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Coyote Valley: $16 million deals preserve open space and farmland on San Jose’s southern edges

The Peninsula Open Space Trust, a Palo Alto-based conservation group, purchased this 206-acre property in Coyote Valley from Shapell Properties on March 17, 2021. The walnut orchard will remain in operation.

In the latest effort to protect Coyote Valley, a Palo Alto environmental group has closed three deals totaling $16.5 million to purchase 331 acres in the scenic expanse of rural land on San Jose’s southern edges that was the center of development battles for decades but now has become one of the Bay Area’s main conservation projects.

The properties are located along Santa Teresa Boulevard at Palm Avenue, between Highway 101 and Calero County Park. Their purchases bring the total amount of land that environmental groups and government agencies have preserved for agriculture and open space in Coyote Valley since 2017 to 3,900 acres — an area nearly four times the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park — at a cost of roughly $140 million.

“You’re seeing the expression of the will of so many people who understand that preserving areas like this have so many benefits for wildlife, flood control and keeping farming viable,” said Walter Moore, president of the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which bought the three properties.

In the 1980s, Apple eyed Coyote Valley as a place to build its world headquarters. In the 1990s, Cisco Systems tried to build a massive campus there. Both were fought by environmental groups, who said the area — currently used by farmers and wildlife — should be left in its natural state. With each successive land purchase for conservation, investors who bought the land expecting it to be a sprawling mix of office buildings, tech campuses and subdivisions are selling out.

The main property in the latest trio of transactions is a 206-acre parcel that Shapell Properties bought in the late 1990s. The company, now part of Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania-based luxury home builder, sold the land for $10.3 million. It is currently used for a walnut orchard and other farming, flanked by Fisher Creek on one side and the rolling serpentine hills of Calero County Park on the other.

“You are next to a major highway and the 10th largest city in the United States,” Moore said. “But when you are out there, it’s astonishing that these lands have not been developed already.”

The other two properties next to the former Shapell land, which the open space trust also purchased in recent months, are 65 acres from Tavern Owners Investment Inc., for $3.25 million and 60 acres from the Kuzia family for $3 million. The properties will remain in open space and agriculture, and eventually will be sold to the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, a government agency based in San Jose.

The authority, which runs open space preserves in the county for hiking, biking and horse riding, is working on a planning process for the growing network of protected open space in Coyote Valley.

The three properties purchased in the most recent deals, left undeveloped, also will be used to provide natural flood protection for downtown San Jose. The idea is that when Coyote Creek is flooding, as it did in 2017, causing $100 million in damage, its waters can be deliberately spread over the open area to seep into the groundwater table instead of all rushing downtown into neighborhoods.

An increasing body of scientific research is showing that as the climate warms it is causing more extreme swings in California’s weather patterns — from hotter, drier droughts to wetter atmospheric river storms, which accumulate more moisture in warmer conditions. Both trends are putting stress on the state’s water and flood-control systems, many of which were built generations ago during a different climate.

Bill West, a spokesman for Shapell Properties, said he is pleased the land’s preservation will support “a climate-resilient future for the region and protects residential and commercial development downstream.”

San Jose, through Mayor Sam Liccardo and other leaders, has shifted focus from expanding sprawl onto farmlands and orchards, as previous generations of San Jose leaders like former city manager A.P. “Dutch” Hamann once evangelized in the 1960s and 1970s, to instead concentrating development in existing urban areas, like Google’s plans for downtown San Jose.

Apart from flood control, recreation and agriculture, advocates of preserving Coyote Valley in its bucolic state note that it is a key link for wildlife between the Diablo Range and the Santa Cruz Mountains, from deer to mountain lions and other animals.

In recent years, preservation deals in the area have been relentless. In November 2019, the city of San Jose, the Peninsula Open Space Trust and others spent $93 million to acquire 937 acres in North Coyote Valley from developers Brandenburg Properties and the Sobrato Organization.

Then last October, a coalition of government agencies and environmental groups purchased Tilton Ranch, an 1,861-acre expanse of rolling grasslands, oak trees and serpentine rock outcroppings in South Coyote Valley, north of Morgan Hill, for $18 million from the Baird-Burback family, a long-time ranching family with roots dating back in California to 1856.

“It’s a 180-degree different trend there,” Moore said. “What was thought to be the most productive use of this land in the past was campus-style office development. But now we’re realizing our population can thrive only if we have lands like this that can be restored back to their natural beauty.”

The Peninsula Open Space Trust, a Palo Alto-based conservation group, purchased this 206-acre property in Coyote Valley near San Jose from Shapell Properties on March 17, 2021 for $10.3 million.

Preserved lands in Coyote Valley, on San Jose’s southern border.


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