San Benito County officials clarified late last week that the developer of the proposed Strada Verde Innovation Park—which was the subject of a failed November 2020 ballot initiative—has asked the county to pause its work on the project’s application.
“As a result, work on the draft Environmental Impact Report has been placed on hold at the current time,” San Benito County Director of Planning Abraham Prado said in an email March 17.
The county and consultants had begun the EIR process for the 2,767-acre commercial and technological project in spring of 2022. The project’s applicant, Newport Pacific Land Company, had submitted an application for a San Benito County General Plan amendment, a specific plan, zoning amendment request, vesting tentative map and a development agreement—all of which required the completion of an EIR.
But that EIR process is now on hold, with no projected date for when it might resume. SVIP spokesperson and former county supervisor Anthony Botelho said Newport Pacific had recently undergone some changes in leadership personnel, and the new leaders wanted to pause the project. When asked if the company’s new leaders are hesitant about proceeding with SVIP, Botelho said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
“It’s a unique project,” Botelho said. “They certainly are capable of moving it forward. They just want to make sure they understand what they’re working with.”
In a March 9 email to county staff, Botelho had also requested a postponement of a scheduled March 21 “joint study session” where Strada Verde was slated to give a presentation.
“(We) have some new leadership changes at Newport Pacific Land Co. and our new team members would like to have a bit more time to review the current project and the new information that is being generated by the current application in the CEQA process through the county,” Botelho said in the March 9 email. “It is our intention to continue with our application as submitted and on the agreed upon entitlement timeline (and) we just want to make sure Newport Pacific has a full understanding of the project and alternatives that may be reflected in the draft EIR…”
The SVIP is proposed in northwest San Benito County, about seven miles south of Gilroy and about nine miles northwest of Hollister. Details of the SVIP plans include a 1,077-acre technology testing grounds, 127-acre research park, 253-acre ecommerce use, 24-acre commercial site, 227 acres of agriculture, a 252-acre greenway, 394-acre Pajaro River preserve, 153-acre habitat preserve and nearly 300 acres of infrastructure, water storage and right-of-way.
A ballot initiative in November 2020 to create the Strada Verde Specific Plan failed at the polls. But in 2021, Newport Pacific submitted the project to the county to seek approvals through the normal planning process.
Some local officials and observers have been critical of the project and vocal in their speculation of SVIP’s motives. Former Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said last week that SVIP’s requested pause confirms his longtime suspicion that the developer is trying to “scam” the county and ultimately build a “city” with new homes along Highway 101.
There is no housing proposed in the SVIP plans. But Velazquez noted that state laws passed in recent years to address California’s housing crisis make it easier for developers to convert commercial or industrial land to residential uses.
“I’m sure the EIR is coming back and showing the issues associated with (the current plans),” Velazquez speculated. “They’re figuring out, without houses, there is no way to make this thing pencil out.”
Botelho said he has not seen any of the early findings or reports from the EIR process, but he suggested that Newport Pacific’s new leaders had. He said last week the new leaders at Newport Pacific “wanted to have some time to review the environmental documents that are being generated by the county’s consultants, as well as our environmental documents.”
Botelho added that former SVIP President John Patterson has “moved on” from Newport Pacific Land Company. Recently joining the company in leadership roles are Jim Boyd and Rick Nelson, Botelho said.
The March 21 meeting was scheduled as a joint session with the county’s board of supervisors and planning commission. Botelho said the purpose of the meeting was largely to brief new members of each board on the SVIP project.
The joint session with SVIP has not yet been rescheduled, but “hopefully” it will occur within the next two months, Botelho said.
Botelho reiterated that Newport Pacific wants to proceed with SVIP as originally planned, though he didn’t say when it might want to resume the EIR process.
He added that he personally would not support SVIP or any project that would propose housing at the northern San Benito County site.
“I wouldn’t be so passionate about this project if it was anything other than economic development (with) jobs and businesses,” Botelho said.
Once again San Benito county has the opportunity to be at the forefront of something meaningful, and we’re going to blow it again. We had a mega solar project approved for the south county area, and little by little, the locals whittled it down to an insignificant project. Now we have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of self driving auto testing, and the developer will end up going to another county that’s more tech and progress friendly. Sometimes the residents of this county can’t seem to stop kicking themselves in the rear. I’ll never understand, but then again, maybe I’m not meant to understand. After all, I’m a first generation resident, what could I know compared to those with two or three generations here that want it to remain how it was when Hollister was founded in the 1800’s.