This commentary was contributed by Rider McDowell, creator of the Betabel Project. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
I held my first ever virtual Town Hall on June 25. The timing seemed right, as the community had several questions about our pediatric cancer charity’s Betabel project, many precipitated by a campaign of misinformation by our opponents. I felt the citizens of SBC were entitled to the truth. During the Town Hall I explained our project and fielded questions from the public for 45 minutes before I ran out of time. Here are some of the questions I did not get a chance to answer then:
“The many uses permitted under c-1 include auto parks, hotels, entertainment centers, shopping centers. Do you ever foresee adding any of these?”
No. Never. Our vision is laid out in the watercolor illustrations of our project on Betabelproject.com. We’d like to build an old fashioned little complex of whitewashed barns and old growth native trees on this former junkyard. We envision a country convenience store-gas station, an old fashioned drive up restaurant, and a large barn with local crafts and produce grown on our land and whatever else makes sense, with fun family oriented exhibits in back of the barn.
“Would you consider putting your open land into a permanent agricultural conservation easement?”
Yes, someone suggested this and I like the idea. I grew up on a farm and the land is an important thing to me. About 75% of the property is going to be returned to organic farming and we want to be sure it stays that way. We are talking to local organic farmers who we hope can help us, and we want to sell our own produce at a stand at the site. We also want to provide access to part of land for use as learning farms.
“Would there be any way to provide a connection to 129 from your project?”
The original plan was to have a bike or walking trail that went along the Pajaro River and into San Juan. I am hoping we can do it. It depends on the property owners near 129 but we are going to try. If Strada Verde passes, people could follow the trail from there along the Pajaro River and through our project and on into San Juan. I would love to see that.
“How do the plans for Strada Verde fit within the planning?”
I don’t know too much about Strada Verde and we are not connected besides having the same off-ramp. This project does not really change anything about ours. Based on the petition effort, it looks like the people really want it. And if Strada Verde does what they say they are going to do, they’ll create a lot of good jobs and a chance for local students to pursue tech oriented careers close to home.
“What environmental impact studies/reports have been done and do you expect to do more with the actual plan you are creating?”
We just did one a few months ago and we are ready to do any other study the county needs. We want to be the best stewards of this land as is possible and I hope our partnering with CHEER to clean up the rivers and the watershed shows our commitment to the environment. Certainly the return of the Steelhead after 75+ years, was a wonderful thing. We’re very proud of that.
“Have you considered working with the biology programs at colleges like Gavilan to provide real life experience for future biologists?”
Absolutely. I left college after two months to go out and teach myself to be a novelist. And it was challenging in part because there was no such thing as an internship for aspiring novelists. So the idea of on-the-job training and internships is a wonderful one. Specifically targeting young biologists (and aspiring older biologists, no agism here!); we are conscious of how sensitive the ecosystem is and how badly it has been abused, so we welcome their insights and ideas. I see potential here for a symbiotic relationship (a term familiar to any aspiring biologist!).
“What kind of water table studies have you done?”
We did one when we were drilling our new well about a year ago. It is a good well with plenty of water—1,500 gallons a minute. It just needs filtering. We have so much water that San Juan Bautista was thinking of using our well to help with their water problems.
“Betabel RV park has nighttime security patrol—would you partner this and leverage overall security for the area?”
We have a great relationship with the RV park owners—they’re a first class group, great neighbors—and we will work with them to make sure our security is top notch and only impacts them in a positive way.
“Will the gas station have diesel and will it be built big RV friendly?”
Yes, we have the whole RV park next to us to consider. Those people really don’t have any services right now and we can make life a little easier on them by accommodating them in our plans. We will also have electric charging stations available.
“Would you offer construction internships during building of the project?”
Same answer as before. I love the idea of people getting hands on experience and training so they can get actual jobs down the line. We want our project to be a resource, to help where we can.
“Are you building on sacred Native Land?”
No. CHEER founder and community leader Herman Garcia, who has helped us understand the history of our land, consulted with Alan Leventhal, from San Jose State. Professor Leventhal has been studying local Indian tribes for 32 years. Leventhal confirmed ours is not sacred land and there are no burials here—any sacred land is far north of us in Santa Clara County. The people who claim otherwise are misinformed and have never come out here, never spoken to us. We understand the importance of the native culture and we are hoping for their advice and help with our plans for interpretive areas, particularly on our river walk.
“If you are a 501c3 charity how much in the way of taxes will you be giving to the county?”
We will collect all the regular taxes, like payroll and sales taxes. In this way we are similar to Paul Newman’s company, which runs a viable business with all profits to charity. Our land is already owned by a charity trust and all the profits will go back to that trust for pediatric cancer research.
“When was the traffic study done? Will traffic not be a problem given the issue now with turning off 101 south to 25 south?”
We did a traffic study last year. It showed that our project would not increase traffic. And that our customers will come from existing traffic. In fact Betabel will mitigate rush hour traffic somewhat as people turn off to get something to eat, get gas, etc instead of just sitting there in traffic.
“Please address if your plan will include a hotel or motel?”
We talked about a small old fashioned motel at first and to me this would complete the picture of the classic roadside stop. But we don’t have the funds to build one right now. Down the line we can revisit this if the money is available. And please note that it would be as attractive and modest as our other buildings.
“Are you still building the visitor center?”
Our giant watering can, yes! We see ourselves as one of the gateways to everything that San Benito County has to offer. We will have space devoted to Hollister, San Juan Bautista, the Pinnacles, and local businesses and tourist sites and scenic areas. So many people pass down 101 and never realize what they are missing by not visiting these places. We can help change that and make travelers more aware of the restaurants, hotels, and shops just off the road.
“How many signs do you envision and how high, large, and where will they be located?”
We’ve got ideas for a few old fashioned signs on the property. Something vintage and appropriate. To be honest I haven’t really focused on this yet. One thing I’m excited about is the old growth trees we’ve purchased to place about the project giving the illusion that our buildings have always been there. We’re also growing our own indigenous shrubs and bushes to plant about the property to beautify it.
“What will be the fiscal impact of your project when fully developed?”
Its hard to say right now. If we do our job right, it will be significant. We are looking to employ up to 75 people, maybe more, in everything from intern jobs to advertising and marketing to merchandising and management, computer data, customer service, etc. We are thinking we can generate $1, $2 or even $3 million in taxes for the county. I think with our plans and given the location we’ll contribute significantly to the tax base. That’s our vision and this was my son Errol’s vision. His legacy.