Learn from the history of the Growth Control Initiative

It has been said that those who do not learn the lessons of
history are doomed to repeat it.
There have been questions regarding the need for and purpose of
the San Benito County Growth Control Initiative. There have been
assertions made about the lack of leadership from the San Benito
County Board of Supervisors. Just what have we learned from
history? You judge for yourself:
It has been said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

There have been questions regarding the need for and purpose of the San Benito County Growth Control Initiative. There have been assertions made about the lack of leadership from the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. Just what have we learned from history? You judge for yourself:

Approximately 13 years ago, a group of concerned citizens crafted an Initiative which when qualified for the ballot became Measures L & M. These two measures sought to limit growth to a level equivalent with infrastructure; it sought to expand our commercial and industrial base and to preserve agricultural land. But development interests, primarily from outside the County, spent more than $250,000 to perpetrate lies about those responsible for the Initiative and about the Initiative itself. Coincidentally, those against the Initiative made a commitment to sit down and work out a compromise for it was agreed that something was needed but this just wasn’t it. That was 13 years ago and we’d still be waiting if we hadn’t proposed our Initiative.

But what may be of more interest is what else happened in the 13-year interim. The City of Hollister got way ahead of itself and now suffers the consequences of uncontrolled growth. Recently its citizens took matters into their own hands and qualified and passed by a significant margin their own growth control initiative – curiously there were no protests about this ballot box initiative. And all the while the County leadership was keenly observing the impacts that the City of Hollister was having on the unincorporated land and was listening to residents’ concerns.

We are truly baffled when anyone suggests that the Board of Supervisors has not shown leadership on growth issues, let alone in other areas. In fact, during these 13 years, the Board began by passing ordinances to protect our water supply; then they started working on growth issues directly. First, the Board passed the residential density ordinance (where any development proposal which seeks to increase residential density beyond 100 units must go to a vote of the people) and then the Board moved on to a growth cap among other actions. In addition, as early as 1995, the County recognized the need to improve Highway 25 by contacting CalTrans but was unable to garner support from the City of Hollister at that time.

It may also be instructive to know what else happened during this time: The County held General Plan Update workshops at locations all over the County in 1999/2000 and the same handfuls of people showed up each time. If there was such a lack of leadership or conflict within the community it would have been displayed at these workshops in the open forum for discussion and debate – yet no one came to protest. Next, the Business Council proposed, without community input, their own growth management plan and building permit allocation system. After the demise of this plan, they attempted to put together their own version of a community consensus-building group: They called it Vision 20/20. This vision never got past its first meeting.

Interestingly enough, there were no referendums; perhaps because the Board had enacted what the people wanted. However, something else happened. Within a short time after the Business Council moved on from Vision 20/20, some of its members filed an Initiative. But this Initiative didn’t seek to limit growth; it sought to limit Board of Supervisor terms; not City Council members’ terms or any other elected officials. It is surmised that their thoughts were if they couldn’t stop the Board from taking a leadership role in managing growth, then they would go after those individuals taking that leadership role and get them out of office and out of their way. But they abandoned their quest when they found out that there was no legal way to make their initiative retroactive, thereby removing current Board members.

So here we are 13 years later, a mass of broken promises from so called consensus builders and overt actions are being taken to remove the very core that has offered such effective leadership in San Benito County on growth management issues. It should therefore come as no surprise that many of us sought out the Initiative process to remedy what we saw as an unmet need. The Citizens for Responsible Growth in San Benito County decided to do an Initiative to make permanent what this Board’s leadership has already put in place – and only citizens could do such a thing – not the Board. A Board action can be changed by another Board action, but an Initiative brought by the People, if enacted, either by the Board of Supervisors or a vote of the electorate (both legal choices under the Election Code), would prevent monied interests from controlling the development future of San Benito County.

So you see the Board of Supervisors isn’t doing any ballot box planning or conflict resolution with this Initiative. It is We the People; some 5,963 of us, who signed the Initiative petition, as well as the 5,300 who signed the referendum petition, who wanted to vote. It is We the People, who are asking for a decision about making current ordinances permanent that manage and control growth, protect our water supply, set and tighten development standards already in County code, and preserve our agricultural land through zoning changes. And there is one major difference and that is when this Initiative is successful, ONLY A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE, can decide the fate of our beautiful community – not three votes on any given Tuesday.

The apparent conflict you see comes only from a few farmers and other agricultural interests, who perceive that their property values might somehow be harmed, not property rights as some would have you believe. Property rights cannot be harmed because the Initiative clearly states in Section 4, that it cannot apply if it…”deprives any person or persons of constitutional or statutory rights or privileges…” The current General Plan states that the County will protect and promote agriculture. This Initiative does just that. Although there may be other alternatives, this is one which is supported by the American Farmland Trust, which states that the use of Transfer of Development Credits is the only way to retain equity in farmland.

Those few San Benito County farmers who have expressed concern over the enactment of the Initiative, have stated they have only two problems with it. One: they believe their ability to sell off a parcel in times of operational or financial need would be impaired; and two, there is a claim that the Initiative may not allow them to leave property to their children. Provided the land stays in a viable agricultural parcel, the Initiative provides for it.

And now that this current growth management initiative has gotten this far, innuendoes, distortions of fact (some would say lies), threats and intimidation have reared their ugly head again against members of our Committee and against certain Board members and the Initiative itself.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors has demonstrated clear leadership for many years. So much so that we want to ensure that their hard fought decisions remain regardless of who sits in the Board seats.

As you’ve read this, please ask yourself, does any of this sound familiar?

So, we ask again, are we doomed to repeat history or have we finally learned its lessons?

Janet Brians, Birgit Winans,

Margaret Cheney, Mandy Rose,

Citizens for Responsible Growth in San Benito County

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