Government / Politics

City says builder cannot install traffic signal until summer; county says build it now

County denies deferral request from Santana Ranch subdivision on constructing traffic signal, preventing builder from obtaining new building permits

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors denied a resolution April 25 that would have allowed the Santana Ranch subdivision, located at the intersection of Fairview and Sunnyslope roads, to defer the installation of a traffic signal at Valley View and Sunnyslope roads until after the issuance of the 300th building permit or 12 months from the supervisors’ decision, whichever comes first.

When the 1,000-plus unit subdivision was approved, the signal was required to be installed prior to the issuance of the 145th residential building permit based on cumulative traffic trips as a result of this development and other nearby approved developments. The condition of approval provided that the county could modify the 145-permit constraint based on updated traffic trip analysis. The cumulative projects were determined to contribute 190 morning peak-hour trips and 230 afternoon and evening peak-hour trips at the intersection. With the majority of the peak hour trips assigned to two adjacent subdivisions—Award Homes and the Annotti Senior Project— which have not yet been built, county staff believed that it was reasonable to relax the 145-home restriction on Santana Ranch. 

According to the resolution’s supporting documentation, county staff supported the resolution because the intersection traffic signal and associated turn pocket would still be required to be constructed by the developer. The staff also was confident that the intersection work would be completed as required and pointed out that part of the intersection work delay was the result of city and county issues related to roadway right-of-way over which the developer did not have control.

County staff, however, didn’t count on Supervisor Mark Medina having an opposing view.

“We had an agreement with the developer and we need to hold him accountable,” Medina said. “They need to follow through with their commitment and not throw the can down the road for another year. They should put up that signal as soon as possible.”

James Walgren, director of the San Benito County Resource Management Agency (RMA), explained that the resolution was more about timing rather than building or not building the traffic signal. He said that because of right-of-way issues with the city, the project was delayed, but he expected the signal to be built sometime during the summer while school is out.

“The issue is whether or not we stop issuing building permits for this project,” he said, adding that when the original 145-permit limit was set, it was anticipated other subdivision projects that were underway at the same time would have generated the amount of traffic that would have required the signal. “We’re confident that limiting it to 300 housing units, which probably won’t be achieved, or 12 months, is pretty safe. It’s been approved and we do believe it will be constructed this summer.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said that developers previously have built traffic signals and then as other developers moved forward they would reimburse the first developer. He said because of the existing development agreement, it was important to comply with it to ensure public safety. Supervisor Jerry Muenzer wondered if perhaps the 300 building permit stipulation could be maintained while shortening the timeframe to six months. Medina said he was disturbed that the developer was requesting the deferral when the project has been planned for decades.

“They had the time to figure out the design of the property, but then the infrastructure comes second?” he asked. “We can’t do that. I would agree to the six months, but there’s no extension after that and we have to hold them accountable from today to six months later that the traffic light is up and running.”

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said he would support six months as long as long as the developer did not return requesting another extension. Walgren said that should not be a problem. Supervisor Robert Rivas said he was not willing to agree to the six-month extension. He said he wanted to see the light installed immediately.

During public comments, Hollister resident Marty Richman said the intersection, which is not too far from Sunnyslope School, was terrible and everyone knew it. He said children crossed it regularly to go to school and the light is needed as soon as possible. He said the city’s letter concerning the right-of-way was dated Aug. 2016.

“Meanwhile, we’ve got all the kids crossing and people are trying to beat the traffic over there by going into the right lane,” he said, “and then as soon as they can, they stomp on the gas coming up Sunnyslope at about 80 miles-an-hour to get in front of the guy in the left lane. It’s a terrible corner. The sidewalk’s not there for the kids going to school. And that’s your problem because it’s county property.”

Botelho added that Santana Ranch got a break on traffic impact fees and wondered that if they agreed to the resolution might that set in motion more deferral requests from other developments. He said that was not a good path and that he opposed the resolution, not wanting to jeopardize safety, even for six months.

Medina asked Walgren how long would it take to build the signal if work began immediately. Walgren answered that it was his understanding it would be done by summer. Muenzer asked if the 145-permit limit had been reached. Walgren said it had, and then Muenzer asked if since the limit had been reached if that prohibited any more permits from being issued. Walgren said he was correct and pointed out that the signal requirement was based on an environmental and traffic analysis for multiple developments.

“I’m not going to support it,” De La Cruz interjected. “No more deals. Let’s just move forward. You want to build in our community, you’re going to have to pay up front.”

De La Cruz wanted to vote immediately, but County Counsel Barbara Thompson advised him the builder was present and might want to speak. Cruz relented and Brian Curtis said the delay was not a matter of funding or timing. He said the plans for the signal would be ready for the city to sign off on in less than two weeks.

“The City of Hollister has told us they won’t let us construct the signal until school is out because we need to close the lanes down,” he said. “The summer window for construction is based on the city’s requirement for the schools.”

Even though the start date for construction of the signal is beyond the builder’s control, Muenzer made the motion to deny the deferral of the installation. Medina quickly seconded it, and the motion to deny the request passed.

“The motion passes,” he said, and spoke to Curtis, saying “Therefore, continue as-is and you’ve got to start construction before you get the next permit. That’s the direction of the board.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]