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June 2, 2023
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General Plan: Commissioners weigh impact of more bird protections during remodels, upping housing at North 40 site

Difficult conversations about residential density begin

It was another late night for planning commissioners Monday, as they went through the Draft 2040 General Plan line by line, carrying on from where they left off April 13.

As the officials considered the potential impact of a suggested change to the Environmental and Sustainability Element, meant to protect birds by upping regulations on proposed retrofits, Commissioner Steve Raspe wondered if this might be a bridge too far.

“Any ADU, any re-siting of a property, could potentially trigger a whole study of the project to make sure there’s no endangering of the bird,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s the scenario we want to create.”

Chair Melanie Hanssen said the wording, proposed by the General Plan Advisory Committee, reminded her of sprucing up her kitchen.

“When the inspector came in, they wanted to check all the smoke detectors in the house—which I didn’t think was a bad idea,” she said. “But it was unrelated to the actual matter at hand.”

It would be fine to have a separate program that works toward protecting avian creatures, but it shouldn’t be phrased this way in the General Plan, she suggested.

“There might be some expectation, even if you’re making very small changes (like changing something that’s just a couple thousand dollars) you might be having to look at issues in other parts of your house,” she said. “That would be my only concern.”

So, in Commissioner Kathryn Janoff’s motion, while she accepted other suggestions from GPAC, this particular bit of red tape was left out, as she said it “could create problems, unforeseen, and that’s not what we want to do.”

However, she did agree to another language tweak, which would put emphasis on “biological resources” and “protection of the night skies” during the design of building, street, landscape and parking area lighting.

This approach was approved unanimously.

As the Planning Commission picked through the Land Use Element, which was skipped over at the last meeting, the subject of potentially increasing housing on the North 40 development—and its environmental impact report—came up again.

“I’m in favor of modifying the specific plan to include more housing, particularly since the EIR for the North 40 would accommodate additional houses,” Janoff said. “It’s also one of the areas that’s on the Housing Element Advisory Board’s site selection list.”

Raspe wasn’t so sure.

“Just to air the contrary view—my only concern is those units are just coming online now, and so, we don’t really have a full sense of their impact on this community,” he said. “I’d like to have a further discussion of what the impact of those additional units might be to infrastructure.”

Hanssen noted that the North 40 has already been reviewed for environmental impacts for more than 700 units, though they’ve built many fewer.

“I remember there were significant unavoidable impacts, primarily to transpiration,” she said. “There was something in the order of $10-12 million of mitigation that was paid for by the developers to alleviate that…I’m not sure studying the thing further would have any impact.”

Commissioner Emily Thomas said environmental impacts should be analyzed if “any major changes” to the North 40 plan are pitched.

Community Development Director Joel Paulson said it was unclear if the North 40 developer would have to produce another EIR if it made big modifications.

Janoff said she doesn’t think California would even let Los Gatos load up a bunch more housing onto that property.

“We have to be careful,” she said. “We’re at a high level here with the General Plan.”

The Planning Commission left off in the middle of the Land Use Element. In particular, they saved discussion of the lightning-rod issue of whether to modify the new housing targets until their meeting, two days later.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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