SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—Today, as one of six local partners working collaboratively, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors took a major step toward the implementation of the Santa Clara County Habitat Conservation Plan (Habitat Plan) by adopting California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) findings and approving moving forward with the revised Plan (3-2, Cortese and Shirakawa opposed). The Plan is a groundbreaking effort to protect local endangered species habitats while streamlining the permitting process for public and private development projects.
When implemented, the plan will protect 18 endangered species found in the Guadalupe, Coyote and Uvas Llagas watersheds in Santa Clara County by creating a reserve area where habitat will be preserved for these species. Under the Habitat Plan, nearly 47,000 acres of land will be managed as a habitat reserve. Reserve management will restore 500 acres of habitat and 10 miles of stream. Protected species include the Western Burrowing Owl, the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly and other serpentine soil species, the California Red Legged Frog and the California Yellow Legged Frog.
Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Chair of the Board’s Housing Land Use Environment and Transportation Committee (HLUET), joined his colleagues in commending staff for revising the 2010 Draft Habitat Plan to reduce both the scope and cost. He also acknowledged the elimination of the mandatory Plan participation for rural development where the location and intensity indicate little or no potential for impacts.
“I support the Habitat Plan because it is a win-win: streamlining the development process while protecting open space and endangered species,” said Wasserman.
Proponents praise the partners for developing a coordinated regional plan to conserve natural communities and endangered species. By monetizing the mitigation up front, the developer and the county will know what costs are going to be from the outset. So essentially, the plan helps to save money on any given project by providing a clear process and comprehensive permitting.
The funds that are collected will be used by the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency set up by the local partners to acquire and manage preserve areas. Lands that are acquired for preservation provide compensatory mitigation for public and private development projects, and also will provide for actions to further the recovery of the covered species.
“I still believe that the Plan may be a valid instrument going forward,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese. “My concern has to do with minimizing the bureaucracy. We should try not to duplicate staff. We can draw on the expertise of the local partners existing staff or build the capacity in-house within our respective agencies rather than staffing a new agency.” “I think a Habitat Conservation Plan is needed,” said President George Shirakawa, County of Santa Clara. “I just don’t believe the current plan is there yet.”
The County is the second of the six partners to approve the Plan. If and when the plan is adopted by all of the local partner permittees, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Game will issue permits to each local agency and to the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency which will act to implement the plan. If all of these things occur within the projected schedule, an official habitat conservation plan will be in effect by June 2013.
The Habitat Plan will also be used as the basis for a Regional General Permit (RGP) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The RGP will rely on the Habitat Plan conservation strategy to address mitigation for impacts on wetlands and waters of the United States.
“I am really pleased to be able to approve this Plan to preserve natural resources and mitigate the impact of development,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, “We have been working toward this goal for a decade and I look forward to our partners approving it as well.”
“I think we are going to look back on this as one of the best environmental actions we have taken,” said Supervisor Ken Yeager. “It will serve as a model for other areas dealing with habitat preservation issues and help with future developments, while at the same time, preserving the beauty of the land in our county.”
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