This article was contributed by Wayne Norton, who is running for San Benito County Supervisor District 2. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
In the nearly 35 years I have been involved in the civic life of San Benito County, there have been few issues that have generated as much heat as the arguments about potential development along Highway 101.
I understand why folks are concerned about the prospect of commercial development. We all love the beauty and rural character of San Benito County. We all hate congested highways and county roads. We all want a transparent process that ensures our voices are honored when important decisions are made.
We also know our county’s budget is not adequate to provide the services we need and deserve. These conflicting forces leave us with a dilemma.
How do we protect our natural resources while also protecting the rights of individual property owners?
How do we make sure we are protecting the health and safety of ALL county residents?
These are complicated questions that don’t have simple answers. Finding a way to expand the tax base by allowing appropriate commercial enterprise on Highway 101 with active citizen oversight, I believe, is part of the solution.
The new C-3 zoning ordinance adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors is a valuable tool to restrict and control development along Highway 101. It allows us to reap sales tax from motorists who are now passing through our county. The ordinance gives us the power to demand what we want from developers and reject businesses we don’t want.
For instance, we can require that any fueling station install electric vehicle charging equipment. I think it would be a bad idea for convenience stores or a truck stop to be approved at the intersection of Highways 129 and 101. It almost goes without saying that all new development will be required to meet or exceed environmental standards and prove there are adequate water supplies for their project that will not adversely affect their neighbors.
Clearly, the county needs an enhanced opportunity for public review of all proposed development along 101. I propose the county create a Highway 101 Development and Design Review Committee. This body would consist of five members: two from Aromas, two from San Juan Bautista and be chaired by the District 2 planning commissioner. The committee would be charged with scrutinizing any development and design on the highway and make its recommendations to the county Planning Commission. Its recommendations would be part of the official record.
I am an optimist at heart. I believe that reasonable people can come together to find solutions that both serve today’s needs and preserves the character that makes San Benito County such a great place to live. I look forward to talking with you about our views on this issue. I think the best exchange of ideas and problem-solving comes from talking together one-on-one. If you want to talk—or maybe get a few of your neighbors together for coffee and a chat—I hope you will call me: (831) 227-3530.