Letter Written by Affected Resident

Don Gage
District Supervisor of the County of Santa Clara
70 West Hedding
San Jose, CA 95110

Dear Supervisor Gage,

A month or so after we moved to the Los Gatos mountains from the Los Angeles area, knowledge of San Jose Water Company’s plan to put forward a Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan seemed to enter public consciousness.  It certainly entered ours as, if this plan is accepted, it negates many of the reasons we chose to leave Los Angeles to move to this spot of great natural beauty.

I am sure, as the publicly elected official responsible for the welfare of our county and its citizens, you, or a delegate in your department, have been following all the arguments and developments associated with the proposed logging within the Los Gatos watershed.  I don’t wish to reiterate what I’m sure you have heard from other people who are undoubtedly more knowledgeable in this matter than I am, except to say that I concur with all points expressed in the October 31stletter sent to you by Maryanne Zanios Murphy, posted on the mountainresource.org website.  In addition, the Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging seem to have supported their valid concerns regarding increased fire danger, risk to water quality, decreased quality of life and decreased property value with many well documented facts.  Especially pertinent appear to be Santa Clara County’s own Noise Ordinance Section B11-192 with regard to San Jose Water Company’s proposed use of chainsaws, logging trucks and helicopters.  This section states “No person shall operate or cause to be operated any source of sound at any location within the unincorporated territory of the county or allow the creation of any noise on property owned, leased, occupied or otherwise controlled by such person, which causes the noise level when measured on any other property either incorporated or unincorporated to exceed: 55 decibels for residential land use between 7:00AM and 10:PM.”

However, a few unanswered questions have been churning about in my mind as I have been attempting to follow the logging proposal. The first question regards the “Non-industrial” part of the Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan.  San Jose Water Company is a private company, albeit providing a public service.  If a private company contracts for logging to be done on its property and intends to take profit from that operation in any way, shouldn’t that company be applying for an “Industrial” plan of timber management, which I believe operates under different parameters?

Also, I understand SJWC will be erecting towers to facilitate the removal of felled trees from inaccessible areas. Although not familiar with what these proposed towers might look like or what materials they will be constructed from, I would imagine they are likely to be built at least partially out of steel.  Since, if approved, the NTMP apparently stands “in perpetuity” (though one wonders how any proposal can be accepted in perpetuity, since our entire system of government is based on the ability to amend in order to accommodate changing needs over time), I find myself wondering what will happen to these towers.  Will they turn into rusting visual and environmental blights, too expensive and inconvenient to maintain/tear down?  And how will they be erected in the first place?  A tower implies something tall.  Will helicopters be used to erect them?

The use of helicopters in general makes me nervous.  In Los Angeles the circling of police and media helicopters is fairly commonplace, so I am familiar with the effects their noise has on people, none of which are positive.  In fact, I worked in a school where we had a lockdown as a result of a suspected burglar, and was able to observe at close quarters the effect prolonged helicopter noise had on young children.  Here, I understand, the helicopters involved will be larger and produce far more noise than their police and media counterparts, yet they will also be flying in close auditory, if not physical, proximity to our local elementary schools.  I also find myself wondering about the statistical likelihood over time (in perpetuity) of a helicopter crash, and the likelihood of ensuing fire.  Is this risk worth taking, especially since the purported reason for logging in the first place is to reduce risk from fire, either (conflicting versions given by SJWC at different times, I believe) directly and immediately and/or by raising revenue for the reduction of fire risk at a later date?

The condition of the roads if the NTMP is approved is something else which concerns me.  Logging trucks are not very maneuverable.  The logs they carry are very heavy and can roll if dislodged, and although I am sure every effort would be made to secure them, accidents do happen.  How well are the logging trucks going to take the bends of Highway 17, not to mention the smaller county roads such as Aldercroft Heights Road (our only point of egress, incidentally) and Old Santa Cruz Highway?  Old Santa Cruz Highway is already reduced to one lane at the southwestern end of Lexington Reservoir. The other lane has actually fallen into the Reservoir and I understand it has been in this state for a year, possibly two. How will these roads withstand the considerable and constant (one might say perpetual!) weight of a fleet of logging trucks traveling daily in both directions?  Is the county equipped to foot the bill to keep its several thousand mountain residents from being cut off from their jobs, schools, medical treatment, groceries?

Then what happens when the logging trucks travel on Highway 17, which has only two lanes in each direction?  The hours of operation applied for in the NTMP (7a.m. to 7p.m., with an unofficial proviso of 7a.m. to 4p.m.) overlap with peak travel times at both ends of the day.  Travel time on the 17 is already generally doubled during morning and evening rush hours.  What happens when a logging fleet is added to the mix?

The San Jose Water Company is already working on construction projects at Alma Bridge.  There is a signposted project on Alma Bridge Road, and a project with no community notification posted occurring behind the locked gates of SJWC’s private road adjacent to Alma Bridge, continuing out of sight along Los Gatos Creek in a southerly direction.  This latter unspecified (to my knowledge) project has already been the subject of a visit by a Santa Clara Valley Water District inspector (text on mountainresource.org/node/132) who reported on San Jose Water Company’s potential permit violations due to poor soil erosion control, poor control of water run-off, and absence of a winterization plan, There were also woodchips found in Los Gatos Creek, the presence of which were due to SJWC’s “miscommunication with the contractor … Chips should have been disposed of off site.”   This highlights the fact that environmental violations may occur, miscommunications can and do happen, that these miscommunications can lead to consequences which may or may not have negative impacts, and that these consequences may or may not be corrected.

I know others have mentioned the reduction in property values that residents expect to be one outcome of the NTMP once it passes.  Has the Supervisor’s office considered the negative impact on revenue that could bring to the county?  If houses sell for less, the assigned property tax rate will be correspondingly less.  Possibly existing residents might also be entitled to request a reassessment of their property tax rate based on one or more of the adverse ramifications of the NTMP (reduced water quality or road access, for instance?  I don’t know the facts on this one) resulting in a further loss of revenue for the county. 

Mountain residents aside, there are many other voters within the county who come out to use the area abounding the proposed site of the NTMP for recreational purposes:  cyclists, joggers, rowers, hikers, anglers and people driving through the mountains and redwoods simply for pleasure, all choosing to pursue their pastimes in this area of great natural beauty.  I see hundreds of them on any given weekend.  I’m sure many of these people aren’t aware that the destination for their recreational outings is about to undergo major topographical and environmental alteration, but they will if the NTMP is approved.  Are you prepared for a backlash?  

Finally, there must be good reason for the neighboring counties of Marin, San Francisco and Santa Cruz to have banned logging of their watersheds.  As our County Supervisor, I trust your office has contacted, or plans to contact, the relevant departments in these neighboring counties.  I like to think Santa Clara County will be afforded the benefit of learning from the experiences of other counties in similar locales. 

Mistakes in this matter should be avoided at all costs, since the effects will be felt “in perpetuity”.


Celia Francis   


Terry Clark
November 13, 2005