Government / Politics

County General Plan OK’d, homeless center site questioned

County supervisors approve development guiding plan eight years after the revision effort began

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors approved the 2035 General Plan at its July 21 regular meeting, eight years after the process started.

The updated plan, which replaces the 1992 document, contains guidelines that the state requires regarding land use, circulation, open space, conservation, noise, safety and housing — which was adopted in 2010. It also includes policies for economic development, public facilities and services, and administration.

District 2 Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he “can live with (the plan),” while District 4 Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said, “Am I thrilled with it? No. Live with it? Yes.”

District 5 Supervisor Jaime De la Cruz said, “I can work with the document. At least we don’t have lawsuits like some other counties.”

District 3 Supervisor Robert Rivas said, “I’m not pleased with the document and I don’t agree with a lot of its policies but I will support it.” 

Rivas also thanked those who were involved throughout the revisions of the plan, dating back to 2007.

The BOS recessed for lunch and then returned to discuss the General Plan as the last item in Public Hearing. On hand were Planning Department’s Byron Turner, EMC Planning Group Senior Principal Michael Groves and others.

Before the BOS approved the resolution to adapt the document and others supplemental to it, a heated discussion took place about whether San Benito County should remain rural or become commercial.  And specifically, if the county should support the widening of U.S. 101 or Highway 25.

District 1 Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Margie Barrios first raised the question about how commercial nodes should be handled. It was noted that 101 through San Benito County is protected as a scenic route and commercial nodes are handled as part of zoning standards.

Botelho related that when he and the planning commission met, the agreed-upon outlook was, “We don’t want San Benito County to look like Santa Clara County. But we want to promote economic growth and protect the scenic beauty in our county.” He referred to the recently-constructed San Juan Road Interchange as a model of that.

Also examined were the necessity of widening Hwy.156, aligning of Hwy. 152 and the extension of Shore Road. That ended when it was revealed that widening 101 is too far out of the scope of the project area and that it was not part of the baseline for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR, a component document that was also needed to be approved as part of the General Plan).

For more on the General Plan, visit the county's website here.

Toxic issues at potential Homeless Service Center site

The other hot topic discussed at the meeting was the removal of toxic substances from the Southside Road property area, the proposed site of the Homeless Service Center.

Early in February, supervisors chose the site where an abandoned hospital still stands near a quarry where landfill materials are usually dumped.

Health & Human Services Agency’s Jim Rydingsword reported that “the building and site assessment identified asbestos in the main hospital, the pipings, the soil and another building.”

He also said an architect from Salinas is working on designs. The board authorized a $75,000 grant application to the State Toxic Substance Control Agency for abatement.

It also turned out that the envisioned Homeless Service Center should run 24 hours a day, year-round for it to be effective. But Homeless Coalition Chairperson Pat Loe said, “The Coalition can’t take responsibility 24/365. It’s beyond our scope for it to be run 24/7. We can’t take responsibility other than to be a helping hand.”

Compounding the issue were two groups of residents living near the Southside Road property who presented their issues of privacy and safety to the board..

David Crandall, who lives at 830 Feather Court, said, “We have safety issues about the bus stop right where the Homeless Center will be. My backyard is there. I have a lot of neighbors who don’t like it, either.”

He suggested the Center site be relocated to San Felipe Road. But Barrios explained that San Felipe Road is an agricultural area and there are contracts with farmers and growers about the use of the land behind a potential site there.

Teacher Maribel Consuelo and two teen-aged girls echoed Crandall's concerns. She said residents were not aware of the plans to build a Homeless Center in her area until recently. She capitalized on her fears as a parent. “I have an issue about homeless people stealing my dog’s collar. Some of them look over my yard when my kids are playing. Please reconsider the site (for the center).” The girls said “some of them are drunks and drug abusers” and “you can’t ignore the fact that some of them have been arrested; you don’t want to be known as the county that paid for this (dangerous situation).”

