Proposed revisions (pdf) to the draft Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan / Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP) were released last month to address the hundreds of comments received regarding the draft plan, which was issued in December 2010. The draft plan and comment letters are available for viewing here.

The Santa Clara Valley HCP/NCCP is intended to identify conservation and mitigation measures to protect species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), while allowing for orderly development and public agency activities. The conservation measures, including land preservation and habitat protection, are intended both to mitigate the environmental impacts of planned development, public infrastructure operations and maintenance activities, and to enhance the long term viability of endangered species. Over 20 listed species will be covered under the plan, including the California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, western burrowing owl, and Bay checkerspot butterfly. The plan will include approximately 520,000 acres, primarily in the south portion of Santa Clara County, and is expected to have a 50-year permit term.

The plan is being prepared by the cities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and San Jose, the County of Santa Clara, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, in consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The plan’s overall planning process has cost approximately $5.1 million to date, which has been shared by the plan applicants. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the City of Morgan Hill voted in late September to continue their participation in the plan. Other plan applicants, including the San Jose City Council, will face similar decisions this month.

Once the plan is approved, resource agencies (including the Service and DFG) will issue permits to local agencies to allow limited impacts to endangered species. Local agencies will then administer the permits by providing third-party take authorization for specific projects, rather than having permits issued by a state and/or federal agency.  The draft plan calls for private developers and public agencies to pay fees of up to $16,600 per acre for land they wish to develop.

Proponents expect the plan to benefit local developers by streamlining the environmental permitting process, as well as ultimately reducing costs. Publicly funded agencies that build roads, bridges, and sewage treatment plants also support the plan because it would save time and money by expediting the often lengthy environmental review process.

Opponents of the plan, including the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association, assert that agricultural and livestock development should not be assessed development fees, and urge the plan applicants to consider alternative fee arrangements. Others are concerned that the fees for larger infill projects, from 2 to 10 acres, remain too high at about $4,000 an acre.