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February 25, 2021

Council approves habitat plan, GUSD advocates ask for support for Prop 30

After a hearty debate with opposition coming from those who have been against it from the start, the final version of the hefty 50-year, $660 million, 2,800 page Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan was passed on a 4-3 vote during Monday’s Council meeting.

The “no” votes for the sweeping, multi-agency regional effort said to streamline development came from Councilmen Bob Dillon, Dion Bracco and Perry Woodward. 

Of the four yes votes, Councilman Peter Arellano and Councilwoman Cat Tucker spoke out in strongest favor for adopting the plan.

“I believe in taking the bold step and approving it,” Arellano said. 

Dillon, who had instructed City Clerk Shawna Freels to place 2,800 pages of blank pieces of paper (which is about the equivalent of six reams of printer paper) on the table in the center of the room before the meeting began, countered Arellano. 

“That is the size of the plan, which you see,” he said, motioning to the stack of paper reams. “I most respectfully ask you, have you read the whole 2,800 pages and do you understand it?”

Arellano said that he hadn’t but that he knew others that had and gave strong endorsements.

Five people from the public came to weigh-in on the issue – three in favor and two opposed.

“A lot of time, thought, compromise and money have gone into the plan and it deserves to be given a chance to be implemented as envisioned,” said Carolyn Tognetti of Save Open Space Gilroy.

Speaking out against the plan, Georgine Scott-Codiga of the Gilroy-Morgan Hill Patriots told Council she hoped that they each had “read and understood” the document.

“If this plan is so great, why couldn’t the people be left to vote on it based on its merits?” she said. 

As a part of their membership, Council then appointed Tucker and Arellano to sit on the plan’s new joint powers authority board. 

“Cat and Peter this is all your fault,” Dillon said, laughing. 

The last loophole Council must jump through before their implementation becomes official is approving a new City ordinance which allows for participation, which will be voted on during the Nov. 5 meeting. 

The habitat plan was scaled back about a year ago after fielding public comment to include an open space preservation area of 47,000 acres rather than the 58,000 acres originally proposed. 

“This plan is a smart, well thought-out approach toward planning for development and conservation, giving more certainty to developers and public projects, while providing funding and successful protection for wildlife conservation,” the board of the Habitat Conservation Plan wrote the Council Oct. 8. 

Supporters of the plan say it will “streamline” development by having developers go through one agency (the habitat plan) rather than going through all the hassle to obtain permits from separate agencies as they do now.

Also during Monday’s meeting

About 20 affiliated with the Gilroy Unified School District showed up for the first part of City Council’s regular meeting Monday night to ask for Council’s support of Proposition 30.

Proposition 30 is a California state ballot measure that would raise general sales tax to 7.5 percent and raise income tax for top-tier earners in order to fund local school districts. 

Three people spoke in support of GUSD, asking Council to consider adopting a resolution in support of the state ballot measure, which is said to replenish 10 of GUSD’s staff furlough days and seven instructional days. 

“The conversation is to look at the mechanisms that can support schools,” said school board trustee Jaime Rosso, who was speaking as an individual citizen, and not on behalf of the GUSD school board. 

Acknowledging that they are “late in the election process,” Rosso asked that Council agendize a discussion in time for the Nov. 6 election, to endorse Prop 30 and encourage Gilroy residents to vote in favor of it. 

Arellano moved to agendize the issue for the next Council meeting on Nov. 5, after he tried to find an exception in the City code that would allow for immediate discussion. (City code dictates that public comment issues are not permitted to be voted on the same day they are brought up, but must be agendized to a later meeting.)

The school district’s appeal was met with a hint of crustiness from Dillon, who compared this request, which comes three weeks before the election, to earlier this year when GUSD asked Council to rush a local ballot measure to support them. 

“This timing is beginning to sound familiar if you don’t mind me saying so,” Dillon said. 

Council gave an informal, unanimous “thumbs up” to agendize the discussion of whether to endorse Prop 30 during their next Council meeting on Nov. 5 – the night before the election.

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