Opponents of the San Benito County supervisors’ decision to rezone four areas along Highway 101 for commercial development submitted more than 4,300 signatures Oct. 23 against the action.
If the county determines that the signatures are valid, a referendum petition could make its way to voters next year.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the zoning changes on Sept. 24. The four areas in question are located at the Betabel Road and Highway 129/Searle Road interchanges in San Juan Bautista, and the Rocks Ranch and 101 Livestock Market interchanges in Aromas.
Citizens group Preserve Our Rural Communities submitted 4,310 signatures to the San Benito county clerk, more than twice the required 2,060.
According to Assistant County Clerk Angela Curro, county election officials will begin verifying a random sample of 500 signatures Nov. 1 and should be done by the end of the month.
The types of developments allowed under the new regional commercial zoning designation include shopping centers, automobile stations and hotels. Retail space is limited to 85,000 square feet per commercial “node,” as they are called by planners, and no more than 125 hotel rooms can be built within each area.
In a statement announcing the results of their signature-gathering campaign, the group said the zoning change allows for a “wide range” of development, such as “large-scale resorts” and “amusement parks.”
The group alleges that “substantial evidence in the county’s administrative record shows that the projects will have new significant impacts that were never disclosed, evaluated or mitigated in the 2015 General Plan EIR.”
According to the California Secretary of State, voters “have the power to approve or reject statutes or parts of statutes” passed by a government body. These exclude urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual, current state expenses.
The group also filed complaints with the Fair Political Practices Commission against Supervisor Anthony Botelho and San Juan Bautista Councilmember Dan DeVries.
Among other things, the complaint contends that Botelho owns land within the Highway 129 zoning area, and “violated the form 700 disclosure requirements” by “not recusing himself from participating in a public process in which he has the potential of financial gain.”
In an interview with the Free Lance, Botelho said he has already submitted his response to the FPPC, and disputed the claims made by the complaint.
“I would be shocked if they take it further,” he said. “It’s just a flat-out false accusation.”
The complaint alleges that the Botelho Family River Ranch owns a property within the designated zoning area, identified as 2401 San Juan Highway by the county assessor’s office. However, the properties that have received the new zoning designation are located on the other side of Highway 101, roughly a half-mile away, according to maps provided by the county.
Botelho said he did manage the 2401 San Juan Highway property for his family a number of years ago, but no longer does. He added that because he doesn’t own the property, he is not required to add it to the form 700.
“It’s unfortunate that this is not an honest effort by the people who are in opposition to this zoning ordinance,” he said. “They are just trying to discredit me and others that are involved.”
In a separate complaint, the group contends that DeVries, while a member of the San Benito County Planning Commission in 2015, should have recused himself from the 2035 General Plan discussions when he disclosed that he represented a property owner along Highway 101.