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Community News

San Jose Planning Department General Plan Amendment Annual Review Community Meeting -- September 13, 1999

by Walter Alvey

Last revised: Sept. 20, 1999

These are the notes that I took during the San Jose General Plan Annual Review meeting that took place Monday night, Sept. 13, 1999 at the Eastside Union High School District.

This is not a complete record of what took place. First, I did not always take notes on items that I didn't think concerned south San Jose. Second, people often spoke faster than I could write. Third, I sometimes got sidetracked and forgot to keep writing. In some cases, because I did not take detailed notes, I can only paraphrase what I recall that I heard. I welcome corrections and additions from anyone else who was there.

"Question" means a question from a community member to the Planning Division staff. Answers are from someone on the staff, usually Laurel Prevetti.

The meeting began with Laurel giving an overview of the General Plan:

The General Plan is a blueprint for San Jose growth and development. The major strategies are economic development, growth management, downtown revitalization, urban conservation and preservation, the greenline, housing, and to provide a sustainable city.

The next slide described goals and policies.

The next slide described the General Plan amendment process: application, environmental clearance, planning staff revisions and recommendations, Planning Division recommendations, and finally the City Council decision.

The next slide described opportunities for public participation.

Another Planning Division member went over the District 3 changes. I don't recall that there was much discussion of these.

Another Planning Division member, Rich Buikema, went over the District 4 changes. One that generated considerable discussion was GP99-04-05. This changes an area that currently contains a shopping center from "Neighborhood/Community Commercial" to "Medium Density Residential". Everyone who spoke was opposed to it. Concerns included: The streets in that area were not designed to handle the number of people that would be living in the new residences. Removal of the shopping center would require residents to travel farther for shopping. Instead of adding new housing, the shopping center should be fixed up. That would also attract newer and better quality businesses.

Someone said that he saw a common theme in many of the zoning changes: trying to squeeze too much housing into areas that weren't designed to contain it. I think he said that the basic problem was that more people want to live here than we have space for. Continuing to squeeze housing into these areas will only produce an overly crowded city with poor quality of life and still not solve the housing shortage.

Someone reminded everyone that even though Planning Division staff members will summarize verbal comments made at these meetings, the comments will NOT be part of the public record. If you plan to take legal action regarding any of these changes, then your comments MUST be on the public record. To get them on the public record, you must submit a letter in writing or provide testimony at a public hearing.

Question: Will e-mails become part of the public record?

Answer: I don't know. It was only recently that we got e-mail and there could be some verification that we would need to do before we could include it as part of the public record. [I think it is safest to assume that e-mails will NOT be part of the public record.] Rich also gave his e-mail address: rich.buikema@ci.sj.ca.us.

Someone expressed concern that there was a policeman in the back of the room and wondered why he was there.

Continuing with the District 4 changes, Laurel said that although Calpine has two requests in District 4 (GP99-04-02 and GP99-04-03), only one of them would be implemented. Calpine submitted two because they want the power plant to be near the PG&E substation. The substation will be at one of those two locations but PG&E has not yet announced which one. [Note: This is a power plant that Calpine is proposing for the District 4 area, not the Metcalf Energy Center proposed for Coyote Valley.]

Another staff member went over the District 5 changes. One that generated much discussion was GP99-05-02. This changes an area from "Urban Hillside/Low Density Residential" to "Medium Low Density Residential". Everyone who spoke was opposed to it. Concerns included: That area was very carefully planned some years ago. Many of the homes have unique or custom architecture. This new housing would not fit in with that plan. When there is heavy rain, there could be mudslides. I had a nice view from my home and now I'll just see this new housing. Access roads to the new housing will go through (or very near) my property. The streets in that area were not designed to handle the number of people that would be living in the new residences. The schools in that area are already overcrowded. My children would have a longer commute to school.

Two of the applicants are Michael and Joe Guerra. Someone asked if Joe Guerra was the same person who is Mayor Gonzales' budget and policy director. One person said maybe. Another person said it was unknown. Another person said they were cousins (not clear who this referred to). Several people pointed out that if they were related, then there was a clear conflict of interest.

Someone reminded everyone that the planning commission is advisory only and that the City Council may go against their recommendation. There was a zoning change in 1994. The neighbors were opposed to it and the planning commission voted 6-0 to oppose it. The City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors still approved it.

Question: Why were the Districts not done in order as they usually are? This has the effect of postponing the MEC discussion to the end where it won't get much time. At the last meeting, it got only 10 minutes. Discussions of other changes were given as much time as people wanted.

Answer: We know that there is a lot of interest in this issue and we didn't want it to prevent other items from being discussed. There are a lot of items to go through and the people interested in these other items are entitled to adequate time to state their concerns.

Someone suggested that we have one meeting dedicated to the MEC issue. Another person requested that we have at least one meeting where we are first on the agenda.

I think it was around this time that many people requested a discussion of the MEC issue. Laurel said that they had to stick to their agenda and asked that there be one meeting [that is, people speak one at a time]. She said if that didn't happen, she would end the meeting and clear the room.

Various staff members then went over changes in Districts 6, 7, 8, and 10. (There was none for District 9.) One of the changes for District 8 to was re-zone an area to Public/Quasi-Public in order to build a church. [This is the same zoning that Calpine is requesting for the MEC.]

