Updated: New Board Chairman Rivas lays out platform

Supervisor Robert Rivas

Supervisor Robert Rivas gets to take his turn as county board chairman in 2016.
His nod comes after supervisors at a special meeting Tuesday night approved last year’s vice chairman as the chairman of the board.
Rivas takes over as chair of supervisors’ meetings for last year’s chairwoman, Margie Barrios. Supervisors typically rotate in and out of the role, and the vice chair usually takes on the chairperson role the following year.
Among his announcements, Rivas in a state-of-the-county address Tuesday outlined such objectives as pushing for more transparency through a sunshine law, moving ahead on a new library center, backing of the county’s push for a sales tax initiative on a ballot this year, encouraging renewable energy development, preventing sprawl and making Cesar Chavez’s birthday a county holiday.
He said a “sunshine” ordinance is needed, as is annual ethics training.
“We have to discuss local campaign finance laws,” he said. “San Benito County currently doesn’t have limits on current contributions for local elections.”
As a second priority, he said he wants to develop a library/community center.
“We should build a place of learning and discussion that will be a model for the rest of the state,” he said.
He said it should not be just a “library of book shelves” but an interactive place where residents read, hold conferences or classes, and work on computers.
He pointed out how the new courthouse, along with the city’s fire station No. 1 and police station, are impressive buildings.
“Shouldn’t our schools and library be just as nice?” said the supervisor, an employee at the high school.
He pointed to funding and said the county should immediately pursue its first sales-tax increase in more than a decade, as planned, on the November ballot.
He also brought up the hot item from the 2014 ballot, the Measure J petroleum initiative that banned fracking and other methods of extraction in the county.
“San Benito County is known as a place where people determine their future, not the oil industry,” Rivas said, noting that wineries, Pinnacles National Park and state parks as assets to protect in order to boost tourism.
He said he wants to pursue renewable-energy opportunities and “make sure that the assets of our county are not destroyed by ill-conceived suburb sprawl.”
He said he is against building the same “tract homes” constructed over recent decades and referred to “livable, walkable” traits in other communities as preferable.
“Let’s do the same right here in San Benito County,” he said, adding how leaders can’t lose sight of the need for more affordable housing here as well.
He neared the speech’s conclusion by underscoring the importance of the county’s agricultural heritage. He spoke how previous generations worked to make this a decent place to live and that the county in ways was at the epicenter of the farmworker movement in the 1960s and 1970s, winning basic rights “when the odds were stacked against them.”
He said his grandfather was among those “freedom fighters,” a group whose members are “leaving us every year because of age and illness.” He mentioned Cesar Chavez in particular and how the leader visited the county several times during the farmworker rights movement and how some of the first farmworker labor agreements were made here in San Benito County.
He said the county should honor that history with a paid holiday for its employees on Cesar Chavez Day.
“This is our history, and we should honor it,” he said.
Rivas closed by announcing, to go with his theme of improved transparency, that closed-session portions of meetings will occur at the outset, at 9 a.m., with the general meetings beginning at 10 a.m.

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