City Planning and Communications
City of Morgan Hill’s Planning Division, according to their website, "performs a variety of services intended to protect, maintain, and develop an attractive, safe, and healthy environment. Responsibilities include direction and leadership in implementing the goals, objectives, and policies of the General Plan."
The Planning Division also maintains all public documents for this project on their site, including the builder's architectural plans, frequently asked questions, public comments, videos from community meetings, and details about the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
City of Morgan Hill, according to their page
on Guiding Documents, "takes pride in its approach to thoughtful policy making. Engaging the community and stakeholders is a cornerstone in developing master plans and guiding documents." We know these plans and documents represent endless hours of work by many residents of our city.
The Morgan Hill 2035 General Plan, one of the Guiding Documents, is a comprehensive, long-term plan for the physical development of our community. It represents the city's determination of the amount, type, and timing of Planned Developments to achieve social, economic, and environmental goals of our city. Within the General Plan, Policy# CNF-18.1, 18.2, 18.3, and 18.4 pertain to the land in question. Excerpts:
Vibrant job centers with amenities that support workers and businesses along with thoughtful designs that relate to and support surrounding businesses.
Industrial and/or commercial development to ensure neighborhood compatibility.
Planned developments to address such issues as traffic circulation, and impacts on surrounding areas.
Mitigation of impacts on nearby residential areas shall be a high priority in planning for and development...
Running a city can’t be easy. Even a thriving, smaller city like Morgan Hill comes with its challenges. If you spend time going through the City of Morgan Hill website, you quickly get a sense of the huge workload our city leaders face in setting policy and managing workplans. We can only hope they are also working tirelessly to follow the General Plan, Zoning Code, and other guiding documents of our city.
Sometimes, even those of us with best of intentions make critical mistakes, often because we enter into agreements we don’t fully understand, or have the time to investigate, and therefore cannot anticipate all future ramifications.
Could this be what happened when the proposal for a Morgan Hill Technology Park morphed into “one of the largest distribution centers in Northern California”?
We do know that city leaders began working with developer Trammell Crow 16 months before anyone heard about this massive distribution center proposal. The city is required by law to notify residents living near the proposed development when the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process begins; however, less than 1% of residents were directly contacted to attend the Initial Public Scoping Meeting.
The city claims they went beyond their legal obligation to send notices out to 174 addresses within 600 feet of the project site; however, in verifying the mailing list, we found 44 addresses were actually invalid. Residents at Westmont Senior Living Center, a mere 300 feet from the nearest dock doors, had absolutely no awareness of the project until one Westmont resident saw it in a discussion on NextDoor.com.
It wasn’t until word got out about this project on social media that our city officials decided to actively engage the community in this land development that is likely to affect all residents in some way or another – traffic, pollution, noise, economics, and consequently, overall quality of life.
Seeking Answers at First Community Meeting
It was standing-room only with several hundred residents attending the city’s first community meeting in May, 2019. We all had high hopes of getting answers on this project. It was obvious the city put great effort into planning that meeting and organizers were excited to see the turnout. As they told us, “this is phenomenal, the community doesn’t usually get involved until the EIR draft is released.”
Unfortunately, we left that meeting with few solid answers from the city or the builder. Responses to our questions were vague, “we don’t know at this time”. As we questioned the architectural renderings, down to the detailed diagrams for landscape and storm water removal, we were told, "this is only conceptual" with a strong implication these plans do not resemble the end product. Why not show us a more accurate design then?
The city apparently underestimated the degree of concern among its citizens. Without offering an alternative design for what we would like to see in a Technology Park, the highly detailed plans of a distribution center are all we had to go on. Given the response of residents, this project proposal was clearly unacceptable.
Who Really Initiated Rezoning, the Builder or the City?
At that first meeting we did, however, learn a bit about Morgan Hill’s economic development process. The Economic Development Director talked briefly about this project and suggested we check out their website used to advertise properties for sale, ChooseMorganHill.com.
Following her suggestion, we later learned some unexpected details about the property sale. Apparently, we can’t give Trammell Crow ALL of the credit for coming up with this outlandish idea of a Distribution Center. From this ad, we see that our city, in order to attract a buyer, was already ADVERTISING the possibility of rezoning this land for heavy industrial use, and suggesting warehouse/distribution as a potential development opportunity.
City Contact Information
City Mayor and Council:
Rich Constantine (408) 310-4647 firstname.lastname@example.org
John McKay (408) 706-4730
Yvonne Martinez Beltran email@example.com
Christina Turner, City Manager Christina.Turner@morganhill.ca.gov
Jennifer Carman, Development Services Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Rowe, Project Manager
Edith Ramirez - Economic Development Director email@example.com
- Planning Commission
Is this how our Morgan Hill Planning Division fulfills their mission to protect, maintain, and develop an attractive, safe, and healthy environment for residents of the city?
