Community Opinions

COMMUNITY OPINION: On Measure K, the Betabel project and accidental activism

When Mia Casey researched Measure K and the nodes, she and like-minded individuals moved to action and created a petition to be presented to the SBC Board of Supervisors on April 7.

This community opinion was contributed by San Benito County resident Mia Casey. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.

It was never my intent to become embroiled in controversy around a hotly contested and misunderstood Measure K. I found myself drawn in, becoming an accidental activist along the way, co-founding a grass-roots movement and about to deliver a petition of support on April 7 to our County Supervisors. But first, a little background.

When I saw the No on K signs my reaction was probably like many of yours—FINALLY! Someone will do something about Highway 25 traffic, and slow housing developments so our economy and infrastructure can catch up! I was familiar with Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC), the group managing No on K. They had credibility… I had supported their efforts in the anti-fracking Measure J. As a former sustainability coordinator, I am aware of the inherent dangers of fracking.

Which is why, initially, I supported No on K.

Being semi-retired gave me time for research, and I was curious, how would PORC achieve their lofty claims? The more I learned, the less I was convinced. Measure K was not about housing—it had to do with four commercial development “nodes” along Highway 101.

A node is another name for a small commercial area meant for things like gas stations, and corner markets. There are 16 such areas identified in our county General Plan. The General Plan is an eye opener. Completed in 2015, it’s a 200-page roadmap into our county’s future. It took six years to create; had input from county departments working with Planning Commissioners and Supervisors, consultants in air, water, traffic, environment etc. Most importantly, it had lots of public input—workshops were held; literature mailed; even information booths at the Farmers’ Market and County Fair.

Turning to social media, I chatted with local folks about the measure. One person urged me to read Ordinance 991, the underlying document described in Measure K. It described new guidelines for those four nodes called “C-3 zoning.” My conversations continued on and offline with folks on both sides. I realized the ordinance was carefully crafted, with an environmental approach to building and restrictions on development size and design.

Despite my research, it was still unclear; why was PORC opposed to commercial growth at these four nodes? It’s not out of control. It’s been slow in fact and has resulted in revenues and job growth that hasn’t kept pace with residential growth.

One thing I uncovered: a majority of PORC co-founders live in Aromas. On Facebook, PORC treasurer Tom Karis said “I am the one that will have to drive by and look at your crappy county development.” Karis lives in Aromas, just outside our county. PORC co-founder Gina Paolini stated she had a “…vested interest in what happens in my community ‘Aromas’…” Paolini, a Morgan Hill city planner, spoke against hotels being built—was this about competition? Morgan Hill had a campaign for two new hotels.

One proposal I found was for a working/dude ranch next to Cole Road. It also happens that the president of PORC lives off Cole Road in Aromas. Was this measure to preserve our rural community? Or about where they live? I was no longer sure.

A wise professor once told me when an activist group works from a global/regional perspective, they can achieve great things. But when their views become too localized or personal, they lose effectiveness at making change for the betterment of the community or society.

It appeared No on K was concerned only about stopping specific developments, not about solving traffic or slowing housing. I received a No on K postcard, with a photo of big residential development signs—as though this was what was opposed. It felt misleading and dishonest, and explains people’s confusion over Measure K, when it’s about commercial development and approving C-3 zoning language—not housing.

No longer a PORC fan, I didn’t trust claims about 120 residential units being built. I looked closer at proposed developments. It was then I found the Betabel Road Project. Despite PORC’s claims, it contains no plan for residential units. I was particularly pleased to learn about the owners of the land, the McDowell family, and the ecological restoration work they did. You may know that eyesore along 101—rusty vehicles, derelict buildings with illegal activities and squatters. The Pajaro River within the property was polluted from illegal dumping

Betabel before. Photo courtesy of Mia Casey

 

The McDowells invested $200,000 clearing the land. They worked with an environmental group to restore the Pajaro River—literally tons of trash were removed. And the project itself? A beautifully designed rustic market, gas station, and diner. Picnic tables and walking trails to enjoy the river. Those other 86 acres? To be farmed organically—a perfect fit with our agricultural heritage.

Most touching is the higher purpose behind the project: to honor Erroll McDowell, their son who died at age 18 of brain cancer. They created a charitable trust to purchase the land, and all profits go through that trust to benefit pediatric cancer research. A beautiful tribute.

Along my journey I created a Facebook group: “San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future,” so people could share thoughts and exchange positive ideas. I was so tired of the No on K negativity, and mudslinging at local politicians. To build a strong, economically stable community and improve infrastructure and services, it’s imperative we work together. Apparently, I’m not the only one feeling this way—a grassroots movement was born—springing from that desire for positive change. We have discovered many community and business groups that share our vision—of a vibrant and healthy San Benito County.

Our first action? Creating a Change.org petition supporting the Betabel Project to be submitted at the Supervisor’s meeting on April 7. Our message is clear: with a looming recession and loss of jobs and businesses, the need for economic recovery and growth has never been greater.

Perhaps if we each participate in a little accidental activism, we can step into that brighter future, together!

-Mia Casey

 

Mia Casey