Group presses on against highway nodes

Hearing scheduled for Jan. 28 on Searle Road rezoning

Andy Hsia-Coron, organizer for Preserve Our Rural Communities, spoke at a protest on Jan. 5 for the recent actions of San Benito County officials who overturned the voters' decision on Measure K and approved a second Hwy 101 node. Photo: Juan Reyes

Andy Hsia-Coron doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon with his continuous efforts to stop node development within San Benito County. But the president of the Preserve Our Rural Community group will have to fight twice as hard after the County Board of Supervisors denied an urgency interim zoning ordinance amendment to rescind Ordinance No. 1016, which adopted C-1 combining zoning for approximately 21.1 acres at the northwest corner of State Route 129 and Searle Road.

Hsia-Coron said PORC is asking for their 30 days to start after the Covid-19 vaccine is available to the public, but now they won’t get the extra time. He emphasized that the county is in no hurry to get the nodes approved.

“There’s no rush whatsoever, the only reason they would deny us this time is because they really don’t want us to give the people the opportunity to voice their opinion about this,” he said.  

He found out that county supervisors in a closed session on Jan. 12 decided they weren’t going to give them the extra time to collect the signatures. Hsia-Coron said they filed a lawsuit on the issue that same day and the hearing is now scheduled for Jan. 28.

“My understanding is they, the county supervisors, did not agree to give us the time,” he said.

The group is pushing forward and arguing that they should be able to collect the signatures when the threat level is significantly lower and it’s relatively safe.

“So that both our collectors and the people out there are not for the higher risk,” Hsia-Coron said. “We’re absolutely confident that we’ll be able to collect the signatures because the people in this county are very skeptical of this out of control growth.”

On Dec. 15, the board adopted Ordinance No. 1016, to adopt C-1 Combining Zoning for approximately 21.1 acres at the northwest corner of State Route 129 and Searle Road. 

The ordinance became effective on Jan. 14 unless a referendum petition with sufficient signatures of registered voters in San Benito County was submitted prior to the effective date.

Assistant County Council Joel Ellinwood said that the board discussed a related litigation matter in closed session and the agenda item was withdrawn by the staff. 

He mentioned that a restraining order application was made by PORC and they asked for the court to enter a stay of the affected date of the ordinance, but the court denied that application. The judge set the matter for a further hearing on Jan. 28 at 1:30pm for a preliminary injunction. It’ll be up to the judge to decide if they should reverse the county’s zoning ordinance, which would then give PORC the additional time to collect signatures.     

“They applied to have the ordinance or any action to be taken on the ordinance stayed,” Ellinwood said. “They didn’t enter an emergency order for that purpose but they set it for further briefing and hearing on Jan. 28.”

He said the papers filed by the parties are on file with the court and both the county and the property owners involved had until Jan. 24 to submit further pleadings. 

Preserve Our Rural Community secretary Mary Hsia-Coron told the Free Lance that their attorney spoke with County Counsel Barbara Thompson and they were considering some kind of compromise to give them more time for signature gathering for a referendum. 

“It looks like they decided not to give us anything,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what the compromise was and that was why that item that was listed in the agenda wasn’t even discussed.”

According to county officials, “circulation of referendum or initiative petitions is a protected activity that can be conducted in compliance with the San Benito County Public Health Officer Guidance issued June 3, 2020. The Guidance was the basis for the Court to dissolve a previous preliminary injunction obtained by PORC staying the effective date of an ordinance rezoning the Betabel commercial node.”

Andy Hsia-Coron said he was disappointed but not surprised with the board’s decision to deny them the extra time. He believes the county supervisors have been trying to take advantage of the Covid situation, making it difficult for people to object to certain items.

“I don’t really think that the majority of them particularly care what the people think,” he said. “They certainly aren’t very receptive to the idea of the referendum and the initiative process.”