General Plan Update

October 20, 2009

MOOtube has been recording the twice a month meetings on the Update of the General Plan so that COWs can see what is being considered. You can see the videos of the meetings on MOOtube, under the Public Service section.

The September 23rd meeting of the General Plan Task Force focused on the Open Space Element (read the current Open Space Element here and most of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by an outside expert, Trevor Hebert of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, the 1200 acre natural laboratory just south of Woodside. The speaker demonstrated the power of GIS (Graphical Information Systems) technology and how it could help our Town manage our natural resources better and more inexpensively. See here for more information.

The basis of the data is airplane surveys of the ground using laser beams instead of cameras to bounce light off ground, water, and vegetation, and taking the returned light and assembling an very detailed map of the terrain at different levels. Over 500 million data points are studied. That data can then be manipulated to show the courses of creeks, different types of vegetation, fault zones, and other facts.

This technology could be used in support of Woodside’s Backyard Habitat Program (pages 31-40). It could be used to show stream corridors and natural habitat, habitat quality, and the average slope of parcels. Mr. Hebert noted that right now culverts and small bridges do not show up properly and have to be fixed manually. He told the Task Force that based on his data, and following Woodside’s definition of riparian corridors (25 feet from the bank of a stream or 50 feet from the center of a creek, whichever is greater), a surprising 13% of the Town is likely within a riparian corridor, and a whopping 50% of parcels likely have riparian corridor within their borders!

In response to a question from a Task Force member, Mr. Hebert said this data was important because creek areas are very vulnerable to damage, and damage done in one area can affect land and water upstream and downstream from the damaged site. He mentioned the problem of mud and sediment washing downstream and causing flooding, the use by wildlife of streams as highways to seek food and mates, and also stressed the value of healthy creeks in relation to property values. As he said, most people don’t want to look at ditches with muddy water running through them.

Mr. Hebert showed how the technology can show degraded environments – including some near Woodside, and speculated on what might have caused the damage. He also displayed a former nursery site that was left completely bare and damaged when the nursery closed down, and showed how nature was repairing it with new vegetation.

Another task force member asked whether this technology could reduce the need for expensive surveyors. Mr. Hebert said the answer was probably yes, but in cases of disputes, surveyors might still need to be used. He did say that he thought that his GIS maps were as accurate as anything a surveyor on site could produce.

The last interesting point was that the GIS system could show slope, and average slope over a parcel which is important when any property over 12.5% grade triggers development restrictions in Woodside.

Check the meeting out on MOOtube!

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