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February 2021

A New Era for Laguna Seca

Laguna Seca - D-Neumann - 2021-01-31 -4-1

After over a century of disruption and human development, Laguna Seca, San Jose’s largest remaining freshwater wetland, is one step closer to becoming more like the productive wetland it was in the past.

Wetlands are unique ecosystems where water covers the surface of the soil either permanently or seasonally, while supporting aquatic plants and other life. Wetlands benefit both human and natural communities with a wide variety of services. They naturally filter and protect our water supply; slow stormwater flooding in rivers and creeks; and capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, helping to buffer the effects of climate change. Wetlands are also characterized by remarkably rich biodiversity, which is key to the health and longevity of any ecosystem.

Laguna Seca is a seasonal wetland that once spanned more than 1,000 acres just south of San Jose in the Coyote Valley. It sits in a low basin near where Fisher Creek meets Coyote Creek. Historically, this wetland existed nearly year-round, where water would fan out and fill the basin in the rainy season, at times getting up to ten feet deep.

In 1916, Laguna Seca was transformed for agriculture use, disrupting the marshland ecology of the basin. This transformation work involved a variety of highly destructive tactics, including draining, ditching, clearing, burning, and disking, and as a lasting result of this human interference, modern-day Laguna Seca is dry for most of the year and typically only wells up during the rainy season. But that is beginning to change.

The Open Space Authority, in partnership with Peninsula Open Space Trust and the City of San Jose, is planning the restoration of this landscape by increasing the abundance of groundwater and restoring the floodplain. And we are starting to see what opportunities this work could bring, as standing water is once again returning to Laguna Seca before any significant rainfall, and with it, species of birds that once relied on these marshlands. For the restoration, the Authority and partners have been working to ensure that the local groundwater aquifer and creeks are managed sustainably and have been involved in a trash clean-up effort as well as invasive species management. Our volunteers have had a major hand in this work, with projects cleaning up litter around the area and some dedicated specifically to removing stinkwort, a highly stubborn invasive plant toxic to cattle.

“This new development is small, but hopefully a signal of what’s to come,” said Jake Smith, the Authority’s Conservation GIS Coordinator. “These ponds of water we see starting to appear are just a small example of what can happen at the larger, landscape scale.”

Read more and get involved in the restoration of this wetland here.

Fire and Regrowth at Diablo Foothills

Once a month, celebrate #OpenSpaceTransformationTuesday to see how we are transforming Santa Clara Valley’s natural spaces into beautifully restored, healthy landscapes!

Nearly eight months after the Crews Fire burned entirely through the Open Space Authority’s Diablo Foothills preserve, we are seeing new life appear yet again. This summer’s widespread fire events were some of the most serious in California's history, a fact that is obvious from the preserve’s seemingly still-baren hillsides. However, with a closer look, one can also see the regrowth that has already begun in the foothills and the signs of what’s to come.

DFOO - Burn Comparison - Dated

While wildfires like these are often devastating, they also bring with them many benefits to nature. As hot as the fire burned in some parts of the Diablo Foothills preserve, it was less severe in others. This variation is a good thing, as it creates a “mosaic of habitat,” as Kat Hill, Educational Aide for the Authority puts it. Fires lead the way for new species to take root and often increase biodiversity post-fire. Some species have started coming back, like soap plant, coyote brush, California sage brush, and milkweed. The oak trees are slowly recovering and this will continue, and native grasses are starting to recover as well. Additionally, many of the plants that were a part of the Caltrans restoration work conducted in 2017 survived the Crews Fire and still thrive today.

In this landscape, we will see yet another example of nature’s adaptability and resilience. We at the Authority look forward to seeing the regrowth continue.

Read more about this recovering landscape and view more regrowth photos here.

Community Connections - Matthew Dodder

Community Connections highlights the many leaders, partners, and neighbors who make a difference in our community. This month we are featuring Matthew Dodder, Executive Director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Matthew Dodder - SCVAS - 1-1Joining the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) just a year and a half ago, Matthew Dodder hit the ground running as acting Executive Director in a time unlike any other. Dodder, a teacher of 20 years, graphic designer, and lifelong nature enthusiast, was able to quickly adapt to today’s new challenges and put his passion and experience to good use.

