development plans to downtown facelifts, it’s been quite a year
There seems to be a common thread prevalent in the top 10
stories that occurred in San Benito County and the South Valley
region this year: people of both areas want to move into the future
while retaining the heritage of the landscape around them.
For example, the South Valley faces massive developments in its
near future, and the political issues inherent in these projects
have dominated the headlines throughout the year. Coyote Valley
near the Greenbelt of Morgan Hill and Glen Loma in Gilroy promise
to change the face of the Highway 101 corridor and beyond forever.
Meanwhile, both cities are determined to revitalize their
From a failed casino project to failed recalls, ambitious development plans to downtown facelifts, it’s been quite a year
There seems to be a common thread prevalent in the top 10 stories that occurred in San Benito County and the South Valley region this year: people of both areas want to move into the future while retaining the heritage of the landscape around them.
For example, the South Valley faces massive developments in its near future, and the political issues inherent in these projects have dominated the headlines throughout the year. Coyote Valley near the Greenbelt of Morgan Hill and Glen Loma in Gilroy promise to change the face of the Highway 101 corridor and beyond forever. Meanwhile, both cities are determined to revitalize their downtowns.
San Benito’s 2005 started with a bang: a proposition for a gaming casino was nearly booed out of town while an unprecedented marketing campaign intended to sway residents into supporting a massive planned community in the Bolsa area near the county line.
And political scandals and challenges – a hallmark of the Haybaler county – continued to fill front pages weekly.
Here are the top 10 stories that unfolded in the South Valley and San Benito from January to December 2005. Fasten your seatbelts: it’s going to be a bumpy year-in-review.
From a casino to a super-development
When the backers of a proposed gaming casino announced in mid-2004 they wanted to build their gambling wonderland in San Benito, some people’s jaws dropped as others’ eyes lit up with visions of a casino-revived local economy.
In early 2005, the idea died when casino investors gave up in the face of the anti-gamblers, packed up and left the county. Apparently, they ran to the open arms of Los Banos officials, who are much warmer to the idea. But not long after the casino backers left, another developer with an even more grandiose plan adopted a higher profile.
Estimated on the size of communities that they’ve built in Arizona and elsewhere, the DMB super-development envisions as many as 5,000 homes, apartments and condos clustered in a pristine community replete with a town square, community center, school and fire house, all sitting on some 1,500 acres adjacent to the Bolsa flood plain off Highway 25. Throughout this past year, DMB operatives have put on town meetings, or “input forums,” that allow locals in San Benito to have a say in what they want to see. In return, DMB still isn’t imparting any details as to what they plan to do, but if developers want to build more than 100 homes, they will have to get it approved by the voters. Further, DMB has said the project cannot go unless it is excused from the county’s annual 1 percent growth cap.
DMB backers say they are gearing up to submit their plan to the county’s embattled planning department by the spring. Stay tuned.
2005 could be called San Benito’s “Year of the Failed Political Recalls.” Political enemies of District Attorney John Sarsfield continued their attempts to oust the county prosecutor – like they did in 2003 and 2004 – with unsuccessful results.
But the recall bug bit others, too. Contingents of San Benito citizens worked independently to oust three other officeholders countywide: Supervisor James De La Cruz, and in San Juan Bautista, former Mayor Art Medina and former Vice Mayor Chuck Geiger.
In San Benito, the recall has been used most recently as a tool for political payback. A flyer placed in mailboxes from Hollister to New Idria would have one believe the D.A. is Jack The Ripper reincarnated: It read “Women Beware!” then detailed a rumored affair he allegedly had with an office worker – an accusation Sarsfield has adamantly denied.
The recall leader was Ignacio Velasquez, former advisor to and campaign manager for Supervisor James De La Cruz, whom Sarsfield charged late last year with violations relating to his election.
In Medina and Geiger’s case, recall leader Rebecca McGovern said she and her followers objected to the councilmen’s firing of former City Manager Larry Cain last spring – and they did it just after Cain had managed to land a multi-million-dollar water infrastructure grant from the feds. Medina and Geiger claimed Cain was not disclosing pertinent financial information to them and based their decision on the need for government transparency. Geiger challenged the recall effort against him, saying it was not done bilingually.
In the end, none of the recalls succeeded. But even if they had they would have been overturned: it turns out Geiger was right in that they had to be bilingual. In October, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all recalls must be bilingual. None of the San Benito recalls were.
The Pekin-planning saga
Throughout February and March, locals might have noticed a parade of political notables filing in one-at-a-time into the county administration chambers. That’s where a criminal Grand Jury hearing was taking place to determine if Los Valientes attorney Michael Pekin had perjured himself in filing false affidavits against former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti and Planning Director Rob Mendiola.
For three years Pekin and his clients claimed the two local officials who championed slow growth were “riddled with corruption.” But in March, the verdict came in. Nineteen local jurors indicted Pekin on charges of perjury, manufacturing false evidence and misleading the courts. It seems one of Pekin’s “witnesses,” building inspector Ken Speciale, admitted that Pekin had “made up” the affidavit he later signed alleging Scagliotti and Mendiola had conspired to approve or disapprove certain building projects at their will.
