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March 21, 2023

Strada Verde joint study session postponed

The applicant for the proposed Strada Verde Innovation Park in northern San Benito County has asked local officials to postpone an upcoming planning meeting due to recent changes in leadership at the project’s development company. 

In a March 9 email to San Benito County planning officials, Strada Verde Innovation Park spokesperson and former county supervisor Anthony Botelho noted that the developer had requested to postpone a March 21 “joint study session” where SVIP was slated to give a presentation. 

County planning staff had previously agreed to SVIP’s request to postpone the March 21 session, Botelho’s email suggested. 

“(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 2,767-acre SVIP commercial and technological project is proposed by Newport Pacific Land Company in northwest San Benito County, about seven miles south of Gilroy and about nine miles northwest of Hollister. The project is currently undergoing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

In a phone call with this newspaper, Botelho suggested that SVIP personnel have already seen some of the findings in the EIR process, which typically takes months to complete. He said 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.”

He 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. The EIR process began in spring of 2022, and could continue another several months before a draft of the study’s findings is published. 

After the draft EIR is published, the county must solicit public input and then produce a final EIR document, which requires approval by the board of supervisors before construction can begin. 

The developer has 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 are being studied in the SVIP environmental study. 

At the March 14 board of supervisors meeting, Supervisor Bea Gonzales said an offer by SVIP to use its First Street office in Hollister for supplemental county library programs “might be a moot point at this point because of the changes of what has happened with the Strada Verde management.” 

Gonzales could not be immediately contacted for clarification of the comment. 

The SVIP has been a polarizing topic since it was first proposed in 2020. Newport Pacific Land Company sponsored a ballot measure in November 2020 to pass a General Plan amendment for the project through the voters, but it failed at the polls. In 2021, the developer submitted the project to the county to seek approvals through the normal land use process. 

Some local officials and observers have been highly vocal with their speculation of SVIP’s motives. Former Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said Thursday that SVIP’s requested delay of the study session 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 on record, Velazquez speculated. “They’re figuring out, without houses, there is no way to make this thing pencil out.”

Botelho said that he personally would not support SVIP or any project that would propose housing at the northern San Benito County site. He added that the EIR process is so specific that if a developer wanted to change their plans, they would “have to start all over again” in the lengthy approval process. 

“I wouldn’t be so passionate about this project if it was anything other than economic development (with) jobs and businesses,” Botelho said. 

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.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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