Ignoring pleas from farmers and ranchers to place a growth
control initiative on the March 2004 ballot, the Board of
Supervisors approved outright an ordinance that would limit the
ability of landowners to subdivide their property.
With a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Board voted to adopt the San Benito
County Growth Control Initiative as a county ordinance that could
go into effect within 30 days.
Ignoring pleas from farmers and ranchers to place a growth control initiative on the March 2004 ballot, the Board of Supervisors approved outright an ordinance that would limit the ability of landowners to subdivide their property.
With a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Board voted to adopt the San Benito County Growth Control Initiative as a county ordinance that could go into effect within 30 days.
Expressions of shock and dismay on the faces of dozens of farmers, ranchers and landowners turned to anger following the decision.
“We were highly displeased with the decision. We thought with the overwhelming support of the business and ranching community that showed up at the meeting today, they would do the intelligent thing and put it to a vote of the people,” said Tom Tobias, president of the Sam Benito County Farm Bureau. “We thought that was the fair and just thing to do.”
Ranchers and farmers said they were not seeking supervisors to kill the initiative, but to have it placed on the ballot for the 2004 primaries.
The initiative’s re-zoning aspect is different from the county’s existing provisions in that it takes much of the land currently in agricultural productive designation and reduces it from five-acre designation to 20-acre. The ordinance also designates agricultural rangeland area from 40-acre designation to 160-acre designation.
Proponents said the initiative will strengthen agricultural policies of the county’s General Plan and help preserve open space and conservation measures of the land’s resources.
After listening to more than an hour of speakers, both for and against the initiative, Supervisor Reb Monaco made a motion to place the measure on the ballot. The motion was met with silence from his fellow supervisors, who refused to second the motion, or even look in Monaco’s direction.
Under parliamentary rules, Monaco’s motion died for lack of a second.
A moment later, Supervisor Ruth Kesler moved to adopt the initiative as an ordinance, which was approved moments later.
Despite repeated phone calls, Kesler could not be reached for comment.
Monaco said the Board may have done the public a disservice by not giving residents a chance to vote on the measure.
“My feeling was that this was so controversial that I basically wanted to buy time for people to explore the ordinance to make their own opinions and let them express their concerns in the ballot box, and let the democratic process work,” Monaco said. “Regardless of whether you’re pro or con on it, I think this issue has raised so many hackles in the community that obviously people need to gather more information on it.”
Supervisor Bob Cruz defended the Board’s decision to adopt the initiative.
“I think that the Board felt that 5,900 people have spoken and let the other side now go out and get the signatures,” Cruz said.
Monaco said the 5,684 signatures gathered to support the initiative was not a public mandate. The county had 26,896 registered voters for the November election.
“I think the action that the Board took was based on a relatively small percentage of the population who signed the petition and if you are going to interpret that as a mandate of the county’s people, then I have a real problem with that,” Monaco said.
Cruz said the Board is not discouraging those who oppose the ordinance.
“I think these people should go out and get a referendum started to really bring out the facts and figures of what they are trying to do. It behooves them to do this,” Cruz said.
Other Board members said they supported the move to adopt the measure directly.
“I think it’s a good initiative,” Supervisor Pat Loe said.
Loe said the initiative will protect prime agriculture land.
“I think it’s important to protect prime ag land,” she said.
The Board’s decision to directly adopt the growth measure was met by cheers from supporters of the initiative, who collected a raw total of 5,684 signatures.
“I’m very thankful for the county that the supervisors had the courage to go ahead and adopt this initiative which will not cause major changes in the general plan,” initiative spokeswoman Janet Brians said, “and to conceive in a more permanent fashion where we are going currently.”
Brians rejected insinuations the initiative was adopted by an outside group looking to take away land or weaken owners’ property rights.
“There are a number of us also who have put our money into this because we believe in it,” Brians said. “I am a property owner and I also farm.”
Among the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting was Ann Marie Sayers, a native American resident, who said she sympathized with the ranchers’ and farmers’ battle for their land.
“Native Americans were once 100 percent of this nation, now we are 2 percent,” Sayers said. “At one time, farmers were 95 percent of the nation, but now you are about 2 percent. Welcome to the club.”
The initiative was the result of a grass-roots effort by the group “Citizens for Responsible Growth in San Benito County.”
“This is intended to limit and stabilize development at a level that the county can live with,” Brians said previously. A long-time resident, Brians said the initiative was not intended to bring all development in the county to a halt.
She said the initiative would redirect growth within the city of Hollister by “filling in” open and unused areas of the city first, and then by suggesting that any other developments be placed in areas other than prime agriculture lands.
The initiative is expected to limit new housing to about 2 percent of the number of households in the unincorporated areas. Senior, modest, low and very low income housing would be given special consideration.