But it was too late. Based on Pekin’s bogus’ claims, the Board of Supervisors had authorized $20,000 on an investigation of Mendiola, which turned up … nothing on the former planning director. They fired the 23-year planning department veteran anyway, “without cause.”
And Pekin? In mid-summer, visiting Judge Alan Hedegard dismissed all the charges against the Salinas attorney. That hasn’t stopped Pekin from continuing his crusade against San Benito County – even though all his original targets had fled or quit by now. Two weeks after meeting Mendiola’s board-appointed replacement, deputy planning director Fred Goodrich quit and went to work for the Los Banos planning department – where he gets to entertain ideas of a casino that was once going to be built in San Benito.
This week, Pekin filed yet another lawsuit against the county, this time in federal court, claiming unfair prosecution.
San Juan Water Grant Fumble
It was a banner day for San Juan Bautista in March. A rare “press conference” was held at City Hall, where then City Manager Larry Cain, grant-getter Mark Davis, Mayor Art Medina and Vice Mayor Chuck Geiger ballyhooed the awarding of a badly needed water infrastructure grant from the federal government. Matched with money from the grant co-recipient, the San Benito Water District, the project – 10 years in the making – was worth a cool $8.9 million. A new water treatment plant, new reservoir, refurbished wells, new water lines and new jobs were all part of the promising package.
Then the rumble began. The council, at the urging of Medina, Geiger and new council member George Dias, fired Cain. A new City Manager was hired, Jennifer Coile, who along with council members and Davis, refused to concede control of the grant to the water district, who claimed San Juan had a checkered financial past. When the press reported on it, Coile put a gag request on all city leaders and only communicated with the public and the press via curt emails.
In September, the feds suspended the grant, saying there were equally needy cities out there that could use the money. San Juan laid out a list of demands from the water district in order to resume talks with them.
Last week, Coile turned in her 30-day notice. Nobody outside of a small circle knows where the grant stands, if the city and water district still have it or if they have a deadline to reconcile their differences. Meanwhile, Davis still receives $6,250 a month from the city taxpayers as a consultant. And residents continue to receive the occasional “boil your water” order from City Hall.
Gang tide rises
Several years ago, Hollister residents noticed something different in the urban landscape. There seemed to be a lot more gang graffiti cropping up on buildings and businesses, and it was getting ugly. No one knew just how ugly it would get.
As Gilroy lawmen started getting their arms around their own gang problems, Hollister saw the exodus – chased out of South Valley – popping up in its own community. When young Hispanic men started dying from outbreaks of shootings in the streets of Hollister, the community went into action and developed a gang task force in summer of 2004.
But budget restraints have hampered the goals of the task force and law enforcement agencies. While 17 gang cases have gone through the courts, more violence erupts on a monthly basis. The fact that Hollister was still more reactive than proactive to the problem was glaringly evident when in October four young men were injured in shootings on the same street in separate incidents.
In November, the public was shocked by the news of a Capone-style gangland shooting in a Hollister neighborhood, where a man was shot in the back as he stood in his own kitchen. A suspected gang member fired a hail of bullets from a moving car into a home where a rival gang member is believed to live. The intended target wasn’t there at the time, but eight others – four adults and four children – were. The man was critically injured.
The task force has stepped up its efforts and now community members and organizations are becoming more keenly involved. It took a year to get all the county and city law and government agencies working together and on the same page. But it seems that until San Benito can get more money back on its tax dollars, the gang problem may be here to stay.
It happened again, Hollister officials announced in September. Hollister’s Independence Day Biker Rally chalked up another $300,000-plus law enforcement bill – and rally organizers have no way of paying for it. That means once again, the city’s General Fund (already $3 million in the hole) – or more accurately, the city taxpayers, will foot the bill again.
Then came the conspiracy theory that law enforcement officials were over-copping the rally in order to sabotage it financially. Police and deputies from outside areas had to be brought in, said police, because of the potentially explosive mix of rival biker gangs, specifically the Hell’s Angels and the Moguls. Harsh words were exchanged. Councilman Robbie Scattini, himself a former highway patrolman and sheriff, accused the cops of being lazy. Local bar owners cheered him on. But others said they were tired of the money pit, the thunderous noise, the crowds and the potential for violence.
Since 1997, local biker aficionados and those who cherish the memory of that fateful weekend in 1947 when Hollister became overrun with rogue bikers fresh from the frontlines of World War II first started putting on the organized biker rally. This winter, the city decided to take its downtown back. The rally was cancelled, though it’s no secret that officials expect plenty of bikers to still show up in town next July.
Last week a new proposal was floated by former rally organizers to stage the rally at the airport. So far, the idea has gone over like, well, a lead dirigible.
