As he prepares to finish his second, four-year term representing the San Juan Valley on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, Anthony Botelho said he plans to make a potential third term his last.
Near the top of his goals list is to see through the revision of the county’s General Plan, which helps provide a vision for the area for years to come.
“It will lead to the blueprint to what our county will look like over the next 20 years,” said the 51-year-old apple farmer. “It has an economic development aspect that is meant to promote the diversity of opportunities for everyone in San Benito County.”
He cited an emphasis on wine tourism that “will be good for both the downtowns of Hollister and San Juan Bautista.”
Botelho’s nearly eight years on the board have allowed him to form partnerships “that require a certain level of experience,” he said.
“You have to have an understanding of the complexities of a budget,” he said. “We need to look for more efficiencies and consolidations. You have to be involved in it to understand it.”
Regarding consolidation, “my philosophy in general is the more we consolidate and work with the two cities, the better off we both are,” he said, citing governmental cooperation on a local gang coordinator and housing programs.
As for the proposed consolidation of county fire services with the city of Hollister, which he called “a very complex issue,” Botelho said the county “definitely was not successful in conveying the proposal to the public so it would be understood. This is a great opportunity to establish a better dialogue not only with fire agencies but with the public. We need to establish trust.”
Everyone’s goal, Botelho said, is to have the highest level of fire protection for the county. Having more time to discuss options with Calfire is “an opportunity” that will help reach that goal, he said.
He said re-starting talks about consolidating the local police and sheriff’s departments “should be considered” within the next few years.
Balancing the budget is both a short- and long-term goal for Botelho, who is in the midst of budget talks as the new fiscal year approaches July 1.
“We have to balance the budget without utilizing reserves,” he said. “If we are able to do that, I believe revenues will creep the other way. We have to live within our means. The (county) employees need to understand that the benefits package the government provides has to change. It can’t be sustainable the way things are today.”
Botelho said he would like to explore a “brown-out” of government during December by closing “non-essential” offices. He mentioned the county library and the planning department as potential targets for the temporary closures.
“We have to balance the budget, but it’s not prudent to lay off eight sheriff’s deputies and two assistant district attorneys,” he said. “We want to limit the impact on public safety.”
The incumbent supervisor said he is in favor of a vote of the people to prioritize funding streams for parks, the library and fire protection. He said he is in favor of a voter-approved “benefit zone” and fire protection districts that would fund services through property assessments.
“We just don’t get enough (tax dollars) back from the state,” he said, adding that consolidation and privatization options should be explored for some services.
Attracting business to the county could help fill that revenue gap, Botelho said.
“You have to develop an environment that indicates to the private sector that they’re welcome,” he said, noting Earthbound Farms as one business in his district that has been able to expand despite tough economic times. “It begins with zoning to accommodate the diversity of businesses.”
The proposed expansion of the main thoroughfare in his district, Highway 156 from San Juan to Hollister, has been a hot-button issue with some locals who believe Caltrans’ proposal to widen it will ruin the rural character of the San Juan Valley.
Botelho said he is “adamantly opposed” to Caltrans’ preferred design because it would “change the rural character” of the area while engulfing taxable and valuable farmland.
Design alternatives, such as using roundabouts rather than stoplights to slow traffic down along the highway, could satisfy all sides, Botelho said.
“You have options to improve traffic movement,” he said. “We have data that shows you move through roundabouts slower but you get from Union to San Juan faster” than if stoplights were used along the route, he said.
Botelho said he believes his track record will help him get re-elected.
“I take being a supervisor seriously,” he said. “I have had success in partnerships and projects and I’m hoping to continue as a supervisor. This is a very difficult time in San Benito County’s history that requires expertise to get us through.”
Medina challenges in District 2
Arturo Medina voted for District 2 Supervisor Anthony Botelho eight years ago and again four years ago. But the president of Rivera Advertising in San Juan Bautista said he could not vote for Botelho again. Instead, he decided to run against him.
“In the last four years some of his votes have been the opposite of what his platform was,” said Medina, 53. “I waited until the very end to see if anybody else would jump in.”
They didn’t, so he did.
Medina cited Botelho’s support of rescinding the county’s growth ordinance rules that would have allowed voters a chance to decide if large developments should be built.
“He voted to get rid of that ordinance, which now means three supervisors get to make the decision,” Medina said. “We really need to focus on creating new jobs via bringing new business into the county instead of new housing. I think it’s housing that got us into the deficit that we’re in by growing too fast. We were the fastest-growing county in the state for a few years – it was all based on housing, not job creation.”
Medina’s main goal, if elected, would be revenue generation, he said.
“We’re consistently looking at how to make cuts to make our budget, but not how to generate revenues for our county,” he said. “We need to focus more on that. We need to go after light industry and try to bring some of those Silicon Valley dollars over here.”
He also advocated for more emphasis on attracting tourist revenue to San Benito County.
“Tourist dollars are great because people come in and spend money and don’t require all the services that new housing requires,” such as law enforcement, public works and fire pro
Medina said his time on the San Juan Bautista Planning Commission in the late 1990s and city council in the 2000s gave him experience with governmental operations. Still, he said the county needs to be run a “little more like a business.”
“I’ve been in business for myself for 16 years now,” he said, adding that he has a degree in business administration with an emphasis on marketing. “I’ve seen the ups and downs.”
The proposed consolidation of fire services has been a hot topic at the county level recently, with supervisors considering contracting with the City of Hollister before deciding to extend an agreement with Calfire.
Medina said he likes that a committee to discuss fire services will include a representative from the San Juan fire department and a member of the city council, though he said “that should have been done before all the talks happened.”
“I thought there was a lot of miscommunication between some of the departments,” he said.
Adding a third, fully-staffed station in San Juan should be pursued as well, Medina said.
Regarding the state of the county budget, which had at one point had a $5.3 million hole to fill, Medina said the county has to look at cuts.
“Beyond that, we need to have jobs so the money stays in the county, circulates in the county, and every time it circulates it will generate tax revenue that will help the county and the cities,” he said. “We’re not doing a very good job of going after state and federal grants. I feel we’ve missed some opportunities. That and a good tourism base can really help turn things around.”
With talk of creating a special tax district to fund certain services, such as parks, and concern that library services could fall victim to the budget ax, Medina said the lack of activities for young people make funding parks and the library essential.
“I’d be in favor of some type of tax specifically earmarked for parks or the library in order to keep it open,” he said. “I’d be leery of making it a long-term solution.”
Instead, reaching northward to attract more high-tech business to the county could help, he said.
“We’re at an 18 percent unemployment rate, which is higher than some desert counties,” Medina said. “We’re only 55 minutes away from billions of dollars in job revenues from the Silicon Valley. It’s a matter of reaching out to them versus wait and see.”
Medina said he is not pleased with the leadership of Botelho on the proposed expansion of Highway 156 through the San Juan Valley.
“I’m not sure why some of the past board members approved the project,” he said. “They said if Caltrans doesn’t spend the money here, it will spend it somewhere else. To me, that’s not the way we should be looking at a project. It needs to make sense for the county.”
With the matter still tied up in court, as a citizens’ group has fought to have Caltrans reconsider plans for an expanded footprint of the project, Medina said he would advocate for withholding the county’s share of funding for the project “until we get a project that makes sense.”
“Caltrans made five proposals and most citizens were not in favor of the project they ended up selecting,” Medina said. “It’s almost as if they ignored the citizens who attended the workshop. I’ve been floating the idea of trying to get some support behind holding the funds until a more reasonable and beneficial project for the county on the 156 is made available.”