If completed, the 688-acre Cisco research park would consist of 6.6 million square feet of buildings, a new highway interchange on U.S. 101, extensive flood control projects, and parking for 20,000 new employees. Dozens of similar, but smaller developments have transformed Santa Clara Valley over the last few decades. The Cisco campus has been proposed at a time when the effects of sprawl development are being felt acutely, and generating controversy.
"Coyote Valley is the rural fringe of San Jose far from where people live," said Dan Kalb, director of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Tens of thousands new cars driven by Cisco employees are going to increase the gridlock every day. San Jose and Cisco have not demonstrated that the Coyote Valley campus is the least damaging alternative. An urban, downtown campus, closer to transit, would be better in almost every way imaginable," said Kalb.
Steve Volker, attorney for AMBAG, agreed. "This project would create more air pollution, lost open space, and an even tighter housing market, both in San Jose and in communities to the south. The Monterey Bay Area is going to bear much of the burden of this project, without any of the rewards. San Jose and Cisco could have diffused this bomb with a commitment to regional planning, public transportation and on-site housing, but instead the project calls for 20,000 new parking spaces."
The campus itself will consume hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land and wildlife habitat. The associated flood control facilities and reservoir will disrupt hydrologic patterns and wetland areas in Fisher and Coyote Creeks, which serve as important habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog and steelhead trout. Air pollutants from commuter vehicles threaten the health of nearby serpentine grasslands, one of California's most endangered ecosystem types, and the home of federally-listed species like the Bay checkerspot butterfly.
"This project touches all the 'sore points' related to urban sprawl," said lead attorney Joseph J. Brecher for Earthjustice. "It exacerbates air and water quality problems, destroys wildlife habitat, and leap-frogs urban San Jose further down the Valley into some of the last farmland and open space left in the city. Cisco had an opportunity to prove itself an industry leader in environmentally-sound commercial development, but has failed, badly."
CEQA requires that all significant environmental impacts be identified and mitigated in an EIR before a project is approved. An approval agency must also consider whether alternatives to a project exist that would be less environmentally harmful. There are a number of alternative locations and configurations for the project that could have avoided some of the most significant impacts, but San Jose never gave them any serious consideration. Similarly, a number of feasible mitigation measures that could reduce the project's impacts -- such as more and better public transit, a de-emphasis on the use of private cars, and the preservation of nearby open space and prime agricultural lands – were essentially rejected by San Jose without any real basis.