Plans for Coyote Valley campus make headway

Plans for Coyote Valley campus make headway

After hours of listening to public protest against the approval
of a new college campus in Coyote Valley, the Gavilan College Board
of Trustees unanimously voted to move forward with the project.
After hours of listening to public protest against the approval of a new college campus in Coyote Valley, the Gavilan College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to move forward with the project.

About 50 members of the public attended the usually sparsely populated, succinct Gavilan board meeting Tuesday evening and more than two dozen took to the podium to voice their concerns and outright objections to the new campus that will sit on a 55-acre tract of land near Bailey Avenue in south San Jose. After the public hearing, trustees unanimously voted to certify the project’s environmental impact report and approve the project.

The speakers, a large majority of whom attend DeAnza College in Cupertino, raised concerns that the development would adversely impact the wildlife movement across Coyote Valley between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range.

“Coyote Valley is a really special place,” said Julie Phillips, chair of the Environmental Studies Department at DeAnza, addressing the board. “There’s no mitigation you can do that won’t disrupt the wildlife corridor.”

Stephen Rottenborn, a consultant with the ecological firm H.T. Harvey & Associates, said he does not expect the project to have a significant impact on wildlife movement through Coyote Valley. He pointed out that U.S. 101 and Monterey Road pose significant barriers to wildlife movement.

“But wildlife do cross these features,” he said.

But Trustee Kent Child said if the campus is designed right, it can be a refuge for wildlife.

“It’s a much more benign use of land than a cookie cutter residential development,” he said.

Having spent more than 40 years on Gavilan’s Gilroy campus as a student, instructor, administrator and trustee, Child remembered when the school was surrounded by farmland and wildlife.

“There’s as much wildlife there now as when it was an isolated community college,” he said. “Deer cruise the campus. There’s all kinds of small, furry critters.”

The only time he ever remembered seeing an animal killed on the campus, it was a deer that had been attacked by a resident mountain lion, he said.

“The wildlife is an amazing thing that has more or less adapted to coexist with the encroaching residential development and the college.”

But Phillips said that if Gavilan doesn’t back out of their plan to move forward with the new campus, the wildlife that trustees spoke of won’t be around much longer.

“Their children and their children’s children won’t be able to see that,” she said, referring to Child’s recollection of Gavilan’s resident wildlife. “There won’t be mountain lions in the next few decades in the Santa Cruz mountains.”

Phillips’s students, part of an environmental stewardship program, have spent the last 16 months in the field, collecting data in “the most endangered ecological valley in California,” she said.

“Today is a dark day for all of us,” she said Wednesday.

Hopeful that the land becomes part of a permanently preserved corridor, Phillips and her students are banding together with local nonprofit organizations to reach out to their legislators.

“Every inch of it has to be saved and we’re not stopping until it happens,” she said.

The district served by Gavilan is losing 1,800 students to neighboring colleges, President Steven Kinsella said. The new campus will deliver expanded services to residents residing in the northern part of the district, reduce travel distances and energy consumption and related air pollution, he said.

The land will be purchased with $18 million of Measure E money, a bond voters passed in 2004 to upgrade facilities and plan for future expansion. The college will need $8 million to prepare the land for construction, said Gavilan spokeswoman Jan Bernstein-Chargin, a sum they have not yet raised.

“Our next move is to develop a funding source,” she said. “We have some options but nothing is going to happen quickly.”

With the purchase of the property under way, the development of a full-blown college campus is a long term project that could take 30 years to complete, Bernstein-Chargin said.

“We see the need coming,” she said. “We’re paving the road so the next generation has options.”