SUBMITTING SIGNATURES Andy Hsia-Coron (center) and Bella Rosales (far right) hold the boxes full of signatures submitted to the county elections department earlier in May. Credit: Andy Hsia-Coron

The Empower Voters to Make Land Use Decisions Initiative has qualified for a potential spot on the November ballot after the San Benito County Clerk-Recorder’s Elections Department

certified that the petition had gained the minimum number of valid signatures.

San Benito County Clerk-Recorder Francisco Diaz confirmed the certification in a phone interview on May 28.

“My certification has been put on the initiative, now the next step is to go to the board of supervisors to present the certification,“ Diaz.

The Empower Voters initiative would amend the county’s General Plan to bring decisions on the redesignation of uses for unincorporated county lands to a vote of the people. It will be up to the county’s elected supervisors to decide whether to adopt the initiative as a county ordinance, or send it to the voters as a ballot measure in November. 

“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 redesignated by a vote of the people, with limited exceptions,” reads the initiative text, in part. 

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors took its first action regarding Empower Voters in mid-May, when they voted to commission an impact report. That report must be presented to the board no later than 30 days after the initiative is certified by the county elections department, which was May 21. The report will address the following:

  • Fiscal impacts
  • Effect on internal consistency with general and specific plans, housing element and zoning
  • Effect on land use and ability to meet regional housing needs
  • Impact on infrastructure funding including transportation, schools, parks and open space
  • Impact on ability to attract business and employment
  • And any matters requested by the board of supervisors.

After the certification is officially presented to the board by the elections department and the impact report is completed, the supervisors will vote to either adopt the initiative/measure as is and implement it as a county ordinance, or submit the measure to voters in the next statewide election to be held no sooner than 88 days after the certification.

Diaz said that within the last 10 years, the board of supervisors has consistently put initiatives on the ballot rather than adopt them as ordinances.

The initiative gathered an initial raw count of 3,480 signatures, according to the official clerk’s certificate. Under California Elections Code, a sample size of the signatures is verified to project the total number of qualifying signatures. Out of a sample size of 500, the county elections office projected that the initiative obtained a total of 2,875 “sufficient” signatures.

This was almost double the minimum required amount of signatures, which was 1,985.

“This group has brought forth several initiatives, and they’ve always brought in, very respectively, 2,000 signatures or more,” Diaz said.

The proponents of Empower Voters have significant experience bringing initiatives to the county, and among them are members of groups Protect San Benito County and Don’t Dump On San Benito.

​​In 2022, many of the current initiative’s supporters were also involved in the campaign for Measure Q, an initiative echoing much of the same language and purpose of Empower Voters.

Measure Q would have amended the county General Plan to require voter approval every time an agricultural, rangeland or rural property owner sought to rezone their land—for example, for residential, commercial, industrial or landfill designations.

The measure would have also removed existing commercial node designations on certain properties along Highway 101 from the county’s General Plan. Ultimately, Measure Q failed in the polls, garnering only 43% of the vote.

The next step for Empower Voters, according to Diaz, is for his office to formally present the certification at the July 18 board of supervisors meeting. At that point, the board will decide whether to adopt the initiative or put it on the November ballot.

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