This community opinion was contributed by Mia Casey, co-founder of San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
People ask me, “Why are you supporting Measure N? What’s in it for you?” Some even claim I am paid by the developer. It’s simple. I am a retired person who cares about the community and wants to make a difference. I’ve watched the county struggle for decades. My family and I lived here in the 1990s, but were forced to move away in 2004 because of job changes. A lot of housing was being built in those days, but there was little industry or good paying jobs unless you owned a business, worked in government, or were a rancher or farmer.
We moved back to Hollister after I retired. It saddened me to discover so much new housing being built, while the same road, traffic, and infrastructure issues still plague the county. The percentage of commuters has doubled. Housing prices have skyrocketed. I got involved out of a desire to see our county flourish. I do research, speak out, and try to inform people and support good commercial projects for San Benito County that will bring some balance to this lopsidedness of all housing with little business growth that has crippled our county financially. I co-founded San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future, a nonprofit focused on advocating for projects that benefit our community. But let me make this crystal clear—we are not talking about residential growth. Our group does not support or endorse housing projects. Our focus is on business and economic growth that will nourish our community and bring the kind of economic growth to address our local needs.
Measure N is one of the most exciting projects I have ever seen, with the potential to bring the economic growth the county has long needed. People don’t grasp how huge an opportunity this is. The town hall we co-hosted with the San Benito Business Council on Strada Verde was eye-opening. Their team gave an awesome presentation, which can be viewed on YouTube (search for Strada Verde Project). We were introduced to one of the group’s leaders, Mark Tami-Hota, who has worked for Ford for 20 years and has a great deal of knowledge in the industry. It becomes very clear, this is not just a project. It is a small slice of a huge industry, one of the future industries in the world—the autonomous or self-driving and electric car industry. Every major car manufacturer, and tech giants like Google and Facebook, are all working on self-driving and electric cars. One of the biggest challenges? A safe place to do research and testing. Enter Strada Verde.
From the town hall, the importance of the site selected for Strada Verde becomes clear—a 3-mile flat strip of land allows for a special type of track essential to testing; a track that will make Strada Verde a sought-after proving ground. The group is currently in discussions with European automakers that have said build it, and they will send their people and vehicles here for testing. Think of the implications for tourism! People around the world staying in our county for extended visits; checking out our local restaurants, wine tasting, and visiting attractions.
People are skeptical, as they should be. Many details are yet to come. And you may be wondering why this project was put before voters as the Measure N initiative, rather than going through the traditional development process. This had much to do with PORC, an anti-growth group also known as Protect San Benito. They were gathering signatures to force an initiative onto the ballot for November that would require all projects with rezoning (like Strada Verde) to be put before voters for approval. So Strada Verde created an initiative that did just that. PORC’s initiative failed; they didn’t get enough signatures. Yet now PORC attacks Strada Verde, claiming this initiative process is flawed, the very process they had been pushing for.
I have heard the concerns, such as Strada Verde’s initiative will bypass environmental review. The thing is, this measure sets the zoning, it doesn’t approve everything. The project must still undergo the other development steps and work with the County to meet requirements, including environmental impact reports.
Herman Garcia of the environmental group CHEER recently signed a letter of intent with the developers to clean and maintain the Pajaro River along the property. Herman’s outstanding work restoring our rivers has resulted in steelhead trout returning after 75 years! The 200+ acre park/preserve to be developed along the river for folks to walk and ride bikes is going to be wonderful.
Another concern has been around TriCal, the agricultural pesticide company nearby. A lot of fear mongering has been pushed by opponents. However, TriCal has operated safely here since the 1960s. Recently, TriCal and Strada Verde announced an agreement to mitigate 100% of hazards identified. This will likely be at a significant expense, but shows their commitment to the environment and the county.
Traffic is always a concern for our county. What people fail to realize is commuters are already on these roads, traveling long distances to work in Silicon Valley. If they work at Strada Verde, you have the same commuters, a shorter drive, and less of a carbon footprint. Plus, think about it, this will reduce traffic heading home, since Strada Verde workers will already be at home by the time Silicon Valley folks reach our county roads.
The last thing that you may hear is the claim that 2,700 acres of ag land is being rezoned. This is not really accurate. Ask any knowledgeable local farmer, and they will tell you much this acreage has not been farmed in decades, and is not considered productive land. A large block that is considered prime ag land is being preserved—some 562 acres. It is important to understand this distinction.
Although we may not have all the answers yet, this is a well thought out project for a huge global industry. It says a lot that they’ve already taken steps to address some of our concerns. It shows commitment. And I think this is in part due to Dan Floriani, the property owner, who is also a partner in this development and who’s family has lived here for generations.
The rest you know. Good wage jobs for our county. Millions in yearly revenues for services infrastructure, to fix roads and provide funding for schools, medical, hospital and police services. A place for our community to enjoy the beauty and open space along the Pajaro River. It will even boost tourism, something we have wanted for a long time!
I don’t know what else I can say, except please vote for a brighter future for our county.