This community opinion was contributed by Aromas resident Laura Stampleman. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
Before March 3, we had Measure K. A ballot measure designed to halt a new zoning ordinance that was applied to four commercial projects at currently developed locations on Highway 101.
Today, on March 24, the world has utterly and forever changed.
Now that COVID-19 is here and spreading, we face drastic and dire challenges. People are getting sick. Some are dying. Shelter-in-place mandates affect our seniors and families, and compromise the ability of many to obtain the basic necessities, particularly those living paycheck-to-paycheck. Jobs have already been lost as industries are hit with a series of devastating blows. Many more businesses are expected to collapse. People are forced to make once unthinkable decisions that will have a lasting impact on their lives and the lives of others for the unforeseeable future. Many local businesses that have supported our community may reopen, but many more on razor-thin margins will be crippled and may never recover. Daily life has been completely upended, and all indications suggest that this will only get worse before it gets better. No one is immune to the economic impact of COVID- 19, particularly not smaller, less financially stable counties like San Benito County.
So today—just three weeks after the primary—we have a whole new set of circumstances that brings a whole new set of challenges that we haven’t even begun to comprehend. Like what happens when millions of people fall behind on their debts?
COVID-19 is pushing an economy that was already approaching a recession, and all of this is unfolding in a contentious election year for San Benito County. That means we, the residents and voters, can no longer remain in the dark about the ongoing and rapidly escalating financial crisis in San Benito County. To stay in the dark about these serious issues is just plain dangerous. It’s time for all of us—including our “No on K” brothers and sisters—to move beyond binary choices, obstacles and lawsuit, to stop crushing the morale and productivity of the people who work on our behalf every day, and to band together to create sustainable public agencies that ensure the protection of our people right now. We need compassionate leadership to ensure a safety net is in place for us all, including protections for our most vulnerable. At the same time, we need a compassionate community that is determined to see San Benito County recover economically as quickly as possible.
To that end, I am calling on our Board of Supervisors and community to protect the public’s health by making way for socially, environmentally sound economic development. I ask that the county honor the Betabel application received, and to apply the legal C-1 zoning ordinance immediately. I also ask the county to hold the landowner and developer of this project accountable throughout development to ensure our people and our planet are protected, and to reassure an untrusting public to the extent possible.
Yes, I know the people spoke with Measure K before COVID-19, and now, I am speaking on behalf of many others in the midst of COVID-19 because this pandemic brings unimagined and intolerable pressure on our community. Our needs today are much deeper and more critical than ever before. We know that COVID-19 will not stop until we have a vaccine, and projections indicate that we are one-two years out from putting this virus behind us. At this time, we must expand our capacity for responsible economic development, not retract it. This is not the time to eliminate the few opportunities we have for potential jobs and sales tax revenues that are needed to support essential services and our people. This is a time we must work together despite our differences.
I am grateful to county leadership for allocating emergency funding that allowed for the immediate hiring of a public information officer, and I urge the county to elevate the priority of finding a full-time public health officer so that this longstanding unresolved issue is remedied.
Our county is facing profound employment and economic impacts, and those impacts will disproportionately affect our vulnerable people who haven’t made the gains to weather this storm. We need to be prepared to meet these challenges and the many more to come, and that means creating and offering sustained responses. We cannot expect to successfully protect our people without working together to make our economy a top priority.
Dr. Laura Stampleman
Oncologist and Aromas Resident
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