Campaign pits sports leagues against owls

Audubon Society calls for preserve at Shoreline site slated for ball fields

With the burrowing owl as its poster child, the Audubon Society has started a campaign to make Shoreline Park into an owl preserve, and hopes to halt development of two playing fields planned to go on 12 acres of owl foraging grounds there.

The campaign comes as a surprise to the city's youth sports leagues, which have been waiting hopefully for the long-sought-after Shoreline ball fields ever since the City Council signaled its support for them in January of last year.

As of press time, 150 people had signed an Audubon Society petition calling for a "large and contiguous burrowing owl preserve to protect and enhance (the) burrowing owl's natural habitats" at Shoreline. The local Audubon chapter is advertising the campaign on its Web site, and members have been writing letters to City Council members, posting on the Voice's Town Square forum and advocating for a preserve during General Plan hearings.

"We want more than policies, we want a dedicated preserve," said Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, a local chapter of 3,000 bird lovers and bird watchers. "It's time Mountain View, in its 2030 General Plan, looks at nature preservation as a high priority."

The owls are a California "species of concern" that live in squirrel holes at Shoreline Park. There were once hundreds of the owls on the Bay's shoreline, Kleinhaus said, but she now believes there are now fewer than 40 pairs in Santa Clara County.

The 500-acre landfill turned regional park was home to about 14 owls on Monday, according to a count by Phil Higgins, a city-employed biologist who counts the owls every week. Higgins pays particular attention to their numbers during the spring breeding season. This year, he said, there were three mating pairs and 10 chicks; the highest number counted was during the spring of 2003, when the city counted 13 pairs and 22 chicks. Records go back as far as spring 1998, when three pairs and four chicks were counted.

The ball field plan would put a 90-foot baseball diamond and a soccer field on the eastern edge of Garcia Avenue north of the Googleplex and south of the Shoreline Golf Links. Though no owls have been seen nesting there, owls have been seen using the area for foraging of mice, voles and insects.

Elaine Spence, president of Mountain View Babe Ruth baseball league, was shocked upon hearing news of the burrowing owl campaign.

"I can't believe it," she said. "Where are we supposed to put our ball fields? It's a perfect spot. The youth need to have baseball somewhere in this town."

Spence noted that the site is a small portion of the 500-acre park and no one complained when Google built a soccer field next to the site on property it plans to develop someday.

She says local youth baseball leagues are outgrowing the one 90-foot baseball diamond in the city at McKelvey Park, which is shared by several Little League teams, the Mountain View Marauders football team and Saint Frances High School. And McKelvey may soon be closed for a year for construction if a proposal by the Santa Clara Valley Water District for a flood basin there is approved.

Earlier this year the city budgeted $9 million for the Shoreline ball fields and has conducted feasibility studies for the project, which should have a preliminary design for the City Council to examine early next year.

"The assumption at this point is that we will move forward unless something goes really massively wrong," said City Council member Ronit Bryant during a study session on the ball fields in January of last year.

On Monday, Bryant didn't appear to think anything had gone massively wrong yet.

"I met with the Audubon Society and I'm actually very optimistic we can work together on something very great for the owls," she said. "Mountain View is really good at coming up with all kinds of creative and out-of-the-box solutions. I bet there is a solution out there."

Environmentalists say development of the area, including at neighboring Moffett Field, has been steadily encroaching on the habitat of burrowing owls and other birds, including raptors, ducks and shorebirds. The usual mitigation measure, which involves the city purchasing land for an owl preserve elsewhere, is not good enough, Kleinhaus said.

Mountain View's burrowing owls lost some of their habitat last year when the city began leasing nine acres of what is known as "Charleston East" to Google for a new office building at Shoreline Boulevard and Amphitheatre Parkway. Owls there were removed by placing one-way doors over their burrows, which were plowed under once the owls left. The office building -- and a hotel planned on nine acres next door -- has yet to be built.

Mike Fuller, assistant public works director, said a possible mitigation measure is to create a new foraging area at Shoreline to replace the one lost to ball fields. That involves landscaping existing park areas to attract the owl's prey.

