Attempt to widen borders rejected
Fate of farmland weighed after sports fields, school nixed by county agency
By Eric Kurhi
MORGAN HILL — The latest fight over the fate of South County farmlands went to the preservationists last week, when Santa Clara County’s anti-sprawl agency handily shot down Morgan Hill’s bid to expand its borders for sports fields and a Catholic school.
But many still wonder what will ultimately happen to the 229-acre parcel of farmland known as the Southeast Quadrant after the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission turned down the border expansion.
“This decision is great news for Morgan Hill residents and our entire region,” said Megan Medeiros, executive director of the Committee for Green Foothills, which has been fighting the proposal for years. “We shouldn’t be building on prime farmland, especially when there isn’t a proven necessity and a lack of community support.”
Supporters, including most of the Morgan Hill City Council, maintained that it would have been a better way of moving forward than what’s happening now, with smaller, 5- to 10-acre parcels being sold piecemeal and making the surrounding land impossible to farm.
“I am disappointed,” said Morgan Hill resident and developer Gordon Jacoby, who was poised to sell about 20 acres of the quadrant for use as ball fields. “We had a program that was realistic and done by experts, but they didn’t move forward. Now we’ll wait and watch more land get bought up bit by bit — that’s what the market shows will happen, and that’s a
However, most of the LAFCO board and those against the annexation said there wasn’t a pressing reason to expand city limits. The agency’s staff recommendation came out strongly against the project, making a case that there are plenty of vacant spots within city limits for the desired uses.
“Putting ball fields out in the hinterland doesn’t help the youth who walk to where they play,” said Commissioner Linda Lezzote. “Kids don’t need to be driven to a soccer field — they need to be able to walk or ride a bike there.” Commissioners Cat Tucker and Mike Wasserman, a county supervisor, cast the dissenting votes.
Wasserman called the plan a “unique and new” approach to preserving agricultural lands.
“It’s time to think different, and clearly this is different,” Wasserman said. “The current system is not working, and we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
His colleague, Susan Vicklund Wilson, disagreed with that assessment and said she’s seen a shift toward greater preservation in the past decade. Wilson and Supervisor Ken Yeager, who was serving as a LAFCO commissioner for the first time, both said the appropriate action would be to wait until a regional framework for agricultural land preservation is developed, which was kicked off by the county and the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority last month.
County Planning Director Kirk Girard said they expect to have a draft plan by the end of the year that will include input from the cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, among others with interest in the issue.
The Morgan Hill annexation comes on the heels of an even bigger push farther south. A 4,000-home development just north of Gilroy was approved by the city but threatened with a LAFCO lawsuit. The project garnered considerable public backlash before being taken off the table, at least for now.
Some Morgan Hill residents at the meeting said they felt blindsided by the parks and school project, although proponents said it’s been in the works for about a decade.
“I’m appalled and frustrated that Morgan Hill can quietly and casually approve this kind of largescale project without input from the community,” said Eric Acedo, who added that his Morgan Hill Thrive community action group did an informal poll of residents at a shopping center. “The vast majority we spoke to had no idea that this was taking place.”
Morgan Hill Councilman Richard Constantine, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the plan when the city voted on it last fall, said he feared there could be some repercussions from disappointed landowners.
“Waiting is one option, but with hurt feelings there could be a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “People could just give up and sell.”
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.