After years of consideration, county OKs 2035 general plan

Highway 156 is shown from a hillside.

Before a final approval in an eight-year process to devise a new general plan—a required blueprint for future development—supervisors offered views focusing mostly on highway development.
Supervisors unanimously approved the 2035 general plan in a 5-0 vote Tuesday following eight years of planning sessions, public meetings, review periods, multiple consultants and environmental reviews, and even a debate over how many cattle should roam the hillsides over the next two decades. The process—which updates the 1992 general plan—spurred its share of emotions but has been void of litigation experienced in other counties over general plan updates.
The process has been costly, nonetheless. The county spent $1.2 million through the January 2013 release of the first, later scrapped, general plan. Supervisors hired the current consultant in February 2014, and those services have cost $200,000 in billings since that point.
Some supervisors made it clear Tuesday they weren’t entirely happy with the final document, but still approved it. Board members can amend sections of the general plan once it is completed, but such changes can be cumbersome and costly.
Supervisor Robert Rivas took a shot at the broader document, contending that it encourages “sprawl.”
“I don’t agree with a lot of the policies in the document,” Rivas said before the final vote. “I don’t know if I can live with it.”
He said he looked forward to improving the plan through the amendment process.
“It’s our opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” Rivas said.
Board Chairwoman Margie Barrios was more optimistic about the policies—broken down into seven general “elements” such as housing, open spaces or land use along with optional elements that include economic development locally. She said the “fundamental purpose” of the local plan is to balance growth with preservation of agriculture and open spaces.
“I think it’s all about balance,” Barrios said.
Although many residents have taken part in the process since the formation of a general plan advisory committee in 2009, just three people spoke during the final public comment period of the process.
Resident Marty Richman encouraged supervisors to stop “using our political clout” when it comes to forecasting population growth or on transportation issues. San Benito County Business Council Executive Director Kristina Chavez Wyatt lauded the staff involved with the general plan process and called it a “long, arduous task.”
“We commend the county for its continued leadership,” she said.
 A representative from the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments also spoke. AMBAG Planning Director Heather Adamson expressed enthusiasm about involving the new policies in regional planning considerations. The regional planning agency will consider the county’s general plan information in its growth forecast, she said.
Before speakers had their time, Michael Groves, senior principal for EMC Planning Group, walked supervisors through some history and higher-interest provisions while taking questions from board members as well.
Supervisors focused that dialogue on highway matters. They had questions on how two policies in the document regarding Highway 101 might conflict—promotion of commercial development and open spaces along the same corridor. They also discussed the projection in the general plan for a Shore Road extension to Highway 101.
“Through zoning standards,” Groves responded, “you can create some standards that will allow you to define the two and what is meant by the two.”
Regarding Shore Road, Supervisor Anthony Botelho raised questions about the envisioned extension. He didn’t recall it being in a long-term regional transportation plan, though Groves said the Shore Road extension was included in about 20 years of data he had researched.
“In order to relieve congestion, it was determined that we need an alternative,” Groves said.
He said the general plan suggests one of two options to Caltrans—that the Highway 25 extension is eventually widened to four lanes all the way to Highway 101, which would include cooperation with Santa Clara County, or else commit to the Shore Road extension.
“That’s where I don’t agree that it’s in the RTP,” Botelho said. “Maybe I missed it after all these years myself.”
Supervisors also asked for clarification on a potential widening of Highway 101 in the county, where the general plan calls for the open spaces and also commercial development. Groves clarified that the general plan supports a Highway 101 widening but states it is not necessary to improve traffic flow in the county.
“The reason it’s put in that way is because the county does not need the widening of 101 to support the traffic in San Benito County,” Groves said.
To read the general plan, go here. Look back for more.


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