Parks section manager Jack Smith said the city already maintains owl habitat under a "burrowing owl management plan." Among other measures, Higgins, the city biologist and owl expert, cuts vegetation around the owls' burrows because they like to see what's around them.


Posted by Esperanza Sanz, a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Before even planning, an EIR needs to be done.

Not everyone knows about the whole issue. Thanks to bring the owls and their problems to the general public in Mountain View!

Posted by Carol Burger, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Most residents of Mountain View who have been here for some years know that Shoreline Park is burrowing owl territory. These easily-stressed birds do not adapt to close association with walkers, bikers, cars, soccer or baseball teams. What WERE the development and recreation staffs thinking?

Posted by Daniel Mart, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.






As with everything

It's all about money ... they got the power, and they got the money.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Carol and others, I can pretty safely assure you that Most Mtn. View residents do not immediately think of Shoreline as burrowing owl territory. They think of it as a park (how shocking!). What were the rec staffs thinking? Nothing nefarious. They were thinking "Hey, here is someplace to put some rec resources for our kids. They were not thinking about the dozen or less owls. I am not insensitive to the issue. But this "How could they?!" attitude is quite silly and typical of the narrow focus of some people on these issues. How many creatures were displaced when your home was built? Have you restored it to a preserve yet?

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Daniel, what does the "It's all about money and power" message even mean? This is not about some huge corporation building a warehouse or skyscraper. This is about a rec department building a needed ball field for local kids.

Posted by Phil Higgins, a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm

For the record, Phil Higgins the burrowing owl biologist at Shoreline Park was not interviewed for this article and any references to what he said was taken from city documents/reports.

Phil Higgins

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 25, 2009 at 3:29 pm

These enviros are out of control. Or rather, it's all about controlling us. They have already shut down a large part of California agriculture. And that's food for all the US since California is the largest agricultural state. As you drive down I5, huge tracts of land have become dust bowls because they perverted the law to send desperately needed water into the ocean instead of growing food for the rest of us.

And watch out, pretty soon it will be your backyard in their sights. After all, those owls burrow all over Mountain View, not just in the park. As a matter of fact, I think I see one of the little buggers outside my window now. Better sic the cat on it or I will have to move out of my house and turn it into a nature preserve.

Posted by reader, a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Two equal and opposite conspiracy theories are clashing here: one by a crazed paranoid named Curious and another by a crazed paranoid named Daniel Mart.

Both have a history on this forum. Mart is exceeding shrill and can't go two sentences without talking about an evil conspiracy of corporate-yadda yadda and big-whatever. If you try to meet him half-way and go into reasoned arguments or specifics, he gets outright offensive. Sample:

"You're reaching for air and you know it; I'm not even gonna respond to this ... take an intro to environmental studies course."
Web Link

Because of the tone he takes online, even on the occasions where he might be *right*, he does no favors for the causes he's advocating.

Then there's Curious, whose tone is more like that of an angry old man who thinks everybody is trying to pull the wool over his eyes. Nope-- can't fool old Curious! He's too smart for you. He sees the writing on the wall: evil enviro-nazis are trying to take his house away and give it to the owls and and his gun too and rape the Constitution while sending all the bureaucrats on luxury cruises on YOUR DIME. You've been warned.

Posted by jane, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 25, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Web Link

There are many, many coments already from the article last week - most are reasonable-sounding and most support the owls. There was one suggestion that the playing field didn't really belong on the "other side" of 101, because it involves more vehicle transportation and is not a walk-to site. There are many great comments, and probably most of those people will not resend their observations. The tenor is clear - lets save the owls and not jeopardize this small colony.

Posted by Patio Bear, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Shoreline Park is not a good place for playing fields regardless of owls. It is very windy and cold there.

Posted by Matt Raschke, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I would rather see a BMX park built here. Wind wouldn't be a problem for bikes. It is more compatible with the existing recreational uses. Since the City already bulldozed the existing BMX area, they owe local youth a replacement. Not all kids like team sports.

However, I believe Any loss of owl habitat can be mitigated. We have a lot of other area in the baylands that can be enhanced with mounds for the owls. We have far less area for our kids and recreation. I will gladly sign a petition to support the 12 acre recreation area.

