Community Board: General plan wisely allows for growth

Highway 156 is shown from a hillside.

After eight years of discussions, workshops, hiring and firing of consultants, environmental reviews and tense debates, county supervisors approved a new general plan as the blueprint for future development.
In a refreshing change of direction, the 2035 general plan approved by the county provides that blueprint for smart, planned growth instead of following outdated, anti-development edicts of the past.
Crucially, the county’s general plan promotes residential and commercial growth, particularly through four nodes set aside for consideration as special study areas for development. That way, supervisors are not only allowing for gradual development of homes and businesses, but they are also doing it in a way that shows they’re being thoughtful about what goes where. Putting this proverbial welcome sign on the front lawn is a big improvement from recent decades. For many years, this county had a system that put the kibash on most development.
Past county officials such as former Planning Director Rob Mendiola and Supervisor Richard Scagliotti—found guilty in March of a civil conflict of interest charge related to his time as an official and private developer, and ordered to pay $237,500 to a petitioner—promoted the false-Utopian idea that San Benito County could prosper by standing still in time as others grew around us, with exceptions for some developments that lined pockets of the few.
The new general plan’s adherence to smart growth principles will carry little weight, meanwhile, if the county doesn’t move soon on projects to expand Highway 25 and Highway 156.
For commercial and industrial development in particular—the most important facet of a strong economy with a wide variety of job types—there will be little interest in building or moving here without proper highways, largely used by commuters today, in and out of town.
Wherever one stands on the highway issue—which can correlate strongly with the growth debate in political circles—everyone understands that congestion exists. Everyone has witnessed the regularity of severe backups on Highway 156 on Friday afternoon into the evening, and Highway 25 simply isn’t built with its primary customer—the commuter—in mind. It caters only to the farm community and drivers with all the time in the world.
That isn’t fair to the rest of the residents—including a commuter base making up the vast majority of the adult workforce living in the county—working hard to get by every day. Local traffic inefficiency can play a big role in stalling the local economy. And most important, a two-lane setup is extremely unsafe for the amount of traffic on either highway.
Overall, the general plan points San Benito County in the right direction. Now, we have to find the money and political will to get those highways expanded.

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