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Gilroy
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February 1, 2023

Sprawling habitat plan should go to the voters

In political circles, the city of Gilroy is taking the heat
behind the scenes for the City Council’s 4-3 vote to discontinue
participating in the 2,600-plus page Santa Clara Valley Habitat
Conservation Plan.
City is taking the heat for opting out of Habitat Conservation Plan

In political circles, the city of Gilroy is taking the heat behind the scenes for the City Council’s 4-3 vote to discontinue participating in the 2,600-plus page Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan. That Gilroy dared to stand up and vote “nay” on a document years in the making that has cost more than $6 million so far is an affront to multiple environmental and governmental agencies which are counting on increased power over local land use, not to mention a funding mechanism for purchasing and setting aside lands for endangered species.

Even Santa Clara Valley Water District representative Don Gage, former county supervisor and Gilroy mayor, is calling the vote a big mistake. “This is cutting your nose off to spite your face,” he said, pointing out that agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game will hold up Gilroy projects.

That sounds more like blackmail than anything else. Ironically, the stated intent of the HCP originally was to streamline the process for development permits on lands where endangered species live. Building impact fees would generate $20,000 per acre on natural, non-urban lands, while “special fees” for areas like wetlands could cost substantially more.

Building fees would pay for other lands used to preserve habitat

With the money, land for habitat preservation would be purchased and managed. It’s a weird scenario that defies common sense with the obvious exception of “going along to get along” with the bureaucracies that be.

A plan that will drive up the cost of housing, put more land into governmental hands and create an entirely new overlay in local land-use planning should go on the ballot.

Surely Mr. Gage would agree that such a comprehensive initiative with such far reaching implications should be voted on by the people.

Ask 10 people on the street today about the HCP and you’re likely to get stares and answers about a street drug.

A ballot measure would force education and debate. Thus far, the HCP has hardly seen the light of day. The process has been arcane and filled with so much environmental jargon say the people who have attended committee meetings that a layperson couldn’t hope to understand the plan let alone the implications.

A ballot measure would educate the public and force the debate

Let’s debate our planning future openly in this county. Let’s shine the light of day on a plan that would certainly change forever the planning process in Santa Clara Valley. Let’s give the agencies backing the plan like the Valley Water District a chance to make their case and, likewise, those in opposition, like the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau an opportunity to state the counter argument.

Ultimately, this is the type of momentous decision that should be made with the most public input possible. That hasn’t happened. A ballot initiative would change that and slow down any hasty decisions being made by any government agency.

HCP representatives will meet at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 21 at the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

What should be looked at and discussed is a ballot measure. That will remove all doubt about what direction elected officials in our county and city should take.

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