In 2009, the last three remaining families raised owlets there. Relying on ground squirrel burrows, along with thoughtfully placed man-made nesting chambers, the burrowing owls at Shoreline have delighted park users for the past several decades.
But plans now being drawn up by the city of Mountain View put this animal's future in doubt.
In 2008, city staff presented plans for an athletic field that would use Shoreline Park lands along Garcia Avenue. In July 2009, city staff released a request for proposals for the design of the athletic field, and on Sept. 22 the council approved a $667,300 contract for BAS and Associates to design the facility.
The September staff report to the council does not discuss an environmental impact report or analysis of alternatives for this development. The report mentions conversations with "local experts and the California Department of Fish and Game to develop an owl mitigation plan," and describes the option of purchasing off-site mitigation credits in eastern Alameda County, enhancing foraging habitat within Shoreline, or some combination of the two. The report concludes that the "Council does not have to make a decision about owl mitigation strategy for the athletic field project at this time."
City Council decisions for years have benefited burrowing owls; that's why Shoreline still has a population while Palo Alto's and Sunnyvale's owls have disappeared. The current situation, however, is a classic case of good intentions, but less-than-complete information, guiding a series of decisions. It's time to step back and do the right thing.
Of the myriad questions this project and its process bring up, here are a few:
• Why are the owls an afterthought?
• Why are we considering the export of our local biological treasures to Alameda County?
• What happened to the city's commitment to sustainability and the preservation of biodiversity (see Mountain View General Plan, Mountain View 2009 Sustainability Report, Shoreline at Mountain View Web site)?
• In the long run, which would be remembered and appreciated more by residents: another athletic field, or the creation of a burrowing owl preserve?
We believe that the City Council is truly interested in informing the public in an open public process regarding these decisions, and is willing to save the burrowing owls of Shoreline. But somehow the City Council hasn't been briefed on 1) the nearly extinct level of the local population; 2) The horrendously poor track record of off-site mitigation for burrowing owls (it doesn't work); and 3) the need for a series of burrowing owl preserves along the Bay to ensure the existence of this species as part of our precious ecosystem.
So, if the athletic field is a done deal, what do we do about those beautiful owls? Should they be an afterthought? ("Council does not have to make a decision ... at this time.) Or should they be the very first consideration?
Burrowing owls are on the brink of extinction in Mountain View and in our county. Here's an opportunity for the city to have a positive impact. Get beyond "what the law requires" or "what the consultants recommend" and do something memorable, for this generation and the next, that you can all be proud of. Create a burrowing owl preserve at Shoreline.
For more information, see www.scvas.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.