Summit-area residents fear timber bill could resurrect rejected logging plan

By Betsy Herbert

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Earth Matters column

Posted: 06/21/13, 12:00 AM PDT

When Linda Wallace, a manager for a telecommunications company, goes home at night she doesn't look forward to poring over the fine print of a complicated legislative bill. But that's just what she and a group of her neighbors in the Summit Road/Highway 17 area have been doing for the past month.

AB 904 (Chesbro), a timber bill being considered by the state legislature, is of great concern to these mountain residents. They fear that if AB 904 becomes state law, it will clear the way for a contentious logging plan -- which CalFire rejected in 2007 -- to go forward again.

The logging plan, which was proposed by San Jose Water Company for 1,002 acres of redwoods near Lexington Reservoir, was defeated on a technicality . . . but only after Wallace and other residents of nearby Chemeketa Park, Oakmont, and Aldercroft Heights organized a well-publicized campaign to stop it. They formed Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL) to draw attention to problems that would result from helicopter logging of old redwoods along the steep canyons of Los Gatos Creek.

"That logging plan jeopardized our community," according to Wallace, who is also board president of Chemeketa Park Mutual Water Company. "It's likely that our water treatment plant wouldn't be able to handle the extra sediment from all that disturbance along the creek. There were also concerns about noise, dust, and landslides," she contends.

Despite the compelling issues raised by nearby residents, it was the findings of a consultant hired by NAIL that finally gave CalFire cause to reject the plan in 2007. The consultant showed that San Jose Water Company owned too much land to qualify for this type of logging permit, known as a Non-industrial Timber Management Plan. To qualify, an applicant must own less than 2,500 acres of forest land.

What worries mountain residents now is that AB 904 would expand the acreage limit for these logging permits from 2,500 to 15,000 acres, which would make San Jose Water Company eligible. "Once these permits are approved, they are good forever, and neighbors can't comment on subsequent logging operations," said Wallace.

Like many of his neighbors, Rick Parfitt, a Summit Road resident, believes that AB 904 was intended for other parts of the state to transition landowners away from clear-cutting. The bill would reward landowners who switch from clear-cutting by exempting their future logging operations from public review. "That doesn't make sense in the more urbanized counties like Santa Cruz and Santa Clara, where clear-cutting is already prohibited and we have lots of people living in the forested areas," said Parfitt. He says that he and his neighbors are working to get these counties excluded from AB 904.

Nancy Macy, chair of the Valley Women's Club Environmental Committee of the San Lorenzo Valley, agrees. "There is very little that a rural resident can do now to protect their own property from nearby logging operations. AB 904 takes away opportunities for public comment, putting us at risk," said Macy, who lives in Boulder Creek.

Chemeketa Park and Aldercroft Heights mutual water companies and the San Lorenzo Valley Water District have publicly opposed AB 904 unless it is amended to exclude this region. "Water districts depend on the already limited powers that they have to participate in the review of proposed timber operations. We wish to preserve those powers," wrote Terry Vierra, board president of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District.

The state assembly passed AB 904 last month (with Assemblyman Mark Stone voting no.). The bill now moves on to the state Senate, where it will be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.