This is a developing story.
The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office has opened a case against former Supervisor Anthony Botelho for allegedly stealing political signage opposing the embattled Strada Verde Innovation Park (SVIP) project.
The signs in question were removed from numerous publicly visible locations on Nov. 14 within the Hollister city limits and unincorporated San Benito County. The signs had been placed by Citizens Against Strada Verde, a nonprofit organization opposing the SVIP project.
An unconfirmed total of 18 signs have since been recovered from Botelho’s home, according to Frank Barragan, a spokesperson for Citizens Against Strada Verde. The signs had been put up within the last month.
According to Sheriff Eric Taylor, on Nov. 14 officers received a call from an undisclosed person regarding stolen signs at 2:45pm. It is not clear whether officers responded to a specific location. Another call came hours later at 6:10pm and was related to the initial complaint, Taylor said.
Sheriff’s deputies later responded to a call that evening at Botelho’s home near San Juan Bautista. Someone at the Botelho residence allegedly called 911 when individuals seeking to recuperate the signs arrived at the home and demanded they be returned, said Anthony Botelho. It is unclear how the individuals determined the signs were at Botelho’s property, although Barragan said some of the missing signs were equipped with tracking devices.
According to Botelho—who now works for the development company that proposed the Strada Verde project—he was doxxed on social media on the day of the incident and his address was posted online. In an interview with the Free Lance, Botelho admitted to having taken the signs from the various locations, but insists he did nothing wrong.
“I was taking down signs that are very misleading to the public about a project that I’m working with and they were all in the public right-of-way. I’m certainly not stealing anything, you can’t steal anything from a public right-of-way,” Botelho said.
Botelho said his actions were an “act of community service” and that he was merely assisting the county in enforcing signage ordinances. He agreed to return the signs on condition that the social media post be taken down.
In photos provided to this publication by Barragan, more than a dozen large signs and t-posts can be seen on what he alleges is Botelho’s property. Another set of signs can be seen on a dump trailer.
“Why didn’t he take down the other signs that were out there?” Barragan said, speaking to the Free Lance. “He just decided to take our signs down because he’s been trying to cover up this whole Strada Verde debacle ever since he was a supervisor.”
Barragan estimates each sign cost his group about $350. He also explains that due to another set of signs being taken prior to this incident, trackers were placed on the ones in question, and that is how the individuals narrowed the location down to Botelho’s residence.
The investigation into Botelho is ongoing and is being treated as a property theft crime, according to Taylor. The case will be handed over to the San Benito County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges will be brought against Botelho.
A Heated Debate
The Strada Verde project has been a hot topic in San Benito since its proposal in 2020. Newport Pacific Land Co. initially put the project in front of the voters as Measure N, a proposal for a commercial and technology-centered Specific Plan.
The Measure N campaign was characterized by big spending by the Strada Verde developer, Newport Pacific Land Co., and accusations of political practices guidelines violations.
Measure N would have created the Strada Verde Specific Plan on a 2,777-acre agricultural property in northern San Benito County, in the area of Highways 25 and 101. The plan would have created zoning for a variety of commercial and industrial uses—including an automotive testing facility—as well as a 209.5-acre park. The plan would also preserve about 561 acres of the site for farmland.
The measure was defeated with close to 60% of San Benito County voters striking down the proposal.
The project was subsequently brought back to the county to begin the approval process, but in March 2023, Newport Pacific requested a halt to the application process, which included an environmental impact report.
When asked why his group felt the need to post signs opposing the project at this point in time, Barragan said that they were trying to keep the public aware of what is “going on behind the scenes” regarding the stalled project.
Botelho, who served on the board of supervisors from 2004-2020, said that the group is spending money opposing a project that is good for the community at large and wonders where that funding is coming from.
When asked if he expected repercussions for removing the Citizens Against Strada Verde signs, he was confident there wouldn’t be any.
“No. Why would there be?” Botelho said.