Organized efforts on both the supporting and opposing sides of Measure Q are funded in large part by organizations, companies and people who are based outside San Benito County, according to state-mandated campaign disclosure forms.
Representatives of both the “Yes on Q” and “No on Q” committees say the contributions from non-local funders are justified, as they represent interests that impact San Benito County residents.
Furthermore, the “Yes on Q” committee faces accusations that it hasn’t fully disclosed all the sources of its contributions, but its treasurer this week revealed that a portion of the funds came from the settlement of a lawsuit related to the Betabel project proposed on Highway 101.
Measure Q is one of three countywide measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. If approved by a majority of voters, it would amend the General Plan to require voter approval every time an agricultural, rangeland or rural property owner wants to rezone their land—for example, for residential, commercial, industrial or landfill designations.
Measure Q would also remove existing commercial node designations on certain properties along Highway 101 from the county’s General Plan.
The committee known as “Campaign to Protect San Benito – Yes on Q,” as of Sept. 28, has collected a total of $30,558 in contributions from more than 20 listed funders, most of them giving small amounts from within the county. This information is detailed in the campaign’s Form 460, which is posted publicly on the county elections website at tinyurl.com/4e6rs5sh.
The next deadline to file a Form 460 is Oct. 27. The Yes on Q committee shared its latest Form 460 with this newspaper before the deadline, showing their total contributions have jumped to about $86,000 since Sept. 28.
Two of the Campaign to Protect San Benito’s largest contributors are environmental nonprofits based in other counties. Save Mount Diablo, based in Walnut Creek, contributed $10,000 to the effort to pass Measure Q earlier this month. And the nonprofit Environment in the Public Interest, based in San Luis Obispo, is listed on an Oct. 6 disclosure form as a “fiscal sponsor of Protect San Benito” to the tune of $31,480.
Yes on Q treasurer Mary Hsia-Coron said it makes sense that environmental groups would support a ballot measure that aims to prevent development on the county’s farmland and rural properties. She noted that Save Mount Diablo’s mission includes the preservation of the Diablo Range, which extends through San Benito County.
“A distinguishing characteristic between our donors and (Measure Q’s opponents’) is, theirs have a profit to make” from a rejection of Measure Q, she said. “Ours are not making any profit.”
The Campaign to Protect San Benito was previously named Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC). Hsia-Coron noted that organizers have formed two nonprofits by the name of Campaign to Protect San Benito—one a 501c3 and the other a 501c4.
A chunk of the Yes on Q funding—$19,000—is listed as an apparent contribution from one of the two nonprofits. This raised alarms with opponents of Measure Q, who have filed a number of complaints with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
An Oct. 4 complaint states, “The Yes on Q committee (Campaign to Protect San Benito) is apparently laundering contributions through nonprofits, and those nonprofits are not registering as Multipurpose Organizations.”
Hisa-Coron said the two payments totaling $19,000 were from the Campaign to Protect San Benito’s late treasurer, Thomas Karis.
Hsia-Coron added that the campaign has also gained “a good portion” of its funding from a settlement award from a lawsuit against the county and developer Rider McDowell, who is building the Betabel project. Hsia-Coron said this week that their attorneys just recently cleared them to publicly discuss at least the initial settlement amount of about $54,000.
The committee formed to oppose Measure Q, as of Sept. 28, has raised nearly three times as much as the measure’s supporters. The most recent Form 460 shows the committee known as “Neighbors to Preserve San Benito – Farmers, Local Merchants and Working Families Opposed to the PORC initiative, No on Q” has raised $215,495 from dozens of contributors.
That includes more than $45,000 from different LLCs associated with the developer of the 2,777-acre Strada Verde commercial and tech project proposed near Highways 101 and 25, according to the disclosure forms. The funds were contributed by John Patterson of Newport Pacific Land Co., which is based in Newport Beach.
If approved, Measure Q could impact the development of the Strada Verde project, which is currently undergoing an environmental review and could come up for a vote by the county’s board of supervisors by early next year.
Other big contributions to the No on Q campaign include $10,000 from the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104; $3,000 from the California Association of Realtors; $20,000 from Watsonville-based Graniterock; $30,000 from the California Alliance for Jobs, Rebuild California Committee; and $10,000 each from the Operating Engineers Local no. 3 and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council Issues PAC, according to the forms on file with the county.
No on Q Principal Officer Wayne Norton said while some of the construction and trade unions that have contributed are based in other counties, they represent workers who live in San Benito County. He also noted that many of their smaller-sum contributors are local farmers and business people.
“All of our contributors are identified,” Norton said. “You know who they are. The voters will know who they are. Nothing has been hidden.”
He said of the contributions from the Strada Verde developer, “Those are investors in the project—of course they’re going to want to see (the No on Q efforts) succeed.”
Norton added there are “thousands” of union members who live in San Benito County. “They represent the interests of working families and they see the opportunity for good paying local jobs,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that organized labor supports this.”
The No on Q committee is “proud” of its “wide coalition” of supporters, Norton added.
The associated committee Neighbors to Preserve San Benito, which has also received major funding from Newport Pacific Company, was organized earlier this year to oppose Measure Q. It is supported by the county’s public safety leaders, farm bureau, school officials and both the local Democratic and Republican parties.
Neighbors to Preserve San Benito filed the FPPC complaint against Yes on Q regarding the source of their funding. It has also filed a complaint that some of the Yes on Q committee’s campaign signs do not meet FPPC guidelines for printed disclosures.
FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said the complaints are in “intake review” to determine if there is enough information or evidence to begin an investigation. As of Oct. 25, the FPPC had not determined if the complaints warrant an investigation.
Another complaint against the Yes on Q committee, filed Sept. 9, was rejected because it was filed anonymously and FPPC staff were unable to follow up with the filer, Wierenga said.