Posted by Michelle Thomson, a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:05 pm

As an educator I am really concerned about this issue, and I hate to see it trashed out as one group against another. Both sports facilities and saving wildlife are extremely important for our children. Sports are a crucial element of a child's development, especially in this day and age of sedentary lifestyles, while preserving wildlife for its integrity and also the fact that burrowing owls are declining everywhere, especially in Santa Clara County.

However, I believe sports facilites should be located directly adjacent to residential areas where children can avail of the facilities directly after school and close-by (within walking distance)of their homes. Sports are suppose to be a fun activity to develop comradeship and social skills, not some sort of competitive arena where some parents I have witnessed push their children into strict regimes where the only outcome is to WIN a game.

Shoreline is one of the few remaining habitats for burrowing owls, they cannot just be moved to another area, like a sports field can. A sports area will only contribute to more loss of owl habitat pushing the owls towards extirpation as the owls have experienced at other sites close by. I use to see owls at Sunnyvale Park and Mission College but not anymore.

Preserve Shoreline as burrowing owl habitat for the owls and also as an outdoor field lab for children, and create athletic fields where children can use them on a daily basis.

Posted by Jim, a resident of Whisman Station
on Nov 25, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Aren't there already many different youth baseball leagues in the greater Mtn. View/Los area, and aren't they already using baseball fields from the various elementary and middle schools in both districts?

Posted by Nacho, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 26, 2009 at 11:35 am

Global warning, mercury in fish, PCBs in the breast milk of Inuits, desertification, deforestation, the Gulf of Mexico dead zone (eutrophization), TCE in the water table, loss of soil, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, DDT, lead, asbestos, the ozone layer depletion, acid rain, the sixth mass extinction, the loss of wetlands, invasive plants and insects, the colapse of bee colonies, etc... Are you sure you can deny all of these? Just go and read and get informed. It is impossible to invent all these issues. And you can always go to the Canadian rockies, for instance, and see where the glaciers are, or read about the passenger pigeon, extinct in the USA in September 1, 1914, or go to Monterey to see what happened with the sardines, etc.

I think that people have enough reasons to feel worried about the future and to try to protect and preserve what we have and is in risk of being lost. I'm informed, so I'm in favour of protecting burrowing owls.

Posted by Daniel Mart, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

I am not some crazed angry maniac that you percieve me to be. I do admit that some commets have seemed negative, and I have apologized before ... some comments towards me on this forum have been very mean-spirited, and that's what prompted my more "blunt" responses ... I have also said that in this context, the web can be dangerous, as there is no way to know the writers intended tone behind their words. I have made this mistsake numerous times on forums and AIM, and I'm sure you all have as well.

And I'm sorry if my "corporate tyraid," so to speak, causes any uneasiness, but, after having witnessed many decisions made by city councils which have enraged most of the public and have caused them to call goernment "corrupt," even if my words may sometimes seem harsh, I ask you to look behind them and pay attention to their underlying intent; to the large picture.

Posted by Gary, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm

I have seen dozens of comments from people saying "oh no we're not against athletic facilities for the kids, just put them someplace else". But I have not seen a *single* suggestion of an actual place to put the ballfields if they are moved from Shoreline. That is because there just isn't that much free space in Mountain View.

"Sports are suppose to be a fun activity to develop comradeship and social skills, not some sort of competitive arena where some parents I have witnessed push their children into strict regimes where the only outcome is to WIN a game."

This is an irrelevant, pejorative comment that has NOTHING to do with the issue at hand. My son has been participating in youth sports for several years and overwhelmingly the participants and their parents and coaches are good people exhibiting good sportsmanship. The stories you hear about crazy parents are not representative because normal people acting normally do not sell newspapers. By the way there is nothing wrong with trying to win an athletic contest fairly.

I have nothing against owls, burrowing or otherwise, but if the choice is between owls and our kids I will back the kids 24x7.

Posted by Matt Raschke, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 27, 2009 at 6:38 am

Do we really want to encourage predators like this owl in an area near the habitat for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse?