Joining the organization right before the pandemic, his history with teaching and digital media has been an asset to the SCVAS as they, like many organizations, had to transition their programming to a fully virtual environment. They created educational and entertaining video content, virtual tours, self-guided trips with recommendations of where to visit and what birds to look for, and more. Even in his short time with the SCVAS, Dodder has already witnessed profound examples of the positive impact their work has had on the community. Helping to navigate the uncharted territory of virtual events, he’s had significant reminders of exactly why they do what they do. “People have told me how meaningful these experiences are to them. One man told me we saved his life with our virtual trips,” Dodder reflected. “It just makes my heart explode.”

Now, with a grant they received in December from the Open Space Authority Urban Grant Program, Dodder is excited to continue this momentum in their new environmental education program, the Oak Savanna Citizen Science project. Using the $79,000 grant, they plan to offer a unique learning experience to high schoolers at the Laguna Seca seasonal wetland in North Coyote Valley. Students will conduct field visits to the area and gather data that is to be coupled with in-class curriculum. Not only will this program provide students with well-rounded research experience that can inform future endeavors, but it will also give them the unique experience to witness “nature at its best,” as Dodder puts it. “They will be outdoors, away from buildings, where they are free to think, listen, and learn - what an amazing thing to have that possibility for high schoolers,” he enthusiastically mentions.

They begin the first year of the three-year project in March, during which they will develop the curriculum, plan the trips and connect with the high schools that will be participating, with a priority for high schools that are local. The following two years will then involve getting the students out to North Coyote Valley and study their findings. Dodder is looking forward to the positive and lasting impact this project will have on local youth in our communities.

Read more about Dodder and SCVAS' work here.

Who Am I?

ensatine and baby cait_hi_res-1-2

I am a native Californian amphibian found from Sonoma County down to Santa Cruz County. Believe it or not, I have no lungs and instead respire exclusively through my skin and the tissues lining my mouth. My orange skin and yellow eye patches might make you mistake me for the toxic California Newt, but this is just a clever evolutionary trick to discourage predators! Who am I?

Explore Our 2020 Year in Review 


Last year was a remarkably difficult year, during which society faced a variety of unprecedented and unforeseen challenges. The Open Space Authority, however, steadfast in its mission of conserving nature and providing equitable access to it, persevered, and had one of its most successful years to date. You can read about what 2020 looked like for the Authority below, in our Year in Review webpage.

2020 Year in Review

Five Trails We Love!

Coyote Valley OSP - Arrowhead Loop Trail - DN - Jan-21-2018 - 4-1

Along with having Valentine's Day, February is Heart Health Month, so consider enjoying some physical exercise outdoors while sharing your love for the natural environment. Check out this curated list of five local trails that we LOVE, both in our open space preserves and in urban open spaces that the Open Space Authority helped to fund.

Five Trails We Love

Volunteer for the Citizens' Advisory Committee and Measure Q Expenditure Oversight Committee

Coyote Ridge - Coyote Ridge - Flowers - Cait Hutnik - 2

Are you interested in facilitating community input to and from the Open Space Authority? There are currently two openings on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), for Districts 3 and 6. The CAC serves to provide communications to the Board from the public, aid in fostering a positive public image of the Authority, and help educate the public about the Authority’s goals and accomplishments.

Learn More

Do you love nature and numbers? Do you believe open space lands are essential to community health and well-being? If so, the Measure Q Expenditure Oversight Committee might be the perfect volunteer role for you! This committee provides public oversight for all funds collected and allocated by Measure Q. While there are currently no openings on this committee, applications are accepted on an ongoing basis.

Learn More

Who Am I? Answer

ensatine and baby cait_hi_res-1-1

I am the Yellow-eyed Ensatina! Because this lungless amphibian “breathes” through its skin, it can only survive in moist conditions and spends most of the dry season underground and beneath rotting logs and leaf litter. After the first rain, these salamanders will make their way above ground, which makes winter the best time to spot them!

Photo Credits

Laguna Seca - Derek Neumann, Authority Staff
Diablo Foothills Comparison Photos - Megan Robinson and Derek Neumann, Authority Staff
Matthew Dodder - Courtesy Photo
Yellow-eyed Ensatina - Cait Hutnik, Authority Volunteer
Hikers at Sierra Vista - Cassie Kifer
Coyote Valley Arrowhead Loop Trail - Derek Neumann, Authority Staff
Coyote Ridge Wildflowers - Cait Hutnik, Authority Volunteer

Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority | 408.224.7476 |