From the moment I first learned about the large-scale “Strada Verde development plan,” I had some worries that I would have with any big development: how it would impact our community? I am not “anti-development,” but a large-scale development will inevitably have an impact. For it to work for me, it must benefit the community overall, not worsen existing problems or create new ones.
From the beginning, Strada Verde clearly seemed troublesome and the developers never showed they had any real solutions.
Our already infuriating traffic problems would only get worse. Farmland would be paved over for blocks of warehouses. The “promised” jobs seemed likely to be just more low-skill and low-wage positions. Not an encouraging start.
And then, the hazard experts San Benito County hired to review the plan, warned about the danger of building Strada Verde right next to a working chemical plant. They prescribed a 3.5-mile safety buffer to protect the community in case of an accident.
That buffer sounded like smart safety planning to me. Common sense but for some reason, the County Board of Supervisors did not even consider implementing it when the project was put on the ballot for approval by voters in Measure N. (You may recall, the result was a resounding “NO”).
All of this led me to be a proponent of the Health and Safety Buffer Initiative on this year’s ballot. It would require an expert-recommended safety buffer around a plant with dangerous chemicals for any new development; because developments attract many workers, families and children. (The initiative would not affect any existing businesses or agricultural land uses.) We must be “safety first” for our community.
Now, the Strada Verde developers claim they have a deal with Tri-Cal, the chemical plant owner, to resolve the hazard issue for their project. But, if you read the deal carefully, it does not resolve the central problem. The same dangerous chemicals—the cause of the hazard—will still be stored and distributed at the plant. And, Tri-Cal will retain its license to handle dangerous chemicals in the future, even if there’s a big development next door with lots of people.
To be clear, I don’t see this as Tri-Cal’s problem. Tri-Cal products are important for our farmers and local economy. It built its plant a long time ago, on purpose in a safe distance from other developments. It’s Strada Verde’s developers who are now trying to build dangerously close to Tri-Cal.
The Health and Safety Buffer Initiative will simply and safely resolve this once and for all. A buffer will be required around a plant like this. It’s a clear, safe rule for all based on expert recommendations. No development, now or ever, is worth putting the health of our neighbors, friends and children in danger.
I am all in for new development, but not at the future costs of our families’ lives.