SUBMITTING SIGNATURES Andy Hsia-Coron (center) and Bella Rosales (far right) hold the boxes full of signatures submitted to the county elections department earlier this week. Credit: Andy Hsia-Coron

Local proponents of an initiative that would put land use decisions in the hands of San Benito County voters are one step closer to placing it on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election. 

The Empower Voters to Make Land Use Decisions initiative, as it’s currently named, has reportedly gathered the minimum amount of signatures required by the San Benito County Elections Department.

If passed by voters, the Empower Voters to Make Land Use Decisions Initiative would amend the county’s General Plan to bring decisions on the redesignation of uses for unincorporated county lands to a vote of the people.

“This Initiative amends the San Benito County General Plan (‘General Plan’), including its Land Use Diagram, to readopt the existing Agriculture (A), Rural (R), and Rangeland (RG) land use designations, such that they may only be amended or redesignated by a vote of the people, with limited exceptions,” reads the initiative text.

In a little over a month, proponents of the initiative and its supporters gathered more than 3,000 signatures, well over the minimum of 1,958 required to be put on the ballot, according to county election officials. 

The signature requirement is calculated based on the most recent gubernatorial election, and the amount of signatures needed to amount to 10% of total voter turnout in the county for that election. The last gubernatorial election was in 2022.

The Empower Voters initiative’s proponents submitted their gathered signatures to the county Elections Department earlier this week in multiple banker boxes.

Ana De Castro Maquiz, San Benito County Chief Deputy Clerk-Recorder, said in a phone call that the number of signatures still needs to be verified.

“It is their raw count. And theirs is 3,476 signatures,” De Castro Maquiz said.

Maureen Nelson, an Empower Voters supporter, said that she got behind the initiative because it would give county residents a say on housing development and environmental impacts of land use designation changes. Nelson is also a co-chair of the group Don’t Dump On San Benito, which opposed the proposed John Smith Road Landfill expansion efforts that stalled out earlier this year.

“There’s a clause specifically on the initiative that also addresses this landfill situation,” Nelson said. “It states that it is not going to be up to the Board of Supervisors for the landfill expansion. It would only be a vote of the people. And that’s really what struck a chord with me, obviously. I support the whole thing, but that’s exactly what we need.”

Local activists Mary and Andy-Hsia Coron, who have been a part of the movement to slow residential growth in the area for years, feel that the time is right for this initiative to be put in front of voters.

“Our experience and the experience of the volunteers is that the people in the county are really ready to take some more control over these decisions. They’re very frustrated at what’s going on in the county,” Andy said.

The Hsia-Corons have been involved in the groups Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC), Protect San Benito County and Don’t Dump On San Benito. In 2022, they also were involved in the campaign for Measure Q, an initiative echoing much of the same language and purpose of Empower Voters.

Measure Q would have amended the county General Plan to require voter approval every time an agricultural, rangeland or rural property owner sought to rezone their land—for example, for residential, commercial, industrial or landfill designations.

The measure would have also removed existing commercial node designations on certain properties along Highway 101 from the county’s General Plan. 

But Measure Q failed in the polls, garnering only 43% of the vote.

Bella Rosales, a supporter of 2022’s Measure Q and Empower Voters, thinks that this time around, voters are ready to change the rules of the land use designation process. While out canvassing for signatures for the new initiative, Rosales said that most people she spoke to want a change.

“As I was talking to folks, I noticed right away that they’re very frustrated about a few things going on, such as the traffic. That was one of the biggest concerns and the majority of the people I talked to felt that there were too many housing developments being built too quickly. So, I think this initiative will help alleviate that if we are to vote it in,” Rosales said.

The initiative comes on the heels of a March primary election in which slow growth candidates dominated in the races for the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. Incumbents Dom Zanger and Kollin Kosmicki kept their District 1 and District 2 seats, respectively, while former Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez beat incumbent Bea Gonzales for the District 5 seat.

Rosales said that the proposed initiative’s rapid signature-gathering efforts signal to local officials that residents of a political persuasion are ready to shake things up.

“Slow growth is a non-partisan issue. It’s something that has gotten support from the entire political spectrum and even those who aren’t really interested in politics,” Rosales said. “Whether they’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, no party preference; a majority has voiced their support.” 

You can read the full initiative text here.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The link leads to a Google Doc request site. You have to ask for it if you use the link. Fortunately, you can also just visit Campaign to Protect San Benito’s website and read the initiative there. A mere 30 pages long, a grade-schooler could read it in a single sitting.

    Actually, 30 pages in a single sitting was the norm when I was in grade school, which really wasn’t all that long ago.

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