Initiative filed to restrict ag land

Proponents of the San Benito County Growth Control Initiative
filed a petition Thursday with the San Benito County Elections
Office to put into voters’ hands the initiative to down-zone
agricultural rangeland and prime agricultural productive land.
Proponents of the San Benito County Growth Control Initiative filed a petition Thursday with the San Benito County Elections Office to put into voters’ hands the initiative to down-zone agricultural rangeland and prime agricultural productive land.

Proponents acquired nearly five times the number of signatures needed to place the measure on the March 2004 primary ballot, according to County Clerk John Hodges. The number of signatures required to place the initiative on the ballot was around 1,200, Hodges said, but proponents gathered more than 5,900 signatures of registered voters in the county.

“This is huge,” said Richard Saxe, one of the authors of the initiative. “This is more signatures that has ever been gathered on any initiative effort in this county’s history.”

Saxe said support for the initiative was strong. The group could have easily gathered 10,000 signatures if they’d had the time to go door to door to every home and farm in the county, he said.

“Our goal was 5,000 because we wanted everyone to know the majority of the county supported it,” Saxe said.

If passed by voters, the initiative may be repealed or amended only by another public vote.

According to the proponents, the measure would protect the long-range vitality of county agriculture and the county’s rural character. Proponents say the county’s general plan does not provide for adequate safeguards to protect the agricultural economy and the natural beauty of the county’s rural areas.

The proposed measure includes amendments to the land-use elements of the county’s general plan that would increase the minimum parcel size for the agricultural productive of five-acre lots to 20-acre parcels and change agricultural rangeland from 40-acre parcel lots to a minimum 160 acres.

“It’s a way of saving farmland in our county,” Saxe said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is our farmland worth saving and is our growth worth controlling?'”

At the time the petition was turned in, proponents also had more than the minimum 20 percent of registered voters’ signatures that would allow the initiative to be placed in a special election.

“But there was no accompanying letter with the petition requesting a special election,” Hodges said. “I guess they didn’t want the taxpayers to pay the big bucks for a special election.”

Hodges said his staff has 30 days to check the signatures, which will begin as soon as they finish entering the new voter registrations that came in during the petition drive.

“We had a whole slug of them come in – I’d say about 500 to 600 voter registration cards,” Hodges said.

Hodges said the proponents had a well-run organization and did all of their paperwork on time.

“They were real easy to work with,” he said. “They did everything according to elections codes.”

Besides the approximately 30 volunteers who collected signatures, Saxe said the group hired a few people to help them gather the necessary signatures, admitting at times it got a “little sticky.”

“We had some people yelling and screaming at us, saying we were wrong to do this,” he said.

Saxe said the proponents have been working on the measure for some time and thousands of dollars were raised through private donations, along with a few other interested groups who donated money in support of the initiative.

“I’m sure the developmental interests are going to invest hundreds of thousands to fight this initiative,” he said. “But you have to ask yourself ‘Why?’ Because their vision is to fill the San Juan Valley with tract homes.”

Most of the voter registration cards turned in during the signing of petitions were because of a change in address or a name change because of marriage. However, Hodges said there was something peculiar about some of the cards.

“A lot of people, whether they realize it or not, their party affiliation has changed,” he said. “We noticed the person who filled out the card had their name, address and signature in one color pen or pencil, but the party affiliation box was entered with a different-colored pen.”

Hodges said his office has no way to investigate what happened other than to send out the notification cards.

“When we send out the notification cards the people will have to check the information to make sure it’s correct,” he said. “If it’s not OK, you should call in and tell us.”

Hodges said he doesn’t know why there was such a major party change because party affiliation has nothing to do with this particular initiative. Saxe said it was possible that some of the people the initiative’s proponents hired may have had their own agenda.

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