A football game has a start and end. It will go for as long as there is time left on the clock. The players obviously know this and act accordingly. They know that in the fourth quarter they are nearing the end so they are free to use up everything in the tank. They can reveal all surprises and they can exert all the energy they have because they know that pretty soon the game ends.
Counties do not work this way. There is no set time limit where at the end we can throw our hands up and say, “OK, good game. We’re done now.”
Rather, counties are a never-ending game. Ideally, they will simply continue existing for as long as the state they inhabit exists; and that state will continue existing for as long as the country which it inhabits exists. This is an extremely important understanding that we as a county need to come to terms with if we are to live in a prosperous place.
The take away from this never-ending game axiom is that if our planning decisions are insolvent in the long term, then necessarily they will bankrupt us regardless of how they perform initially. This is the root financial problem of excessive suburban sprawl. For instance, if a housing development were to be built in the county somewhere far outside of the city limits, that development must be able to indefinitely pay for not just itself but also the tangential cost effects it produces. It must be able to pay for all of the infrastructure involved in said development (i.e. roads, pipes, power, trash, water, etc.) as well as the additional strain on general county infrastructure that result from the increased number of cars and residents brought about by the new development.
In this imaginary scenario, even if the developer agreed to pay for all of these infrastructure costs up front (which doesn’t happen) it still leaves the county with the recurring bill that never goes away. Upfront, it may look like a good deal, but when you are playing a never-ending game you need to think years and decades into the future.
So can suburban sprawl pay for itself indefinitely? No. Unfortunately it almost always cannot. San Benito County gets only 11% of the local property tax that is collected from a residence; the rest goes to schools, special districts, cities, etc. That 11% just simply isn’t enough to pay for eternal longevity of the project and its consequences.
This is why we are losing the never-ending game. Poorly planned housing developments in the county will almost always inevitably end up costing the county money. In other words, if San Benito County was in the business of putting up houses, we would lose money every time a customer walks through the door simply because our expenses are greater than our revenues. This style of planning is not sustainable.
I know this is not comforting information. I hate to be the boogeyman who brings this up, but if we want to live in a nice place we need to acknowledge these facts. If we want to have roads that don’t feel like four-wheel drive tracks out of Hollister Hills, we need to start making decisions that are financially solvent for the long term.
The solution is to plan better. Putting aside all the other consequences of this type of growth like increased traffic, loss of community, forfeiture of traditions and customs—it is just financially reckless.
It’s long past time to adopt a new game plan. We need a new strategy. We need to stop creating new purely residential neighborhoods in the county. The county needs to start prioritizing things like mixed used development—commercial combined with residential.
Additionally, we need to stop building new roads and instead construct along already existing and trafficked streets. There are steps like this that need to be taken if we want things to change.
And if we refuse and insist on the status quo, we will continue to lose the never-ending game.
San Benito County Supervisor, District 1
I think Supervisor Zanger makes some very good points. Whenever you build further out from the core of services, into the countryside, it is very very costly to provide the services and upkeep and can produce those deficits that he outlines.
Another thing driving the issues around our crumbling roads and infrastructure has to do with a serious lack of economic development for decades–too much housing growth with very little business growth has created a serious imbalance. Concentrating on economic growth would also bring regular revenue to fix roads and infrastructure because as Sup. Zanger states the money from building homes alone does not sustain. The added bonus of economic development is if we have more business and employment here, it would get some folks off the roads and ease up traffic.
What he does not mention though is part of what has driven building in recent years are the state laws. The Housing Crisis Laws of 2019, and the Regional Housing Allocation Needs numbers (which dictate to Cities, and the County how much they need to provide in housing each year) along with a host of other new laws just don’t allow us to stop building as we might like. But I do think we can be smart about it and I am glad to see he is thinking about mixed-use and other ideas to meet that required building.
I would very much like to see a closer working relationship between the County and Hollister as far as where and how any new county residential gets built. The County General Plan should align with the City General Plan which designates the areas the city has planned to meet required residential growth.
I think most Hollister residents do not want more commercial development. Because so many housing projects were approved by (guess who?), now I hear that we need to add more commercial development?