Housing / Land Use

Court order temporarily halts Betabel C-1 rezoning

County and property owners will present arguments at May 19 hearing.
The proposed Betabel commercial node location off Highway 101. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The proposed Betabel commercial node location off Highway 101. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Though county supervisors approved a C-1 commercial rezone of the Betabel node off Highway 101 on April 7, a court order has thrown a wrench into future plans.

San Benito County Superior Court Judge Omar Rodriguez approved on May 5 a temporary restraining order that halts the rezoning of 29 acres from agricultural rangeland-flood plain to commercial thoroughfare (C-1). The county and property owner Thomas John McDowell and Victoria McDowell Charitable Remainder Unitrust have until May 15 to explain why the rezoning should not wait until after statewide shelter-in-place order is lifted. San Benito County’s shelter order expired on May 3, and the county is now following the statewide order, which has no expiration date.

A hearing is scheduled for May 19 at 11 a.m.

“The county respects Judge Rodriguez’s decision on the complicated legal issues of first impression that have been presented in this case. The county looks forward to the hearing on the preliminary injunction,” County Counsel Barbara Thompson said. “The county recognizes the right to pursue a referendum as an important legal right and will respect the court’s ultimate judgment in this matter. In this matter, the court must balance whether an injunction is appropriate in light of other available legal remedies.”

The court order comes as activist group Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC) works to halt the rezoning to allow more time to collect signatures for a land-use initiative that seeks to eliminate numerous commercial node designations throughout the county and require voter approval for zoning changes.

PORC submitted the application for the temporary restraining order on April 22. The group previously filed suit against the county on Oct. 23 for rezoning four locations along Highway 101, known as nodes, to regional commercial (C-3) status.

“We think it was the right thing to do,” PORC Secretary Mary Hsia-Coron said. “The judge obviously felt there was enough cause to grant the decision.”

Hsia-Coron and her husband Andy, president of PORC, spearheaded the referendum known as Measure K on the March 3 primary election ballot, which asked voters to approve the county’s rezoning of four commercial nodes—Betabel, Highway 129/Searle Rd, Livestock 101 and Rocks Ranch—that involve a total of 298.6 acres. Measure K failed on a 59.8% to 40.2% vote. The Hsia-Corons live about one-mile from the Livestock 101 node. 

“PORC seems determined to impoverish the county as it faces the worst economic recession of our lifetime. Nor do we understand the venom directed at our charity’s planned roadside stop, built where once a junkyard languished, and where every penny goes to pediatric cancer research,” Betabel property owner Rider McDowell said. “Not to mention the 75-100 jobs it could create and needed tax revenue. We hope the county and its attorney Joel Ellinwood take all necessary action to prevent PORC from making a terrible economic situation that much worse.”

PORC’s initial lawsuit claims the county failed to disclose or evaluate environmental impacts from commercial development, and that an updated environmental impact report should have been prepared prior to the rezoning. The county relied on an EIR prepared for the 2015 General Plan update. Throughout the process, the county has contended that an updated EIR is required when property owners submit an application for a project, but not during the rezoning process.

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.