Let's get the facts and CEQA documentation first before making conclusions. Small rodents are definitely on the diet of this small bird of prey: Web Link

What about all the overflow parking areas for the Shoreline Amphitheatre? That must be area that could otherwise be "preserved" for burrowing owls? Do the owls live in that area? Can they tolerate the occasional human and vehicle inundation?

I see post after post of knee jerk reaction without thought about the big picture. Careful planning can create a balance between these seemingly competing issues. Our human population is increasing in this area. ABAG is forcing more local housing to prevent suburban sprawl in the Central Valley. That is a good thing, but we also need more areas like athletic fields to serve this local population. Land suitable for sports is extremely scarce. Meanwhile thousands of acres of salt drying beds in the South Bay are soon going to be restored for wildlife.

Let's get all the facts before making a decision on this worthwhile project.

Posted by Matt Raschke, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 27, 2009 at 7:14 am

According to a description in the article, here is a link to the aerial view of this site. Web Link

It is a narrow strip of vacant land crammed between an office complex and a golf course. There are busy roadways along half the site. Why would we preserve this specific area for owls? How many owls will wander onto the roads and get hit by cars? It looks like a perfect spot for some new recreational uses. It has direct access to good roads and VERY little connection with the baylands. Please get the facts before you condemn this project.

Posted by Daniel Mart, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

Is it not ironic that in the name of so-called "progress," man kills and destroys?

Who ever said that the human species is more relavent than other species? Other species have offspring; why are ours more vital? You argue that our kids matter more; well, I'm sure that if adults had a higher opinion of our kids and actually consulted with them, from what they learn in the classroom and on nature field trips nowadays, our kids would side with the owls.

Posted by Christian Saunders, a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Actually, the location of the Athletic fields site is on land that was once used by burrowing owls and it is directly adjacent to a large colony of burrowing owls on the golf course, so its a very inportant feeding area not just for owls, but red tailed hawks and white tailed kites who nested close by this year. Top predators are an indicator of the health of an ecosystem, hence the breeding success of so many birds of prey emphasizes the importance of this site, especially with so much other open space being lost to development.

Posted by Catherine Trejo, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 27, 2009 at 4:37 pm

There was a comment above by Matt Raschke that the location of the owls could be mitigated. Unfortunately, these birds tend to be faithful nesters, returning to the same nest site or nest yearly. They usually fail to nest when relocated. As for the endangered Harvest Mouse, I would agree with the comment posted by Christian Saunders: if the top predators are exterminated, the other endangered animals in the food chain are at risk as well.

Posted by dfb, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm

@curious: You are comparing apples to oranges. This matter is far different than the issues plaguing Westlands Irrigation District. In that case the Central Valley Project (CVP) and State Water Project (SWP) pumps in the South Delta area have been forced to curtail pumping for several reasons. Most notably, about 90-95% of the curtailment is because of the salinity restrictions attached to the water rights permits for the CVP. The Central Valley already has issues with saline soil. The fallow fields you mention along I-5 belong mostly to farmers in Westlands Irrigation district. Those farmers do not have water rights, rather they have contracts for water that put them low on the priority list. In 2009, they got about 10% of the contracted amount. In contrast, other nearby farmers, as well as farmers that get water from Friant, are getting 100% of their allocations.
CVP Water Allocations, US Bureau of Reclamation.

Posted by dfb, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 27, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Regardless of the use, a CEQA Environmental Impact Report should be prepared. The purpose of the EIR is to make sure the decision makers (city council) are making an informed decision. It appears there is conflicting information about whether and how much the owls and other wildlife use this site. Perhaps the city can get the water district to pay for this EIR since it directly involves the McKelvey Park flood control plan.

Posted by Daniel Mart, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 27, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Daniel Mart is a registered user.

An EIR "needs" to be prepared ... I belonged to the group which saved Coyote Valley is San Jose ... basically, a group from De Anza gave proof that the EIR given to the city was full of lies; the report said that no wildlife usedd the open space, which was so far from the trut. Coyote Valley provides cooridors and habitat for many different species.

This is where city government scares me.

Posted by Matt Raschke, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Catherine Trejo writes: "They usually fail to nest when relocated." This is not true according to this cited quotation from Wikipedia: Web Link

"If everything has been correctly prepared, the owl colony will move over to the new site in the course of a few nights at most. It will need to be monitored occasionally for the following months or until the major human construction nearby has ended.[14]?"

