By Linda Hutchins-Knowles & Susan Butler-Graham
Mothers Out Front South Bay is celebrating another huge victory! Together with amazing allies in the Protect Coyote Valley campaign, we helped to convince the San Jose City Council to vote—unanimously –to protect a large chunk of Coyote Valley from development! At a special Council Meeting on November 6, Mayor Liccardo and the Councilmembers agreed to contribute $46 million in voter-approved Measure T bond funds for a joint land purchase agreement that will protect in perpetuity 937 acres of open space in North Coyote Valley that had long been zoned for industrial development.
Situated in the original territory of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Coyote Valley is a largely agricultural and undeveloped area on the southern edge of San Jose. One of the last remaining large open spaces in the South Bay, it serves as a critical wildlife corridor between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range, a flood control for Coyote Creek which flows into downtown San Jose, a fresh water aquifer, and a huge carbon sink, absorbing CO2 out of the atmosphere. It also contains over 215 species of birds, over 1000 acres of wetlands, and over 4000 acres of farmland. Yet in the City’s master plan, the area has long been slated for industrial and eventually residential development.
The new purchase agreement protects over half of North Coyote Valley, a historic win for local conservation groups, many of whom have been fighting to protect the Valley for decades.
Waiting to speak at City Council meeting
Why and how did mothers and others help?
Mothers Out Front South Bay joined the Protect Coyote Valley Campaign one year ago, after the Committee for Green Foothills recruited us to help build more political will. We learned that preserving this unique open space was vital both for climate resiliency (absorbing flood waters) and for climate mitigation (drawing down carbon and reducing greenhouse gas pollution by avoiding vehicle miles traveled due to urban sprawl). Moved by the devastation caused by the climate-induced flooding of Coyote Creek in 2017 in predominantly Latinx and Vietnamese communities in San Jose, we came to understand that preserving the water absorption capacity of Coyote Valley’s floodplains was also a climate justice issue.
Article in the Mercury News
For all of these reasons, the South Bay team leaders decided in December of 2018 to make protecting Coyote Valley one of our top campaign priorities for 2019. We knew it would be an uphill climb as many Councilmembers and City staff were wedded to the idea of locating industrial jobs in this prime location.
Our volunteer team of mothers and others (including kids) jumped into the already well-established campaign with enthusiasm, deploying many creative strategies to rally community and Council support for preserving Coyote Valley as natural and working lands. Our tactics included:
- publishing a strong op-ed and persuasive letters to the editor in the Mercury News,
- speaking at a large “Rally for the Valley” and press conference at City Hall,
- presenting about healthy soils and the importance of Coyote Valley at a Sierra Club meeting,
- inviting a Coyote Valley preservation expert to speak at our public forum on being climate smart,
- creating beautiful original posters and postcards in three languages,
- marching in and tabling at the Women’s March with Protect Coyote Valley signs,
- giving a presentation about healthy soils and Coyote Valley at a school Science Fair,
- appearing in a video about Coyote Valley created by Assemblymember Ash Kalra,
- educating about Coyote Valley at house parties, movie screenings, and other events,
- taking hikes through the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve,
- meeting with Councilmembers,
- making powerful public comments during City Council meetings,
- tabling at community events, festivals and the Biblioteca Latinoamericana,
- broadcasting calls-to-action via email and social media,
- knocking on doors by a bilingual team of mothers and daughters in a downtown neighborhood flooded by Coyote Creek in 2017.
Meeting with newly elected Councilmember Pam Foley about Coyote Valley
Tabling at an Earth Day event
Getting ready to knock on doors in the Olinder neighborhood of San Jose on Cinco de Mayo
These efforts culminated in the dramatic delivery in June and again in November of a combined total of 500 hand-signed and online postcards in Spanish, Vietnamese and English to Mayor Liccardo and the Councilmembers from their own constituents, urging them to protect Coyote Valley.
Delivering postcards at City Hall
Next steps and gratitudes!
Mothers Out Front South Bay now looks forward to working with the City of San Jose and other partners to protect the rest of Coyote Valley from urban encroachment. One of our team leaders serves on the city’s General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force which will reimagine Coyote Valley—hopefully through a climate-smart and climate justice lens. As Megan Fluke, head of the Protect Coyote Valley Campaign puts it, “we need to protect nature so it can protect us,” especially our most vulnerable populations.
As we reflect on this victory, we are deeply grateful for the persistent advocacy of our allies in the Protect Coyote Valley Campaign, so aptly led by the Committee for Green Foothills: Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, SAGE – Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the Land Trust of Santa Clara Valley, the Green Party of Santa Clara County, and the San Jose Parks Foundation. We also appreciate the support of: Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) which is contributing $42 million for the land purchase, Pathways for Wildlife, the League of Women Voters, the California Native Plant Society, Latino Outdoors, Sacred Heart Community Service, Mineta Transportation Institute, 350 Silicon Valley, and more. It takes a village!
At the press conference before the vote on November 6, 2019
We salute Mayor Liccardo and the San Jose City Councilmembers for their support of Measure T (which provided nearly half of the funding to purchase the land) and for their willingness to listen to the community and update their vision for Coyote Valley in a climate-smart way. We also appreciate the leadership of Assemblymember Ash Kalra, whose successful bill AB 948 designated Coyote Valley as “an area of statewide significance.”
To quote Andrea Mackenzie of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (the organization that will manage the land and contribute $5 million to its purchase): the new plan for Coyote Valley represents a major victory for “building resilience to future droughts, floods and catastrophic wildfires for the people of San Jose and the surrounding South Bay region.” And we couldn’t agree more with Mayor Liccardo, who called the agreement “a gift to future generations.” On behalf of our children, we thank you!
Looking out over Coyote Valley