Judge grants temporary suspension of rezoning

Property owner decries ‘baseless’ lawsuit

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A San Benito County Superior Court judge sided with opponents of the county supervisors’ April decision to rezone a property along Highway 101 during a May 19 hearing.

Judge Thomas Breen granted a suspension of the “C-1” rezoning of the Betabel property. The decision allows members of the opposition group Preserve Our Rural Communities to launch a referendum drive after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the state’s Covid-19 shelter-in-place order, which currently has no end date.

The group filed a lawsuit against the San Benito County Supervisors on April 22, contending that the board violated election code by superseding the voters’ March rejection of Measure K through the zoning change approval.

In addition, the group said the statewide shelter-in-place order due to the Covid-19 pandemic prevents proponents from gathering signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot. In San Benito County, at least 2,060 valid signatures must be gathered within 30 days of the supervisors’ action for a referendum to qualify for an upcoming ballot.

Breen has not yet ruled on whether the supervisors violated election code.

Most of the supervisors argued during the April 7 meeting that such development along Highway 101 would create much-needed sales tax revenue and jobs for San Benito County. Such potential businesses could help the county recover from the economic downturn caused by Covid-19, they said.

The proposal for the Betabel property adjacent to an RV park is inspired by a 1950s-era California roadside stop, with wooden barns, local produce, a service station with gas and diesel and a vintage motel. A visitors’ center would be built in the shape of a watering can, meant to introduce travelers to San Benito County and promote its destinations such as Mission San Juan Bautista, Pinnacles National Park, Hollister and more.

According to owner Rider McDowell, the property was previously home to a 20-acre junkyard with steel buildings, more than 150 derelict vehicles and mobile homes, a chop shop, and a doublewide trailer occupied by a drug gang. The property has since been cleared.

McDowell has pledged that all profits from the project will go to children’s cancer research.

Supporters of the Betabel project have created a petition at Change.org. As of May 20, 1,295 people have signed the petition.

A mailer from Canceragogo, a fundraising platform created by the McDowell family, describes the proposed Betabel project and the “attacks” by Preserve Our Rural Communities.

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” the mailer reads. “Every dollar they make our charity spend defending their baseless lawsuits, is one less dollar available for pediatric cancer clinical trials. It’s criminal.”

Per an indemnification agreement with the county, the property owner will pay $50,000 in court fees for the “first phase” of litigation.

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