Coyote Valley Project
Apparently, the huge development project called Coyote Valley is a done deal and there’s not much Morgan Hill or any other residents in the environs can do about it. The city of San Jose is currently steamrolling forward as they have for the past few years with its plans to create a city in the Coyote Valley area that would be one of the first specifically planned city’s every built. The high-density concept is one many Morgan Hill residents do not have to contend with in a town with an aggressive growth control ordinance and relatively large amounts of open space. In the city planned for Coyote Valley, just north of Morgan Hill to the west of highway 101, there will be few or no single story buildings, few parking lots, schools and parks might share fields, and an emphasis is being placed on public transportation.
Despite the efforts to cut back on pollution through the use of public transit, there are also serious concerns about air quality because the South Valley has the worst air pollution in all of the nine bay area counties. Only about 2 percent of it is being caused here locally. The rest blows in from the north.
Residents from Morgan Hill and local environmental advocates feel they’ve been cuckolded by San Jose. Despite all of the concerns about pollution and traffic and urban problems penetrating Morgan Hill from the north, there is little representation on the Coyote Valley Specific plan committee for those in South County who will be affected.
Born again downtowns
Despite the bullying Morgan Hill has gotten from San Jose about the Coyote Valley deal, there are still high hopes for a new, vibrant downtown. This year, both Morgan Hill and Gilroy moved ahead with sparkling plans for revitalizing the hearts of their cities.
In Gilroy, merchants, residents and local politicos are involved in the project that will encompass some 160 acres. A renovated train depot in the downtown could eliminate the need for city dwellers to even use a car as they commute on a baby bullet to Silicon Valley. Or perhaps they will soon be able to work in one of the new office buildings planned for the core of the city. The plan includes open-air cafes, fountains, and plazas where people can gather for farmers’ markets and cultural celebrations. Another focus includes drawing in more entertainment destinations such as cinemas, theaters and arcades to the area as well as a variety of dining venues.
At the same time, Morgan Hill is casting an eye toward its downtown assets. There’s a plan to re-open the Granada Theater, along with a project that calls for 250 new downtown homes.
When a 657,000-square-foot shopping center was approved earlier this year, one that will take the place of farmland on the northeast quadrant of Cochrane Road and U.S. 101, some citizens spoke out against it, calling it deadly for downtown. But the approval appears to have provided a greater urgency for Morgan Hill to resurrect downtown.
As voters booted out the old statewide, so the trend seemed to carry out on the local level during the November election. Gilroy was no exception.
Newcomers Dion Bracco and Peter Arellano celebrated victories in Gilroy’s seven-seat city council race. While incumbent Craig Gartman retained his seat, fellow council members Bob Dillon and Charlie Morales lost their re-election bids – and badly, neither garnering even 18 percent of the vote. Some pundits blamed Dillon’s loss on his decision not to include a campaign statement in the voter pamphlet – apparently a backfired attempt to show the voters that he hates taxpayer waste.
In addition to the city council race, local voters also made their decisions on eight statewide propositions, rejecting them all.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to take his issues to the people if the state Legislature didn’t support his causes when he was elected in a recall election in 2003 and that’s what he did with November’s special election. But California voters snubbed the Governor by voting down all four of the initiatives he campaigned to pass.
Schwarzenegger, whose popularity has waned since he took office, supported propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77. His opponents included the California Teachers Association, union leaders and public workers such as firefighters. Other propositions that were defeated include Proposition 77, which would have required three retired judges to decide political boundaries for California’s Assembly districts. Propositions 78 and 79, which dealt with prescription drug discounts for seniors, low-income and uninsured Californians, were also defeated. Proposition 80, which would have broadened the authority of the Public Utilities Commission to regulate electric service providers, was also defeated.
Voters in Santa Clara County and San Benito County followed the statewide trend and voted against all eight propositions, though a higher percentage of voters said no to seven of the propositions in each county. In Santa Clara County, 63 percent of voters said no to proposition 73, the initiative to require parental notification before a pregnant teen has an abortion while statewide only 52.6 percent of voters cast no votes for it.
San Benito County voters cast 65.9 percent no votes for proposition 76 while only 62.1 percent statewide ballots were cast the same way.
Glen Loma Looming
It’s coming, soon, to a neighborhood near you.
In Gilroy’s case, the Glen Loma Group, the Filice family’s prominent Gilroy-based development company that also built the city’s famed factory outlets and its first country club, Eagle Ridge, plans to develop nearly 1,700 homes over the next 10-15 years within a 360-acre swath of hayfields on the city’s west side.
But unlike most projects its size proposed in South County lately, the Glen Loma Ranch has the support of the city government. The controversy on this project is less about whether it should be built and more about who might do the hammering and sawing when construction begins next year, or where children will attend school.
It could mean as many as 5,000 new Gilroy residents – and their accompanying cars, schoolchildren and shopping dollars – eventually will occupy an area bounded by First Street, Luchessa Avenue, a four-lane Santa Teresa Expressway and Christmas Hill Park across town from U.S. 101.
More than five years in the making, the largest planned development in the Garlic Capital’s history got the official go-ahead from Gilroy city leaders last fall.