The visual landscape consists predominantly of urban elements including multi-story buildings, residential houses, urban landscaped areas, roads and other features of a developed landscape spread across a flat area with little discernible topographic features (site visit July 17, 1998). Views are closed in by buildings and trees, affording only occasional vistas of the distant hills to the east, and the Santa Cruz Range to the south and west. Interspersed areas of open space and agricultural land provide open vistas in the project area. The area along State Route 237 provides the largest area of open vistas across agricultural and open space lands to the surrounding hills. State Route 237 is a designated scenic route. The City of San Jose is progressing with plans to replace urban landscaping with consistent streetscape landscaping themes on North First Street, Zanker Road, Trimble Road and State Route 237 as part of its Rincon de los Esteros Landscape Master Plan (PG&E, 1998 PEA). PG&E has proposed as mitigation to contribute funds to this program and assist in its implementation. Portions of the proposed power line alignments follow existing power lines; the project would replace these poles and lines in the same alignment.

  1. Significant visual impacts are caused by substantial adverse changes in public views and vistas in areas designated for preservation or enhancement of scenic quality. State Route 237 is the only formally designated scenic route in the project area. At present, the eastern highway is bordered on both sides by agricultural lands and vacant open space lands in the eastern part of the North San Jose Capacity Project area, as well as in the western part of the project area on the north side of the highway. The latter area includes the Nortech Substation site. Office/light industrial buildings with surrounding landscaping are located on the north side of the highway adjacent to the Nortech Substation site. The south side of the highway includes a residential area between North First Street and the Guadalupe River. An existing distribution power line supported by wood poles is located along the north side of the highway. These poles would be replaced by steel poles to support the existing distribution line and the proposed new 115 kV line. The taller poles would be more visible to motorists, but the overall change in the visual landscape would not be substantial. Urban development has been occurring rapidly in this area and much of the area is planned for more light industrial/office development. The 1985 Environmental Impact Report on the Rincon de los Esteros Redevelopment Project acknowledged the transformation of the area’s rural landscape to an urban setting, and visual impact was classified by the City of San Jose as less than significant (PG&E, 1998 PEA). Therefore, the change in the visual landscape created by the proposed power lines would be consistent with the planned urban character of the area. In addition, the poles would be located on the north side of the highway and therefore would not obstruct the motorists’ vistas of the distant hills and mountains. The primary view interruption would occur at the two places where the power lines cross the highway. At Zanker Road, the crossing of the proposed Trimble-Nortech power line would occur in area in which no existing power lines cross the highway. The change in the visual landscape would be noticeable to motorists and to viewers from nearby offices. At Lafayette Street, the Kifer-Nortech power line would replace an existing power line, but the power line would be taller and more noticeable. The interruption in the views in either the eastbound or westbound directions created by these crossings of the highway would be brief, and because motorists and workers in offices are considered groups with low viewer sensitivity, the impact is considered a less than significant impact of the project. The Rincon de los Esteros Landscape Master Plan includes a landscaping concept in which rows of poplar trees will be planted along the road between the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek. The mature poplars would tend to further reduce the visual contrast of the poles compared to the exiting condition.

    The proposed Nortech Substation site is located on the northern side of State Route 237. The site has relatively low visibility to motorists from the highway because of the grade of the highway. Views of the site are afforded primarily to motorists travelling westbound. The view is principally of eucalyptus trees and parking areas on the eastern part of the site and an existing power line and transmission line; visually the adjacent buildings of the North San Jose Technology Center tend to attract the eye more than the site itself. The proposed substation facilities, in particular the 100-foot tall lattice steel micro-wave tower and the distribution lines converging on the substation, would be visible briefly to motorists on the highway, particularly those travelling westbound. The bus structure and transformers and other facilities at the substation would tend to recede visually for motorists on the highway. The micro-wave tower and the distribution power lines would not obstruct any vista at this location, as the area is flat. The proposed substation would alter the visual landscape in this area, but its visual arrangement and degree of contrast to the existing surrounding visual environment would not be substantial. Therefore, the impact would be less than significant.