We imagine that city planners were quite captivated by the marketing pitch this builder gave on potential tax revenue and job growth. But did they even once question how comparable projects have affected other cities, especially in suburban areas where trucks and forklifts actively load and unload materials 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
Did it not occur to the city planners that a massive increase in traffic, noise and air pollution, along with health issues and a decrease in public safety, would be detrimental to residents of Morgan Hill? DO THEY EVEN CARE?
We've done our own research on distribution centers and it doesn't take much effort to find articles about suburban cities like ours whose residents are suffering from the ill effects of living near distribution centers. We've listed a few of those articles in our Research Library.
MHRGC's Role in Keeping Our Community Represented and Informed
Members of MHRGC continue to attend city meetings to ensure that our collective voices are not forgotten. As citizens, we hire city staff and elect city council to adhere to Morgan Hill doctrine and to protect us when high-powered developers submit construction plans that are not in line with our city's long-term General Plan, Zoning Code or Economic Blueprint. Trammel Crow is requesting changes to both the General Plan and Zoning Code to build this massive distribution center. Why are we changing our city vision and priorities for one developer?
There are two related processes that must be completed for this project to be approved by our city:
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of a project. While CEQA has many complex parts, the core requirement is the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The developer paid $300,000 for the city to complete this process and the draft EIR is expected to be released for public review and comment sometime later this year. We are trying to do everything possible to make sure the true environmental impacts of a 1.1 million sq foot distribution center are considered. However, the reality is that the EIR is paid for by the developer, overseen by the city, and written by consultants who typically rely heavily on the developer and city for future business. Therefore, we don’t have much confidence that the EIR process is going to address our legitimate concerns regarding this project.
At the city level, the approval process relates to a Planned Development (PD). Most cities have a PD process to allow projects to be approved that would not otherwise be allowed under their base zoning regulations. With this project, the developer wants to build a distribution center. This type of development is not permitted at all on the commercial-zoned part of the property and only allowed with special permission on the industrial-zoned part. In addition, the developer specified up to 55-foot-high rooflines, not allowed on either the commercial or the industrial parts of the property.
In exchange for waiving certain restrictions, the PD process defines mandatory procedures to provide oversight and restraint to protect the community and to prevent the PD process from being misused. An application for Preliminary Design Review must be completed prior to consideration of project-related General Plan and Zoning Amendments. During this review, the builder presents their Master Plan, with many more details than were available in the conceptual design. This enables the city to ensure that the proposed development exhibits high quality design consistent with the General Plan. It is also intended to ensure that new development and uses are compatible with their surroundings and minimize negative impacts on neighboring properties. Preliminary Design Review Meeting: October 15, 2019; Continued on October 22, 2019.
MHRGC is committed to keeping track of the EIR and PD processes for the Morgan Hill Technology Park to help our community stay informed of what is really going on with this project.
What We Want Our City Leaders to Do
Our Morgan Hill Guiding Documents, including the 2035 General Plan and Zoning Code, represent endless hours of work by residents of our city. We want city leaders to show by action, not just words, that they respect and follow these Guiding Documents in ALL decision-making for our city. Specific actions we are looking for:
Follow the General Plan and Zoning Code. Adhere to all city Guiding Documents in making decisions for this project. Do not change the General Plan and Zoning Code to suit the objectives of a developer.
Follow the law. The Planned Development process and procedures defined in the Morgan Hill Zoning Code are not just guidelines, they are the law.
Show commitment to transparency with an open and honest dialog during this process. Transparency is a foundational value for ethical government practices. Elected city officials are accountable to those who elect them and transparency is ensured by California's Public Records Act and the Brown Act. As residents of this city, we would like an opportunity to see current project records that have not been properly shared with the public, for example, basic information about the Traffic Impact Analysis.
Complete an independent and unbiased Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this project. In doing so, ensure that all environmental impacts of a 1.1 million sq foot distribution center are considered. For example, make sure the Traffic Impact Analysis uses a reliable model to estimate the actual traffic this development could generate with the total number of loading docks and big rig parking spaces in the plan. Also look at how similar projects have impacted other cities to verify these EIR studies are comprehensive.
Complete a detailed and objective market analysis. We believe the city can collaborate with the builder to find better alternatives for this land use that also provide more benefit to our community.
This massive development will become a permanent fixture at the gateway of our city. Let's make sure it doesn't ruin everything that is good about our beautiful city. Morgan Hill should be focusing efforts on bringing in high quality companies that maximize job growth in our community. We know other companies in Silicon Valley are seeking to expand their tech campuses too. Why not present that opportunity here in Morgan Hill?
We would like to see the city be responsible to its residents and tell Trammel Crow that this land is NOT suitable for a massive distribution center. Perhaps this land is ideal for a REAL Technology Park that focuses on research and development, enabling Morgan Hill to realize the vision and goals set forth in our General Plan to grow into a vibrant job center for years to come.