COMMUNITY OPINION: The Betabel Project: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future co-founder Mia Casey writes about a virtual town hall put on by Betabel Project owner Rider McDowell.

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.

Recently, Rider McDowell held a virtual town hall for residents about the nonprofit Betabel Project. He spoke of his background, family and their vision for Betabel. He also cleared up misinformation being circulated. What I appreciated most were the personal insights.

The Good

The motivation is simple. The McDowells fought a six-year battle with their son Errol against brain cancer. They lost him two years ago—he was just 18. They have been focused on funding pediatric cancer research for many years. In 2016, Errol and his brothers created Cancer-a-Go-Go, a nonprofit that raised and distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward funding a cure for pediatric cancer. Errol’s dream was to buy the junkyard, clean it up and build a roadside stop to raise even more money. The McDowells want to honor their son, and continue supporting pediatric cancer research in hopes that other families won’t have to endure that struggle and loss. In May, a promising new immunotherapy treatment for pediatric brain cancer was announced—it was funded in part by the McDowells.

Betabel brings jobs, revenue and showcases our County. Jobs and revenue are desperately needed in San Benito County, with the current economic crisis, 20% unemployment and shortage of commercial projects. A tourist center will showcase San Juan Bautista, Hollister and county events and attractions, aligning with our efforts to attract tourism. Over 600,000 cars travel Highway 101 each week!

Environmental and agriculture friendly. Betabel preserves agriculture: 75% of its 119 acres will remain organic farmland. Not only did they remove the awful junkyard, the McDowells partnered with an environmental group to clean and restore the Pajaro and San Benito watersheds. The result? Last week the news reported steelhead trout had been spotted in the San Benito River once again—the first time in 75 years!

Gummy cough drops? The McDowells purchased the Pine Brothers Cough Drops company and moved the manufacturing last year to Marich Confectionary in Hollister. As production ramps up it too will bring additional revenue and jobs.

The Bad

The Misinformation Campaign. Many misrepresentations have been made by Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC) regarding Betabel.

  • Big Developers trying to ruin the county? The McDowells are not developers at all—this is the first and probably last commercial development they will ever do, and it’s a labor of love.
  • Traffic: The study conducted showed no increase to traffic. It’s no different from other freeway exits leading to a store or gas station; it takes advantage of existing motorists.
  • The Floodplain: PORC claimed Betabel will be built in a floodplain. Not true. The buildings will be on the existing junkyard footprint, not within the floodplain.
  • Water Use: Betabel is looking at a water catchment system for buildings. It also has a new well to use for water the same way neighboring farms do.
  • Housing: There are no plans to build any housing and never have been. This claim by PORC is completely false.
  • 100% of Profits for Pediatric Cancer Research: Rumors claimed profits won’t go to cancer research. During the webinar, a Trust Deed document was shared clearly showing the property was put into a Charitable Trust in 2017. Considering this, and the fundraising already raised by the McDowells, it is clearly another false argument.
  • Sacred Lands: Concerns were voiced regarding Native American sacred lands. Rider indicated he wants to respect sacred lands and has teamed up with a San Jose State professor who is an expert on indigenous cultures in the area. They plan to include information about local tribes along the Riverwalk.

The Ugly

Beyond deliberate misinformation, PORC officers and members have engaged in ugly remarks to discredit the McDowells and anyone who supports Betabel. I know from personal experience. I spoke in support of Betabel at a Supervisor’s meeting and the PORC president claimed I must be a paid PR person for Betabel. As co-founder of San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future, I volunteer my time. One of our goals is encouraging commercial projects that make sense for the county and our local economy. PORC Organizer Jackie Morris has been outspoken on social media, referring to Rider McDowell as a con man, and even inferring that someone who “…uses the death of a child or teen to cancer to promote a commercial development project is desperate and despicable!”

Why say such a cruel thing?

Differences of opinion about a project or pointing out flaws are fine (as long as statements are truthful). But personal attacks on parents still grieving the loss of their son? No one deserves that.

So that is Betabel: the good, the bad and the ugly. One last note: If a petition gatherer asks you to sign a petition in support of Betabel—beware! There are no petitions of support—you are being misled again. The only Betabel petition being circulated is by PORC in an effort to stop its development.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the bad and ugly in our county. It’s time to focus on something good. And Betabel is very good indeed.

Mia Casey