Voters to decide Highway 101 zoning

Supervisors place issue on March ballot

OVERPASS PROTESTS Protests like this on bridges over U.S. 101 led to petitions, then a March 2020 referendum on commercial development at four interchanges. File photo

Voters will decide in March if the San Benito County supervisors’ decision to rezone four areas along Highway 101 for commercial development should be repealed.

After county elections officials validated the signatures gathered by a group opposing the September decision, the supervisors voted unanimously Nov. 19 to put the issue to voters on the March 3 ballot.

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, in the hopes that a referendum would be brought to county voters in 2020. A total of 3,284 were considered valid, according to San Benito County auditor Joe Paul Gonzalez.

The supervisors could have chosen to reverse their previous decision outright on Nov. 19, but instead decided to put it to voters. The board declined to request a fiscal analysis of the rezoning, because no specific projects for the properties have been submitted to the county.

So far, only the owner of the Betabel property has unveiled tentative plans for a farmstand, gas station, visitor center and more.

“I personally cannot see doing a fiscal analysis because it’s all speculative,” supervisor Mark Medina said. “We have no idea what’s going to be there.”

Voters in March will only be deciding to repeal the zoning designation, not future projects. Supervisor Anthony Botelho said not having the restrictive ordinance in place could open up the properties to larger developments in the future.

“If anyone took the time to read the ordinance, it puts limitations on the property owners,” he said. “That’s what’s confounding to me. The people that are against this are the folks I thought would support it wholeheartedly.”

Meanwhile, Preserve Our Rural Communities’ attempt to launch a conflict of interest investigation into Botelho and San Juan Bautista Councilmember Dan DeVries didn’t pass muster with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

In two complaints filed on Oct. 18, the group contended 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.”

The other complaint states 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.

In letters dated Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 to Gina Paolini of Preserve Our Rural Communities, Galena West, chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, said the commission would not investigate the complaints further.

“Based on a review of the complaint and documentation provided, the Enforcement Division found insufficient evidence of a violation of the Political Reform Act, and will not pursue an enforcement action in this matter,” West wrote.

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