A Riparian Exploration of San Jose
By Kelsey Grousbeck
B.A. Human Biology, 2012
We all know urban creeks don’t get the best treatment. There are organizations and felons dedicated to cleaning the banks and messages above storm drains that caution people to think before they dump, but these measures cannot protect every stretch of creek habitat, especially in San Jose. My first week at the Committee for Green Foothills, I was sent on a task to photograph riparian setbacks at four different locations in San Jose. Technically, the setback for projects is supposed to be about 100 feet, but since there is no strict policy, the city offers exceptions for many projects. Julie and Brian, two advocates at CGF for whom I am working, wanted to see whether these projects were impacting the riparian areas around the creeks and whether they were adhering to their setback requirements.
So, one sunny morning, I arrived in San Jose, camera in hand, to explore some creeks. I have a notoriously terrible sense of direction, so besides my car GPS, I was armed with my iPhone, four different maps of the waterways of San Jose, and a list of properties that I needed to go to with detailed descriptions about their location. Of course, I still got lost. On top of it, the way Julie described the properties made it sound like they were in more rural areas of San Jose and that I would need to trek to get to the creeks, so I got plenty of interesting looks as I wandered through the streets of downtown San Jose in hiking boots, pants, and a wide brimmed hat with my Nalgene dangling off my bag, holding a large map of San Jose waterways in front of me.
Eventually, I did find the creeks they were looking for. One project had adhered very well to their setback requirement, and the creek looked beautiful. One of them did not have a development on it yet, but the condition of the creek (pictured above) was clearly poorer than desired. One required a lot of trespassing and, as a result, the photos weren’t exactly admissible in a legal argument… and one creek was right off the highway, but inaccessible from any angle other than pulling into the breakdown lane and running out of the car for a picture, causing some concerned motorists to also pull over and ask if I was okay… California is so nice. Hopefully the photos I took will help our organization make a case to the City to include a stricter setback policy in San Jose’s General Plan for 2040. Since a lot of our successful environmental protection comes in the form of policy revision, we have a chance to preserve a lot of land and waterways in San Jose for at least 30 years with the upcoming General Plan by preventing zoning for development in sensitive areas and including stricter building policies.
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