Measure N supporters allege campaign violations

Concerned Citizens of San Benito County urges dismissal of complaint

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This mailer opposing the Strada Verde proposal is the subject of a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Submitted photo

The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that a group opposing the Strada Verde proposal violated a number of campaign regulations.

A complaint filed Sept. 1 with the FPPC by Michael A. Columbo on behalf of the Yes on N committee stated that a “secret committee” is “flaunting the FPPC’s disclosure requirements and failing to comply with virtually the entire disclosure scheme applicable to ballot measure committees and advocacy.”

The alleged anonymous committee is Concerned Citizens of San Benito County, a group of county residents that has dismissed the Measure N proponent’s claims.

In a Sept. 3 letter to the FPPC, Concerned Citizens of San Benito County chair Frank Barragan wrote that the complaint “incorrectly characterizes the activities” of the group as campaign advertisements, and should be dismissed.

Measure N, if approved by voters in November, would create a master plan for the 2,777-acre Strada Verde Innovation Park in northern San Benito County.

In question is a mailer recently sent to San Benito County residents, which states that the Strada Verde proposal would “permit schools, churches and daycare centers right next to a deadly chemicals plant.” It directs people to contact their county supervisor and visit the “Strada Verde Hazard” website, where it offers a series of frequently asked questions and links to an EMC Planning Group report on a suggested buffer zone between the project and the TriCal facility on Highway 25.

It urges readers to “Join Concerned Citizens of San Benito County today” to “stop this dangerous development.”

The Strada Verde Hazard Facebook page frequently posts articles of industrial disasters from throughout the world.

The complaint to the FPPC states that the mailer, website and Facebook page fail to include information about the committee funding the campaign, which violates FPPC regulations. In addition, the group has not registered as a committee with the state or filed reports of its expenditures, according to the complaint. Campaign committees are required to register if they receive contributions of at least $2,000 a year or spend $1,000.

“Even at this early stage in their campaign, which still has more than two months of campaign activity ahead, it appears this campaign’s sponsors have exceeded at least one or more of these thresholds based on the professionally produced and coordinated mass mailer, website and Facebook page,” the complaint stated.

The website, in addressing the recommended buffer zone, states that if Measure N is approved by voters, the buffer zone would be “completely bypassed.” The complaint says that this sentence solidifies “this secret campaign’s advocacy” against Measure N.

“The campaign’s website thus acknowledges that the very issue the campaign’s communications are using to urge opposition to the Strada Verde development will be decided by the voters through the approval of Measure N,” the complaint stated. “They are one and the same.”

Barragan said the purpose of the group’s communications is to influence the members of the Board of Supervisors, not the voters.

“While there is a measure on the November ballot regarding the Strada Verde proposal, Concerned Citizens of San Benito is not ‘campaigning’ to voters,” he wrote. “None of the communications of Concerned Citizens of San Benito refer to any initiative, voting or an election.”

Barragan added that Concerned Citizens of San Benito County began as a “loose-knit group” of attendees at the supervisors’ meetings when an application for Strada Verde was filed in May 2019. County officials, according to Barragan, have “disregarded serious public health risks associated with the project” and “displayed alarming bias at every turn.”

“The project proposal has been polarizing in the community, to say the least,” he wrote.

In a Sept. 2 letter to Columbo, Galena West, chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, wrote that the commission will investigate the allegations, but advised that it has not made a determination about the validity of the complaint.

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