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San Jose Planning Commission approves General Plan Amendment and zoning changes to build Metcalf Energy Center
November 16, 2000

Reported and written by Scott Scholz

By a vote of 5-2, the San Jose Planning Commission approved the General Plan Amendment and zoning changes to build the Metcalf Energy Center in Coyote Valley. The Planning Commission approval is a recommendation to the San Jose City Council. The council will decide the fate of the proposed power plant project Tuesday, November 28, 2000 at 7 PM. Although the San Jose planning staff did not recommend the General Plan change, the five commissioners who voted in favor of the General Plan change did not agree, choosing instead to disregard the General Plan vision and economic strategy for the City of San Jose and Coyote Valley.

Commissioner Hoo made the motion to support the General Plan Amendment stating that she had spent all of Friday reading the California Energy Commission Final Staff Assessment, visited the site on Saturday with the applicant and other commissioners, and found time to read the planning staff report at 4:30 Wednesday morning. She said she struggled with her decision but said, [MEC] "does seem to be an appropriate use. It is a good place. I recommend to approve General Plan change." The motion was immediately seconded by Commissioner James. Chairman Ross said he struggled with his decision as well. He said he had received over 300 emails some for and some against. He said the Coyote Valley "is an empty canvas, palette. The vision should be to maintain this plan. He would not be supporting the motion." Commissioner Zamora said "we need to assure there is power for the homes and office parks we are building. There is a huge benefit to having it in our backyards." Commissioner Godbolt struggled with this issue until this evening. She felt "this was a NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) "issue. I don't believe this plant will harm development in Coyote Valley." Commissioner James said the "land use change is appropriate." Commissioner Dhillon said he "had no problem with the land use." However, he wanted more assurances that the CEC comply with the city's conditions. Commissioner Levy reminded the commissioners that when interviewed by the City Council, we were asked if we would uphold the General Plan. If you answered that question incorrectly, you would not have been appointed. He said, "The General Plan doesn't support this project. I can't support the motion." He encouraged the commissioners to suggest conditions for the project. Commissioner Godbolt had a problem with the hazardous materials truck route. She also had a problem with Calpine buying Emission Reduction Credits, but still said the pros outweigh the cons for her. At 12:26 am, the commission voted then adjourned the hearing.

The City Council chambers were filled with many standing in the back of the room. Chairman Ross opened the meeting at 7:12 pm. City Planning Deputy Director Kent Edens presented a summary of the planning staff recommendation to deny the General Plan change. Staff asked itself to answer "Is this location appropriate for a power plant?" Staff concluded the MEC project was "fundamentally incompatible with the plans for the region." Staff believes that the North Coyote Valley will be less competitive for high technology corporate campuses if MEC is approved. Staff concluded:

City Attorney Renee Gurza was asked to clarify whether the Planning Commission could approve the project tonight. Originally it was believed the Commission would only have the ability to deny the General Plan change or defer the decision to approve the change until the CEC finished its process. However, the CEC wrote a letter to the City stating that the Final Staff Assessment is enough environmental clearance to approve the city zoning changes.

Curt Hildebrand, Vice President of Development for Calpine, began the applicant's presentation by providing some history of Calpine and Bechtel. He said that Calpine has 40 power plants in the United States and that Bechtel has built 450 power plants worldwide. He said that the MEC would be a "showcase project" stating:

He also said that there is a dire need for electricity attested by the fact we had rolling blackouts in Silicon Valley on June 14, 2000. He said we need more than MEC in San Jose.

Ken Abreu, MEC development manager for Calpine, stated that MEC would generate $368,000 in property tax per acre vs. $34,000 per acre in property tax from a campus industrial use on the site. He said the impact on Campus Industrial is insignificant. He said the MEC site is the worst Campus Industrial acreage stating that the site will be cut off by the Coyote Valley Parkway overpass and the proximity to transmission towers and the substation.

Public testimony began at 7:54 pm and concluded at 10:45 pm after all 67 speakers each had their three minutes to speak on the project. By my count 38 speakers spoke in opposition while 29 spoke in favor of the project. The comments opposing the project were strongly, factually and unemotionally stated demonstrating the research done by the community in the past 20 months.

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