  2. Pursuant to CEQA, public views are eligible for protection and/or mitigation from project effects if there is a demonstrable negative aesthetic impact. The impact is defined in part by the degree of contrast which the proposed facilities would have with the surrounding visual landscape, in particular contrast that is not compatible with the character of the surroundings. Viewer sensitivity is an additional consideration. For the project, facilities proposed to be constructed at the Trimble Substation and Kifer Receiving Station would be consistent with those already present and the degree of contrast would be insufficient to cause a substantial change in the visual environment. The proposed Nortech Substation and distribution line visual impacts along State Route 237 are discussed under item a, above.

    The proposed 3.7 mile long Trimble-Nortech power line would be constructed along highly visible edges of well traveled thoroughfares. These streets are border by mixed urban and open space areas. Street lights (32 feet tall), stop lights (34 feet tall), other street "furniture" and landscaping are present along most of these roads. The segment of the proposed power line along Zanker Road would represent the greatest degree of contrast in the visual landscape. The poles would be noticeable especially along the east side of Zanker Road between Trimble Road and State Route 237, as no power lines are currently present and the large poles and power lines would create a relatively high degree of visual contrast. Some trees would be removed or topped to accommodate appropriate clearance for the line. The removal of redwood and poplar trees along the east side of Zanker Road between Plumeria Drive and River Oaks Parkway would be a noticeable impact. Replanting would be carried out consistent with the Rincon de los Esteros Master Landscape Plan. Motorists on Zanker Road and workers in offices and industrial facilities are considered low sensitivity viewer groups. Occupants of residences and users of park lands are considered potentially sensitive viewers. Residential uses are present only at one location a mobile home park located on the west side of Zanker Road about 500 feet south of State Route 237. Views from that residential area are partially screened by a fence and eucalyptus trees planted in the median strip of Zanker Road. The proposed power line would be noticeable to residents in the mobile home park, and the lines would alter but not block distant views of the hills. There are no parklands along Zanker Road. The impact is considered potentially significant because of the visual contrast created by the scale of the power line. As noted, PG&E has committed to a $500,000 contribution to the City of San Jose toward street landscaping along Zanker Road as mitigation for the project. Steel poles, 85-feet high, would be highly visible features of the landscape in this area. A new power line would add to the cumulative urban visual character already present along most of Zanker Road and would be generally consistent with the City of San Jose’s policies for development in the area. The incremental effect of the project, with implementation of the mitigation proposed by PG&E, would be less than significant.

    The proposed Kifer-Nortech power line would largely occur in an area in which an existing power line would be replaced by the taller steel poles and wires. The power line would be highly visible, and where it passes by residential areas with close range views, it would be considered a visually sensitive change in the landscape. Residential areas are present along both the east and west sides of Lafayette Street along the power line alignment. The power line would also pass by the Santa Clara Golf and Tennis Club, a recreational facility located on both sides Lafayette Street, and users of those facilities may be considered sensitive viewers. Other uses in the area are primarily office, retail, institutional and industrial, and these would not be considered sensitive visual users. However, for the entire length of Lafayette Street, including residential areas and the recreational area, the effect of the power line would be more in degree rather than kind of change, that is, the scale of the power line would be larger than the existing line created by taller poles and more power lines. The impact would be primarily on the close-in views from buildings facing on or near to Lafayette Street. The power lines would alter, but not block, views of the distant surrounding hills where these views are available (existing trees and buildings block distant views in some areas). The power line would not substantially change the existing visual character of Lafayette Street. As with the Trimble-Nortech power line, the proposed Kifer-Nortech power line would be consistent with the elements of the urban visual landscape. This impact would be considered less than significant.

    Construction activities would create short-term visual impacts. These are not likely to significantly impair activities at sites along the power lines and because the effects are temporary at any of the construction sites, the impact is less than significant.

  3. New lights would be installed at the Nortech Substation site. This lighting would be hooded, directed downward, and confined to the Substation site in order to minimize glare. There are no nearby sensitive land uses for which lighting and glare would pose a problem. The project would therefore result in a less than significant impact.

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