic opportunity that will not be entirely reallocated.
Brandenburg and Sobrato echoed these sentiments in a statement, saying “More times than not, unfortunately, the environmental community and the development community don’t see eye to eye. “This major step in the permanent protection and preservation of a significant portion of the Coyote Valley is an example of a public-private effort where the parties collaboratively and cooperatively persevered with one another in positive spirit to achieve the will of the voters of San Jose.”
Over the years, numerous private entities have sought to redevelop the land but were thwarted by preservationists keen on holding onto San Jose’s last great open space. Forty years ago, both Apple and Cisco had plans to build large tech campuses in Coyote Valley. Cisco did win project approval in the early 2000s for its six million square foot campus, but the project stalled after the dot-com bust.
In the coming years, the City expects to spend close to $100 million on preserving the land and creating publicly accessible open space over the next ten years. With the transaction now approved, the City intends to embark on a planning process to determine exactly how the land will be utilized, as well as potential sources of public and private funding to finance the project.
“With this agreement, we offer an invaluable gift to our children and future generations,” continue Licardo, Jones, Jiminez, Peralez and Foley. “Our preservation of Coyote Valley makes good on our collective obligation of stewardship for our—and more importantly, their—planet.”