Crandall also said, “So we do something for the homeless. But what about we who are residents? I think it’s unfair. The center will increase homeless activities in the county. They will impact our property values. We’ll pour our money together and come back with a petition. We’ll fight it tooth and nail.”

De la Cruz expressed a need to re-visit the issues surrounding the center's proposed location, while Muenzer said, “I’ve been against this site from the get-go. The way it’s metamorphosing, it’s bigger than we expected. I’ll be supportive. But I agree that the hospital comes down.”

Botelho argued that “the hospital is on county-owned land" and that “it’s unfair to identify the homeless as lawless. We’ve identified the site; let’s move forward with this because we’re going to lose the grant.”

Rivas cautioned, “We still don’t know the level of contamination. The Board of Supervisors should explore alternative locations as a fallback so we don’t lose the grant. What’s frustrating is the mixed message from the mayor (Ignacio Velazquez). It’s politics at its best – two local bodies not working together. We need to look at our means and resources. I always felt the winter shelter (instead of the year-round option) worked well. We’re still not prepared to take that big leap.”

But Barrios agreed with Botelho to move forward with the center and the board approved authorization of the grant application 3-2, with Rivas and Muenzer opposed. Public Works Department’s Joe Horwedel asked the board to think of flexible ways to use the $1.5 Community Development Block Grant money for the project.

Landfill rate hike

Rate increases of $1.75 per ton were approved for solid waste and residual solid waste materials accepted at the John Smith Road Landfill. The rate for compacted franchise solid waste will jump from $43 per ton to $44.75 per ton.

Department consolidation

The Resource Management Agency concept was also approved by supervisors. The agency is tasked with amending the county code to consolidate Public Works, Planning & Building and Integrated Waste Management into one department.

Weather impacts crop values locally

According to the approved 2014 Crop Report, the yield last year in San Benito County was almost similar to the yield in 2013, with a $2.1 million drop in gross agricultural value. County Agricultural Commissioner Karen Overstreet said “there was actually a decrease of $2 million, or less than one percent.” She attributed this to the drought, mild weather and other factors. The total value of produced locally last year was $328.3 million, compared to $330.4 million in 2013.

Jail expansion plans approved

The plans and specifications for the Main Jail Expansion project were approved. The 1,600 pages of documents and 300 pages of drawings will soon be executed. 

Homeless Census released

The 2015 Homeless Census Executive Summary Report was also accepted by the board. Among the highlights presented: an increase was recorded (in 2013, 365 homeless individuals were observed; this year, the number was 651), 86 percent of the homeless have lived in the county for more than five years; 70 percent are homeless for the first time, and about 200 have chronic conditions, are disabled and/or are veterans.

Rydingsword replied to Muenzer it was not true that neighboring counties brought their homeless to San Benito County.

In other action

  • Supervisors did not get around approving several appointees and contract renewals, including a new sheriff sergeant’s position. But Probation Department’s RT Baraan introduced to supervisors to the new Juvenile Hall Superintendent, Joseph Frontell.
  • Recognition was given to Roy Sims, nephew and godson of Barrios and winner of the U.S. Sumo Nationals in the heavyweight and open divisions in June in Missouri.
  • Margaret Nunez received for Angelica Rojas of the San Benito Health Foundation the declarations for Health Center Week (Aug. 9-15), Breastfeeding Awareness Month (August) and Farm Worker Health Day (Aug. 3).
  • A certificate was given to Frank Ledesma for his nine years of membership in the Community Action Board.
  • The County Administration Office gave the Trindel Safety Award to Juan Manuel Puente and recognized Sheyla Funes for her outstanding effort toward a safe and healthy workplace for the county.
  • No action was taken on the appointment for Resource Management Agency director and a labor negotiation.

Harvey Barkin

Harvey Barkin is a Freelance Journalist and Technical Writer. His stories have appeared in various media.