Question: Suppose instead of a church, they decided to build a power plant. Could they do that?

Answer: They would have to file for a number of permits.

Laurel clarified the difference between a General Plan amendment and a zoning amendment. Anyone can apply for a General Plan amendment. A zoning amendment requires the property owner's signature.

Question: I'm a farmer who lives near the proposed MEC. Can I file for a General Plan amendment to have that area changed, for example, to agriculture?

Answer: Yes.

The meeting then moved to what many south San Jose residents had been waiting for: GP99-02-01. This changes the area south of Tulare Hill from "Campus Industrial" to "Public/Quasi-Public".

Laurel showed a slide giving an overview of the Metcalf Energy Center. The next slide summarized the required permits: General Plan amendment (GP99-02-01), planned development prezoning/rezoning (PDC99-08-071), annexation [of county land to the city], tree removal permit, planned development permit.

Question: Why is the rezoning number in a different format than the General Plan amendment number? It appears to be for District 8.

Answer: Zoning amendments use a different numbering scheme. The "08" refers to August. "071" means it was the seventy-first request submitted.

The next slide gave an overview of the Application for Certification (AFC) process. Laurel said that the CEC is the lead agency, meaning that it is given ultimate jurisdiction by California law. The CEC could override the City's planning decision.

Question: When could the City stop this?

Answer: This is new to us. It's the first time someone has applied for a plan change to build a power plant. The City Council will consider the change in the winter after the full environmental studies have been done. They can't really discuss the substance of the case until they have the environmental documentation from the CEC.

Our taking the application is only the start of the process. It does not mean that we will approve the change. It is very unusual for the CEC to approve a plant if the locals do not approve the zoning change.

Someone read an excerpt from a status report that the CEC staff issued to the commissioners. It described their concerns with the review of the application for certification for the proposed Metcalf Energy Center.

The quote said that because of their extreme workload, staff will not be able to provide a quality product according to the Committee's schedule if the data responses are delayed and if the project is significantly modified or if staff is asked to evaluate multiple project configurations.

Rich Buikema said there are two official web sites that people can look at: the CEC web site for this siting case (http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/metcalf/index.html) and the San Jose Department of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement web site (http://www.ci.san-jose.ca.us/planning/).

Mike Boyd, the director of Californians for Renewable Energy then read portions of a statement that expressed a number of environmental concerns. These included emission offsets, best available control technology, tree removal, and many other issues. [I have not included the statement here because I assume that it will soon be available somewhere on the web.]

Someone stated that he was a farmer in the proposed area for the MEC. Some people had expressed concerns about his animals defecating in nearby streams. He said that various chemicals would be coming out of the smokestacks and settling in the streams. People should also be concerned about that.

Question: The city does not normally annex land unless it can provide services to the area. Is it able or willing to provide services to this area?

Answer: That is up to the city.

Question: I am a Native American Indian. What about Indian burial sites on the property?

Answer: Some have been identified. Their exact location is kept confidential in order to protect them.

Someone said that he had read sections of the San Jose 2020 General Plan and the description of the Public/Quasi-Public zoning category. Public/Quasi-Public is intended to designate public land uses. It does not appear to cover private/for profit buildings such as power plants. References to power plants in the zoning description refer to small power plants for businesses or homes, not large ones like the MEC. He said that Calpine is taking advantage of a loophole and that a new General Plan category was needed for a power plant.

He said that the staff has been "buffaloed" by the Warren-Alquist Act [spelling?] that delegates authority to the CEC.

Someone said that he appreciated what the planning staff was doing and he knew that they had a thankless job.

Someone said that good urban planning would locate a power plant outside of an urban area. Electricity can be transmitted to where it is needed. Clean air and water cannot.

Someone said he questioned Calpine/Bechtel's motivation for locating the power plant in an urban area. It is possible that they are trying to "poison the well" for any competitors. Rejection of their application will assure Calpine that no one will undercut them on this urban site.

Someone said that San Jose will get more revenue by leaving the zoning as it is. High tech companies moving into the area will increase residential values which in turn will provide a larger tax base. If the MEC is built, residential values will suffer which will also lower the tax base. Also, companies that are considering moving into the area must now consider the impact of having a power plant nearby.

Question: Does an amendment to the application reset the clock [I assume they meant the schedule for the process]?

Answer: No.

Question: There are seven homes on Avenida Espana (136-148) that were not notified of this. Why?

Answer: I don't know. It's up to the applicant to determine who lives within [some number] miles of the zoning change.

Question: The EIR [Environmental Impact Report] from the CEC is supposed to be completed in December. It appears that won't happen. How will you handle that?

Answer: That will come as a problem for us. We expect complete environmental documentation by first quarter 2000.

Someone said a lot of high tech workers do not want to have a power plant near their home.

Question: Who do we write if the City Council won't take a position?

Answer: The City Council is who makes the decision. You need to write to them.

Question: Will they listen?

Answer: You'll have to ask them.

Someone mentioned a July 7, 1999 newspaper article that many businesses and homes will be getting their own small power plants. Plants like the MEC will become obsolete.

Question: What can we do to get our own meeting to discuss this issue?

Answer: There are advisory committee meetings. The Planning Division meetings are to discuss all the amendments not just the one for the MEC.

By this time, it was past the scheduled ending time (9:00) and the meeting ended.

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