Please cite the scientific source for your assertion.

Posted by Bob, a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2009 at 9:04 am

Been out to shoreline several times. Cant remember seeing any owls. Don't remember any when it was a dump as well. How many endangered species homes did we destroy when the city bulldozed the BMX park?

Not building a baseball park could leave a child with more free time. What do you think they would do with that time? Watch burrowing owls? Play violent video games? My money is on the video games.

Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 28, 2009 at 9:26 am

It would be interesting what an EIR on the Whole MV/Shoreline situation is on these owls. One area at-a-time is not sufficient. The Shoreline District has the $ to do a complete EIR of the District. BTY - where is the assessment of the "playing field need".* Was this presented in Jan? Is Los Altos contributing fields in relation to their players? (Los Altos Hills has a mega kid baseball complex, is there ONE in Los Altos?). Organized vs unorganized sports - I do not see this council being proactive on sports north of the tracks - or opening new 'free play' parks in this under-served area. I guess organized sports fields is something.

* number of hours per week fields are used. % Mountain View kids in leagues.

Posted by Gary, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 28, 2009 at 10:41 am

I routinely run on Stevens Creek trail past what is called the old "BMX park". I did not know what it was, occasionally saw a few kids riding bikes there. I find it difficult to believe that the number of participants in BMX is anywhere near the number involved in organized youth sports, which encompasses a large proportion of MV schoolkids.

Posted by G. Ashman, a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2009 at 10:33 am

If the city is so stressed for land, why is City Council giving away the Mountain View city-owned properties on Bryant Street (between California Street and Mercy Street) to developers to build a residential complex? They tried and failed to do this already in 2001.

This development would deprive current and future generations of city residents from using the land for public benefit. A better use would be the Historical Society Museum so that Cuesta Annex can remain open natural space, or athletic fields.

The city council should start responding to public needs, not developers' needs, and adopt a longterm outlook that preserves all our land and natural assets.

Posted by dfb, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm

G Ashman said: "The city council should start responding to public needs, not developers' needs, and adopt a longterm outlook that preserves all our land and natural assets."

That's what the general plan update was about. The city had a series of community meetings and hearings over the past couple of years. In the end, the general plan was updated to slow growth, relatively speaking, allow a flood control basin and history museum in Cuesta Annex, and make a variety of other changes. The city could have turned the Annex flood control basin with ball parks (like McKelvey Park soon will be) but chose not to go that route. You can check archives of the Voice for more info.

This debate is occurring precisely because the farms are all gone, there are few sites left in Mountain View that have not been developed, and overbuild projects are sprouting up with higher density than previous uses. Gas prices, environmental choices, and quality of life issues are leading people to live near work. As such, people will want to live in Mountain View, a local job center. As such, homes need to be built and parks created to play in. The general plan likely does not adequately address those pressures or future growth.

Personally, as long as Cuesta Annex remains a park, I'm fine with the proposal to also use it as a flood control basin.

Posted by zanon, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 1, 2009 at 10:14 pm

I am very happy that the needs of small owls are being put before the needs of small children. do small children need recreation? no they do not. does california need small children? no, there are other states for that.

but owls we cannot do without. a day does not pass when my life is not benefited from owls. but i have never had anything to do with a child.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Jackson Park
on Dec 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Hasn't Mountaint View built itself up enough? imagine the pollution from fertilizer, auto exhaust in parking lots, sewage disposal needs for all the people stomping through the park!

All those sports fields are is a way for someone other than yourself to make money anyway....they certainly won't be free for anyone to use!

Posted by Mr. Big, a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 8, 2009 at 10:26 am

We can have our cake and eat it too. Shoreline park is large enough to accommodate the sports fields and the owls.

I can see the Audubon Society's side that there seems to be more and more development of the the shoreline with SF Bay, but we also need to do as much as we can to promote healthy exercise for our children and adults.

I say let them build the fields exactly where they are proposed as it is the best spot and I also say lets amend the plan for Shoreline Park to discourage any future development as it will be fully developed IMHO.

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