Coyote Valley development critics plan to sue

Property owners angry they’ll miss out on financial windfall;
Morgan Hill mayor says legal action inevitable
Morgan Hill – As the draft plan for Coyote Valley development moves inexorably toward reality, its most vocal critics are starting to feel that they have but one recourse. They’re going to sue.

Property owners in the so-called greenbelt, who are incensed that they will miss out on the financial windfall expected to come to their neighbors to the north, have been talking for months about lawsuits, and now other South County “stakeholders” are following suit.

“Yes,” Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy said Wednesday night when asked if legal action feels inevitable. “But we have to stay in their faces and keep raising our issues.”

Kennedy believes that San Jose planners are deaf to concerns raised by South County residents and officials. The city sent a letter of concern to San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales last August and didn’t get a response until December, and only after a second letter “rejecting the vision” of Coyote Valley hinted at a lawsuit.

Kennedy characterized Gonzales’ response as “lip service.”

“There’s not much substance in the response,” he said. “They feel like they can do whatever they want because they have the power to do it. It’s the bully approach.”

Laurel Prevetti, the San Jose deputy planning director in charge of the Specific Plan, said Wednesday that every aspect of the plan is the result of community consultations.

“The whole plan is based on community input,” she said. “We’ve been having these conversations since August of 2002.”

Since that time, there have been 27 Coyote Valley Task Force meetings, seven community workshops, and several stakeholder and property owner meetings. Prevetti said that community feedback inspired planners to reduce the size of a proposed lake to guard against flooding, change the direction of the proposed parkway, and directly as the result of Kennedy’s input, consider adding a second high school (Coyote Valley is part of the Morgan Hill Unified School District).

The Coyote Valley development – between Morgan Hill and south San Jose – is expected to provide 25,000 homes, 50,000 jobs, and support 80,000 residents.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said that he agrees that the concepts of the Coyote Valley plan – a walkable, transit-based development that uses land efficiently – are community-driven, but that doesn’t mean the plan itself is a good idea.

“The principles of smart growth they’re using are good from a consumer, a community point of view,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean this particular plan is palatable, and that surrounding neighborhoods and communities will agree that this is a good idea.”

He also agreed with Kennedy’s assessment of the entire process, saying that San Jose officials feel entitled to their pet projects.

“They don’t care,” Gage said. “San Jose will tell you that they’re the largest city in the county and the 10th largest city in the state, so they deserve whatever they want. It’s the same issue with BART. ‘We’re the biggest and we deserve it.’ “

Gage said a lawsuit is premature because the plan is still in its formative stages. It’s not until the environmental review process is done, he said, that Morgan Hill or the county can raise a cause of action, probably relating to San Jose’s failure to properly adhere to the county’s master plan. At a special meeting of the Morgan Hill City Council Wednesday, he invited the city and its school district to join the county in any future disputes.

On Monday, Gage joined the rest of the 20-member task force in sending the draft plan to the San Jose City Council, for its blessing later this month.

“We had to do that, or the whole process stops,” Gage said. “We wouldn’t be able to do an environmental review or look at financing. The impact was greater to say no.”

Also Monday, planners released the first round of financial information for the project. Initial infrastructure construction is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, covering everything from sewer and drainage installation in the mid-Coyote region to transportation projects, which are tentatively expected to cost about $450 million. Parks and schools are expected to cost about $475 million.

Planners are counting on private financing to provide about 87 percent of money, with $172 million funded publicly. Public financing will likely take the form of an assessment district, with property owners voting to tax themselves to help underwrite public works projects.

Prevetti said that infrastructure work won’t begin until at least 2007 or 2008, and that sources of startup funding are not yet clear.

“One of our next steps is figuring out what the initial phase of the project will be,” she said. “It will be some combination of public funding and development fees, but I think it will come largely from home builders. In this marketplace, houses can bear more debt burden because housing prices are so high.”

Gage said that he was surprised by the universal support that home builders and developers have given the plan.

“I think it’s a little expensive relative to existing square footage available downtown and other places,” he said, “but the reality is that if somebody wants to be in Coyote Valley, and doesn’t want to be downtown, then it’s not too expensive.”

Gage also disagreed with Prevetti’s assertion that Coyote Valley is necessarily financially feasible.

“We’re at 30,000 feet on this right now, a long way from the minutia,” he said. “It’s very easy to be off by $50 million or more on an estimate. Yes, we can afford to lay sewer pipes, but what if the sewer plant can’t handle the capacity? There’s still a lot of issues that need to be worked through.”

The final Coyote Valley Specific Plan is still a year away.

Coyote Valley costs

Initial projections for infrastructure come to about $1.5 billion, including:

• Parks and Schools: $475,000,000

• Transportation: $447, 814,000

• Public Financing Costs: $172,106,000

• Storm Drainage: $142,967,000

• Water System: $82,203,000

• Public Land Acquisition: $50,000,000

• Coyote Valley Research Park: $37,400,000

• Sewer System: $30,437,000

• Public Facilities: $25,000,000

• Utilities: $18,073,000

• Greenbelt Preservation: $15,000,000

Leave your comments