The San Benito County Board of Supervisors last week approved a resolution stating its opposition to local ballot Measure Q, and some have wondered if the action comes too close to violating state laws against using public resources to promote an election campaign.
The resolution approved Oct. 25 on a 4-1 vote reads, in part, “the Board of Supervisors of San Benito County hereby holds that it does not support Measure Q for the aforementioned reasons.”
Those reasons, also stated in the resolution, include the potential decline of commercial development opportunities if Measure Q passes, which would deprive the county of revenues for public services. A fiscal analysis conducted by the county auditor found that by 2035, if Measure Q passes on Nov. 8, it could result in a loss of $6.56 million in annual revenue.
Voting against the resolution was Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki, who said it encroaches into a “gray area” of the law more than he is comfortable with.
If approved by a majority of voters, Measure Q would amend the General Plan to require voter approval every time an agricultural, rangeland or rural property owner wants to rezone their land—for example, for residential, commercial, industrial or landfill designations.
Measure Q would also remove existing commercial node designations on certain properties along Highway 101 from the county’s General Plan.
The Oct. 25 resolution was brought to the board at the previous request of Supervisor Bob Tiffany, according to a county staff report.
California Government Code section 54964 says, “An officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency may not expend or authorize the expenditure of any of the funds of the local agency to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters.”
The law allows public agencies and officials to provide factual information to the voters about “the possible effects of a ballot measure on the activities, operations, or policies of the local agency.”
Board Chair Peter Hernandez asked County Counsel Barbara Thompson about the legality of the anti-Measure Q resolution.
Thompson replied at the Oct. 25 meeting, “It’s more of an informational matter. It’s drafted in neutral terms, not highly inflammatory but informational to set forth the county’s position on it.”
The title of the staff report accompanying the resolution, however, is “Adopt resolution for the Board of Supervisors opposing Measure Q.”
The staff report also says that Tiffany on Oct. 11 “requested that a resolution in opposition to Measure Q be brought before the entire board.”
One of the proponents of Measure Q, Andy Hsia-Coron, thinks the resolution is “questionably legal,” and will consider how to respond after the Nov. 8 election is over.
Hsia-Coron also questioned a mailer about Measure Q sent out by the county in October, which he thinks went beyond the presentation of impartial information.
“We think the county supervisors, with the exception of Kollin Kosmicki, really stepped over the line of advocacy for a position on Measure Q,” Hsia-Coron said. “They used county resources to electioneer…We think it’s questionably legal, and frankly unprecedented in our county.”
When asked about the questions surrounding the resolution’s legality, Thompson referred this newspaper to the video recorded discussion of the item at the Oct. 25 supervisors’ meeting.
Kosmicki said during the meeting that he doesn’t think the resolution will have much of an effect on the voters.
“I think the people that view the supervisors as having too much power are not going to be influenced by the supervisors saying we want to keep that level of power,” Kosmicki said.
He added later that he thinks it is “inappropriate for the board to advocate or campaign on a ballot measure.”
“The question then becomes, what is advocacy, what is campaigning. I personally believe it’s inappropriate for the board to take a position because that is de facto campaigning,” Kosmicki said. “When you take a position on a measure and you direct staff to spend time on an item that’s taking a position on a ballot measure. To me it doesn’t feel right.”
Eight people spoke in favor of the board resolution (and against Measure Q) during public comments at the Oct. 25 meeting. They included San Benito County Farm Bureau President Donald Wirz, Chair of the local Republican Party Rob Bernosky, local Democratic Party President Wayne Norton and David Bini of the Building and Trades Council.
They spoke against Measure Q for similar reasons cited by the majority of the supervisors, including the need for more commercial growth in order to supply local jobs and revenue; and the constraints that Measure Q would place on property owners who might want to expand or upgrade their business operations.
“While (Measure Q) seems like a noble endeavor, the farm bureau feels this will be disastrous to our membership and to the community at large,” Wirz said. “It will stifle the ability of farmers or ranchers to either start or expand processing operations on their property…We believe banks would be unlikely to offer money to property owners to do such projects.”