Government / Politics

County approves 200-unit development near Hospital Road

Developer John Brigantino pays more than $1 million toward affordable housing and park for new development near the San Benito River

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on April 25 moved forward with a 200-unit development along 44.4 acres near the eastern bank of the San Benito River, bounded by Hospital Road on the south, Southside Road on the east, and orchards on the northeast and north sides.

Supervisors passed a resolution to adopt an addendum to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), as well as the findings under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California Planning Law of a development agreement concerning the Sunnyside Estates project. The project, according to county records, includes a 5.3-acre park and open space. The proposed residential lots would range in size from 5,000 square feet to approximately 13,824 square feet, with the average lot size being approximately 5,800 square feet. The proposed density would be 4.50 dwellings per gross acre.

James Walgren, director of the county’s Resource Management Agency (RMA) said the project was approved in 2016, and that the Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the development agreement. Shirley Murphy, deputy county counsel, and Nadia Costa, outside special counsel, explained that the applicant, John Brigantino, and county staff were asking the board to memorialize the terms of the project that the Planning Commission had already approved, and to clarify some conditions.

Costa explained that the addendum would provide a stronger enforcement mechanism through various default provisions and some enhancements that Brigantino agreed to concerning the county’s request for affordable housing. Also, Brigantino had agreed to pay $900,000 within five years after the first building permit was issued. Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz asked how the $900,000 would compare to current amounts for low-income housing, wondering how much difference there would be. Cruz believed it had to be more than $1 million. Neither Costa nor Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, knew what that might be. In fact, Espinosa commented that it was unlikely anyone knew for sure. Cruz said he realized it probably wasn’t logical to compare the two, but wanted to emphasize the importance of moving quickly on impact fees.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he had issues with the project because there were no accommodations for affordable housing. He said staff had worked with the developer to reach a consensus, which happened late in the project. Botelho said he was concerned about locking in impact and development fees at today’s costs if the project would not be built out 10 years from now.

De La Cruz asked if the development agreement had a trigger mechanism to adjust for inflation. Costa responded that the affordable housing fee is vested via USDA because the payments were initially voluntary because the county did not have a mechanism in place.

“This (agreement) reaffirms that they are not vesting into any other impact fees, so they will pay whatever impact fees are in place at the time of building (permit) issuance,” Costa said.

Muenzer asked if there were a requirement for a homeowners’ association (HOA). Costa said she believed there would be a requirement for an HOA to deal with private improvements to the site. Muenzer said every subdivision needs to have an HOA that remains even after the last house is built. De La Cruz asked her if the roads would be public or private because he wanted to make sure the project would not be a gated community. She said there were indications that there would not be a gate. De La Cruz wanted written assurance that there would be no gate.

Muenzer commented that subdivisions will often offer the roads within the developments to the county, but the county does not accept them, creating ambiguity whether they’re public or private roads. He said that if the county accepted the roads, then the gate would not be an issue. He asked Thompson if the county should go ahead and accept the roads. She told him she wasn’t sure if the county should adopt a blanket rule of accepting roads. Muenzer said he was just talking about the Sunnyside Estates project. Costa said it’s normal practice for the developer to offer the roads, but it was her understanding that the county was not going to accept them. Costa said the county has not yet approved the final map and the board normally makes a decision about the roads when the map is approved. She said even if the board does not accept the roads, it has the legal right to rescind its decision and accept the roads. De La Cruz insisted that wording be added to guarantee there would never be any gates.

Botelho was concerned about the county’s inability to repair the roads it now has, much less those in the new developments. He was in favor of the HOA’s being responsible for road maintenance within developments. Costa said it will be the board’s decision whether or not to accept the roads into the county system. Espinosa cautioned the board to “do its homework” before accepting any roads. He said wording concerning gates could be added, but they needed to be aware of significant costs down the road if other changes were made. De La Cruz said every development should have a funding mechanism in order to maintain its own roads and the county should not accept them.

During public comments, Hollister resident Marty Richman brought up the affordable housing issue in case the developer doesn’t begin the project for several years. He said the $900,000 that is being slated for affordable housing won’t mean much due to inflation in the housing market. He said if the $900,000 were paid up front, the affordable housing would be based on current prices and they would not likely be built at the same location.

“I recommend you work something out to get the money in a short period of time so you can supply affordable housing somewhere in the county,” he said. “Apparently, they’ve agreed to pay for it whether they build out or not.”

Brigantino said that when he started the project, there was no affordable housing in the area, noting that when he asked the county if it wanted affordable housing, he was told it did not.

“I went through three years, spent a lot of money, and two days before my tentative map I was approached to provide affordable housing,” he said. “This is a donation. You have no affordable housing in place. I also donated another $100,000 towards a park. The reason I want this development agreement after (development agreement) because I didn’t have time before. It was two days before my meeting and I didn’t have time to say ‘let’s put it in the development agreement.’ I gave $200,000, and then they wanted $900,000. I just want to get this thing done. I’m tired after all these years.”

 Brigantino said he was also told to pay another $300,000 for roads. He said he has no problem with paying the money, but “enough is enough.”

“If they’re private roads, there can be a gate; if they’re public roads, there’s no gate,” he said. "I’m going to follow the rules like I’ve done through this whole thing. When they asked for revenue neutrality, I didn’t set any fees. I’ll pay the fees at the time we put in a house. I never said set the fees today. I’m not here to rip anybody off. I just want to do what’s fair. I gave you guys everything you wanted and all I’m doing is asking for you to approve this development agreement.”

Supervisor Robert Rivas responded: “The bottom line is it’s never going to be enough. Whether it’s $200,000 or $5 million. That fact is, we live in California and we have an affordable housing crisis. Nine-hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket and no development is ever perfect.”

He went on to say affordable housing is also moderate housing for the teachers, firefighters and other moderate income people to buy.

“This is not a perfect project, but I hope moving forward that we can engage our developer to work with our staff and improve our ordinances,” Rivas said.

De La Cruz agreed with Rivas that $900,000 was a ‘drop in the bucket,’ but qualified the comment by saying that Brigantino’s project was underway before the affordable housing rules were in place. He said he wanted the public to know that going forward, developers would be held to a different standard. He told Brigantino that all he was concerned about was that he paid impact fees when due.

“I’m OK with moving forward,” De La Cruz said. “The roads we can figure out later.”

Muenzer recalled that Brigantino was describing his project to the Planning Commissioner and Muenzer realized there was no affordable housing provision.

“This got the ball rolling and to his credit, he (Brigantino) addressed it and made me feel a whole lot better about moving forward with this project,” Muenzer said. “Affordable housing is a priority for this county, but at the time when this project was going through the process it met the rules that were in place at that time, so I’m going to support this today and move on.” 

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]