Cattle graze along Best Road outside Hollister. Photo: Tarmo Hannula.

A new initiative to put land use decisions in the hands of San Benito County residents is currently circulating, the latest political effort by slow-growth advocates in the area.

The Empower Voters to Make Land Use Decisions Initiative would amend the county’s General Plan to bring decisions on the redesignation of unincorporated county lands to a vote of the people. 

“This Initiative amends the San Benito County General Plan (‘General Plan’), including its Land Use Diagram, to readopt the existing Agriculture (A), Rural (R), and Rangeland (RG) land use designations, such that they may only be amended or re-designated by a vote of the people, with limited exceptions,” reads the official initiative text.

Local activist Andy Hsia-Coron has been making the rounds presenting the initiative to officials and the public. He and supporters are currently gathering signatures to make the initiative a reality. They need to gather at least 1,985 signatures within a six-month period, after which the county board of supervisors can adopt the initiative or put it on the ballot as a measure in the Nov. 5 general election.

“The reason we feel voters need to have more of a say is (because) we believe the folks in the county feel the pace of growth is too fast, that it’s destructive to the quality of life, not well planned, not well thought out. And when they have engaged in their voting decisions, it seems like the supervisors have found ways to go around (voters’) decisions,” said Hsia-Coron.

Four “nodes” along Highway 101 are a point of contention and focus of the initiative. These include the Rocks Ranch, Betabel Road, Livestock 101 and Highway 129 areas. 

Hsia-Coron said these areas would be removed from the General Plan under the initiative, as the voters had already considered them as part of Measure K in 2020. Measure K would have adopted an ordinance approved unanimously by county supervisors that converted the four properties (nodes) at highway interchanges to regional commercial “C-3” zoning.

That measure didn’t pass and county officials moved to designate three of the four areas for “C-1” commercial use. Hsia-Coron thinks this went against the will of the people. Other nodes in the county that have not been addressed will be part of the proposed initiative’s scope. 

“But all the other nodes in the county I know—there’s 12 or 13 other ones that we originally listed. We don’t have to remove them. Under the rules of the initiative, when [the nodes] come forward for consideration that people would have to vote for them,” Hsia-Coron explained.

The Empower Voters Initiative is an off-shoot of 2022’s failed Measure Q— which was also championed by Hsia-Coron—with slight variations.

Measure Q would have amended the county’s General Plan to require voter approval for the future rezoning of agricultural, rural, rangeland and other open space properties in San Benito County into commercial or industrial designations.

The measure was struck down, garnering only 43% of the vote.

Now, Hsia-Coron said the time is right for the Empower Voters Initiative. The 2024 primary election saw victories for slow-growth candidates vying for seats on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. Incumbents Kollin Kosmicki and Dom Zanger retained their seats in District 2 and District 1, respectively, while former Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez secured the District 5 spot. 

All three ran on platforms of slow-growth and infrastructure improvements. Hsia-Coron characterized them as “landslide” victories that reflected sentiments in the county around land use and development.

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  1. I have an idea…along side that signature, make sure that you see an agreement that you will take your percentage of the fines that are going to be issued to the county when we don’t meet the mandated number of permitted units in the time period allotted. Let’s start with Mr. Hsai-Coron, who has been pushing the slow growth, no growth initiative for years. Let’s say he gets to pay 50% of whatever fines the state throws at us, and the rest of the people signing the petition to slow or stop growth in the county can split the remaining 50% among however many signatures are on that petition. Sound like a good idea?

    I posted before about the mandate, this very paper has published about the mandate on numerous occasions, I’m trying to figure out what part of the word mandate is not getting through to those that want to slow or stop the building in the county. Remember the old saying, “You can’t fight city hall”? Well, that works with state mandates also.

    The solution to this is not to try to slow or stop the building, but to make wise decisions when it comes to where to build, and to hit the infrastructure issue head on instead of complaining about it. Build within the boundaries of the city services. If developers want to put their development in Hollister, give them the choices of the infill lots that are currently available. Former Mayor and now District Supervisor Velazquez said that very thing, smart growth, build within limits we have now.

    And for goodness sake stop putting these developments on the far reaches outside of current city utilities. I get that the developments currently being built on the far southern end of the city lines were permitted two decades ago, and would already have been built out were it not for a certain industrious ground squirrel. But any new development should be within city limits, until the vacant lots are gone. Only then should the city consider paying for and extending utilities and borders.

    Look, the state wants their housing. They’re going to get it, or they’re going to get a pocket full of money from this county for which we get no return. I’d rather invest that money and see improvement, than just hand over money and see only a “Thank you for your payment, now do better and try to make the next deadline.” The county is going to grow, we are the least expensive alternative to Silicon Valley workers that don’t want to travel 152 every day. And we ARE that bedroom community for Silicon Valley right now. Until we can get more industry into this area, people are going to have to travel outside of the area for work. Sticking your head in the sand and thinking differently won’t solve anything. Let’s hit the problem head on and figure out a solution, instead of just hoping we can wish it away.

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  2. I am in favor of the iniciative, why are all these residential housing projects being approved and how are they beneficial to the current residents of San Benito county? the majority of the people moving here commute to Santa Clara county, Hollister is becoming a bedroom community for people who work elsewhere.

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