Local primary election candidates and ballot measure representatives participated in an election forum on Jan. 30 jointly hosted by BenitoLink and the San Benito County Farm Bureau. Over 100 people attended the forum in the banquet room at Paine’s Restaurant.
Each candidate and measure representative received one minute to answer each question, and one minute for a closing statement. Students Xavier Guaracha of Anzar High School and Taryn Wright of San Benito High School served as moderators.
San Benito County Supervisor District 1 candidates Betsy Dirks and incumbent Mark Medina opened the event by answering questions about their plans to increase county revenue.
To increase revenue streams, Dirks said the county must focus on improving its infrastructure and have high-speed internet to attract businesses. Medina said the county began the process during his tenure as board chair by investing in the Economic Development Corporation over the next five years.
District 2 supervisor candidates Frank Barragan, Valerie Egland, John Freeman, Kollin Kosmicki and Wayne Norton were asked to answer with a simple yes or no if they supported Measure K—San Benito County’s ordinance rezoning four sites known as nodes along Highway 101 to regional commercial (C-3). Current District 2 Supervisor Anthony Botelho, who’s not running for reelection, spoke later in the evening for the Measure K ballot measure.
Egland, Freeman and Norton all said they supported Measure K. Kosmicki said he did not support it, and Barragan declined to answer the question.
District 2 candidates were then asked how San Benito County could increase its revenues if Measure K fails on March 3. Kosmicki said it was essential to have good paying jobs and that the county needs to develop a long-term plan for attracting businesses.
While Norton shared Kosmicki’s view, he said if it was easy it would have been done by now. He said the county needs to develop its infrastructure and broadband internet to attract businesses.
Freeman also cited the need for high-speed internet and used his time to say the node property owners along Highway 101 would sue the county and win if voters reject Measure K.
Egland focused her minute on the tourism industry and leaning on training and supporting higher education for local students. Barragan said there needs to be a collaboration between agriculture and technology to bring innovation to the farming industry.
District 5 supervisor candidates Jaime De La Cruz and Bea Gonzales both spoke on wanting to attract businesses and fix local roads. De La Cruz, who’s held the District 5 seat since 2004, said his greatest achievement was helping pass Measure G in 2018, which was dedicated to fixing roads and reducing traffic.
“The backbone of our community is our roads,” De La Cruz said. “Without fixing our roads we can’t have economic development.”
De la Cruz added that he wanted to prevent the Highway 25 expansion project from being delayed like the widening of Highway 156.
Asked what she would do differently than De La Cruz if elected supervisor, Gonzales said she would not be “self-dealing,” as she feels the current board is doing. She also said she would use $5 million awarded by the state for a regional sports complex toward a “park that we could use” or invest it in the library rather than De La Cruz’s $40 million sports complex plan.
In response, De La Cruz said it was the first time he had heard there was $5 million available for a park.
Following candidate questions, the focused moved to Measures K and L. Supervisor Botelho represented Yes on K, while Preserve Our Rural Communities President Andy Hsia-Corona represented No on K.
Both were asked how Measure K would hinder or benefit San Benito County. Hsia-Coron said the public will never know because the county never conducted traffic, water, economic, biological or cultural studies. He also said the rezoning would lock the property to be developed in the future under SB 330.
Botelho responded that the measure was about a zoning ordinance and that some of the studies would accompany each individual project application. He also said the zone change benefits include preserving open and agricultural land, future job and revenue creation, and promotion of San Benito County.
In his closing statement, Hsia-Coron said the measure would attract more commercial development and that Highway 101 would become more congested. Botelho said the nodes were an opportunity to create a special gateway to the community and introduce visitors to the culture and diverse history of San Benito County.
San Benito High School Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum closed the forum speaking in favor of Measure L, a $30 million school bond. No campaign filed in opposition to the measure.
Asked for a cost breakdown, Tennenbaum said $20 million would go into constructing a multi-purpose building that includes a student union and cafeteria. That phase also includes demolishing the old Career Technical Education building. The remaining $10 million would fund security measures like cameras, gates, fencing and lighting.
Tennenbaum was also asked to describe the educational value of a student union. He said the value of the building revolved around the students’ access to a safe space, internet and nutrition.
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