San Benito County officials certified the citizens’ petition for an initiative that would require voter approval for certain land rezoning decisions, but are waiting for an impact report on the proposal before deciding whether to place the measure on the November ballot.
The board of supervisors June 14 unanimously certified the petition for an initiative to amend the county’s General Plan to remove commercial and thoroughfare “node” designations. The initiative would also require voter approval for future General Plan amendments that would reclassify properties currently zoned agricultural, rangeland or rural to other uses.
Currently, those decisions are made by the county’s planning commission and board of supervisors.
The board had previously requested an economic impact report on the initiative, as allowed by state election laws. That report is expected to be completed and presented to the board in time for the June 28 meeting.
After receiving the impact report, the supervisors will have two options, per state law: adopt the initiative by a board vote; or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot as a measure.
Proponents of the initiative, titled “Let the Voters Decide How San Benito County Grows,” began collecting signatures in February. The lead proponents of the measure are Andy and Mary Hsia-Coron. It is supported by many county residents who formed the group Preserve Our Rural Communities to oppose the development of highway nodes about five years ago.
The “Let the Voters Decide” measure, if approved by the supervisors or the voters, would amend the county General Plan to require voter approval for the future rezoning of agricultural, rural, rangeland and other open space properties in San Benito County. It would also remove commercial “node” designations from the county’s general plan.
Supporters have said similar measures have been enacted in Napa, Sonoma and Ventura counties over the last 20 years, with positive results. Andy Hsia-Coron said while collecting signatures that it is clear that county residents are concerned about the pattern and pace of growth here—and its impact on water, traffic and the quality of life—and the measure would address those worries.
“It’s clear now that there’s significant interest in this county surrounding these issues, regardless of where your opinion is on it,” Hsia-Coron said at the June 14 board meeting.
Mary Hsia-Coron added that the in-progress impact study might not be accurate, as it would have to speculate how the voters would decide on specific land rezonings in a future governed by the “Let the Voters Decide” initiative.
“It’s about letting the voters have a say, and I think you should let them have a say,” Mary Hsia-Coron said.
While Supervisor Bob Tiffany voted to certify the petition, he had strong words against the measure due to its possible negative impact on county coffers. The measure could lead to voters blocking numerous “economic development” proposals that would generate tax revenues to fund public services as San Benito County grows.
He said any comparison to Napa, Sonoma or Ventura counties is “ridiculous” because those are “rich counties” with other sources of revenue.
“We are a poor county, and revenue is a huge issue for us in this community,” Tiffany said. “And if this were to pass, it would absolutely gut our ability to have economic development and sales tax come in through industrial and commercial projects.”
He also cast suspicion on the proponents of the “Let the Voters Decide” initiative, who he says have never expressed support for any commercial proposal in San Benito. “I can guarantee you if this passes, they will continue to pass on their misinformation and try to defeat every type of economic development that will come to the voters. I am strongly opposed to this initiative,” Tiffany said.
The measure’s proponents submitted a petition with signatures from 4,092 registered in San Benito County, according to county staff. They needed signatures from a minimum of 10% of the county’s electorate—or 2,060 names.
County elections staff verified a random sample of 500 of the submitted signatures, thus finding at least 3,491 of the signatures statistically valid, county staff said.