Wake up and pay attention


That’s the only way to describe the bid made by county Board of Supervisors Chairman Jaime De La Cruz to appoint a committee to meet in secret to find a way to undo county ordinances restricting the pace of growth and mandating affordable housing.

De La Cruz, challenged to justify the move by The Pinnacle, announced that he and his board colleagues had abandoned the idea of an ad hoc subcommittee in favor of a monthly examination of the planning laws in regular public meetings of supervisors.

That’s only right.

De La Cruz was not acting without support of his colleagues, a majority of whom voted to charge a subcommittee of two supervisors to re-evaluate the laws. While the news that the committee had grown to include two county planning commissioners surprised some of their colleagues, there was agreement that development in rural San Benito County needs a second look. Lame duck Supervisor Don Marcus went as far as to suggest that the public trusts its elected officials to do the right thing to serve their interests, even behind locked doors. Really? And De La Cruz refused to state his stance on key issues linked to the ordinances. Is that the best way to communicate with his constituents?

The ordinances now restrict county growth in the area outside Hollister and San Juan Bautista to 1 percent annually and require large developments to provide 30 percent of the houses they build at below market rate prices.

The laws deserve a hard examination, and the place to do the looking is in the bright light of public scrutiny, as part of a comprehensive county General Plan revision that’s now under way. The plan is a map for the county’s growth over the next generation.

Public polling that was commissioned as part of the general plan update reveals broad consensus: San Benito County residents want growth to occur around established enclaves, to preserve agricultural vitality and the views, communities and the way of life that defines local culture.

Everyone in county government and administration contacted by The Pinnacle lacked the backbone to say it, so we will: the quiet bid to commission a group to privately “re-examine” (read that, sunder) growth and affordable housing laws was all about pulling a fast one on a public that deserves better.

The blame does not all rest with the Board of Supervisors. County Planning Director Art Henriques played along by trying to characterize the entire issue as insignificant.

By Henriques’ reasoning, since demand for county building permits is usually only 80-100 units per year, scarcely above the 60 allowed in the existing ordinance, the whole thing is no big deal.

Henriques chooses to ignore that voters in 2006 rejected a proposal for a planned senior community of some 4,100 units near Hollister Airport, or that a proposal for 6,800 homes between Hollister and Gilroy is still alive and well.

The affordable housing and growth ordinances were both ambitious undertakings by a past Board of Supervisors, and history may show that both were flawed.

The affordable housing ordinance, for example, allows property developers to pay an in-lieu fee for projects of 20 homes or fewer, but the 30 percent affordability standard applies for developments of 21 or more. That invites gaming the system through a variety of means, such as splitting larger projects into a group of shadow corporations.

A more reasonable standard might require a sliding scale of contribution toward affordable housing that recognizes the advantages obtained through economies of scale. A choice of in-lieu fees or construction of sub-market priced homes might be considered.

Supervisor Pat Loe pointed out that the county’s growth cap also deserves a look, but in the context of pushing new housing to areas that can best offer services while preserving agriculture and our quality of life.

These are issues that will shape our community for generations. The discussion is too important to take place in a broom closet. Any thought of revising the growth and affordable housing measures must take place in the context of the comprehensive general plan revision process.

Several supervisors were elected in part on promises of transparency in government. It’s past time to deliver on that promise.

County supervisors may be contacted by telephone at the following numbers:

· Don Marcus, District 1: 637-1733

· Anthony Botelho, District 2: 801-8246

· Pat Loe, District 3: 637-2616

· Reb Monaco, District 4: 637-1445

· Jaime De La Cruz, District 5: 297-2248

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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