Water at crux of debate over Tres Pinos project

These are the percolation ponds serving the Tres Pinos Water District.

A proposal for a 21-home subdivision in Tres Pinos, with a population of about 500, may come down to availability of water.
Jae and John Eade are proposing the relatively small development—though robust for the unincorporated town—with most of the homes planned for the same spot where the couple had proposed the Spur Hotel project at Airline Highway and Southside Road. That project got stuck in tracks in the late 2000s by local government agencies such as the county planning commission and never reached fruition.
This time around, the Eades are proposing 16 housing lots in that location along with another five lots near Fifth Street close by. If approved, the Eades would plan to sell the map to a developer who would build the 5,000 to 8,000-square-foot homes, John Eade said.
Eade in an interview was critical of the county planning department and estimated it has been 800 days since he submitted the application.
“My biggest problem right now is the planning department,” Eade said. “They don’t get it done.”
San Benito County Planning Director Byron Turner could not be reached for comment.
The county planning commissioners finally considered the project Nov. 18 but continued it to a special meeting set for Dec. 16 at the San Benito County Administration Building on Fourth Street.
It’s the same body, with different members, which rejected the Eade’s hotel proposal eight years ago. One of the current commissioners, Dan DeVries from the San Juan Bautista area, said he will focus his Tres Pinos subdivision decision on zoning and density.
“If the zoning is right and the density is right, that would lean heavily toward approval in my mind,” DeVries said.
He said water would be a factor in whether it progresses, though.
“We have a saying now in the planning business in San Benito County—no water, no project,” he said.
Even if the project gets past the planning commission stage—the department’s staff has refused to sign off on environmental documents due to questions about water and wastewater—the Eades would need approval from the town water district.
That Tres Pinos Water District, which currently lacks a manager, has maintained a self-imposed moratorium against new water hookups for 26 years due to access and infrastructure concerns.
Christine Breen, an attorney representing the Tres Pinos Water District Board of Directors, offered context on the water district that might shed light on the challenges facing the Eades. She mentioned the district has only 110 customers and is designated as a “disadvantaged community” because most users are renters with “very low socioeconomic” backgrounds.
She noted how the district is served by a single well dug in the early 1960s. It’s the district’s only well, while a 55,000-gallon tank serves all the community’s water needs.
Breen also pointed out the district is “perennially” out of compliance with regional wastewater quality control board standards and that its equipment is old.
“Because of the size and the socioeconomic makeup of the district, making any capital improvements to infrastructure has been extremely challenging,” Breen said, adding how the district raised rates last year but the revenue doesn’t go far with so few customers.
On the upside, Breen said, the district is in phase two of three in an effort to obtain a construction grant to upgrade the systems through the state’s department of water resources. Breen said she expects it will take some time, however, and phase two won’t be done until the the spring of 2016.
Any real upgrades would be “several years away,” she said.
The Eades and their attorney, however, have contended groundwater levels are higher than they were 25 years ago, there is more groundwater in Tres Pinos than in any other subbasin in the county, and that there’s less water use in the district now than 10 years ago, according to a letter dated Dec. 1 from attorney Paul Rovella at the L&G law firm to Turner.
“Based on studies identified by the County in the Initial Study for the Project, the Project stands to increase groundwater use by 4,830 gallons per day,” according to the letter. “This equates to a mere 5.41 acre feet per year. This will not be a substantial increase to demand from the Tres Pinos basin, which has stabilized at about 2,500 acre feet per year.”

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