Kyle Martin is a freelance reporter.
Earlier this month, an overturned big rig truck caused a complete shutdown of Highway 25 for about four hours, according to a California Highway Patrol report. The wreck blocked a southbound lane north of Shore Road in an unincorporated area of San Benito County, the report stated.
With the goal of expanding Highway 25 “to relieve traffic and improve safety,” Measure G aims to prevent drivers from being stuck in such traffic jams.
Known as the San Benito County Roads, Transportation Safety and Investment Plan Transactions and Use Tax, Measure G would levy a 1 percent sales tax in the county. If passed by a two-thirds majority, tax revenue generated by the measure is expected to be placed into a special limited-use fund, which would be allocated “only for local roadway and transportation projects,” according to county elections officials.
“The best way to look at Measure G is if you want Highway 25 widened, you vote on Measure G,” Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said. “If you don’t think that is your responsibility, you vote no on Measure G.”
Measure P, a June 2016 ballot measure similar to this one, Measure G, asked constituents for a one-half percent sales tax increase. Measure P failed after receiving approximately 60 percent approval from voters, just short of the two-thirds supermajority vote needed to pass.
“San Benito County has major transportation needs. The need is great,” said Mary Gilbert, executive director of the Council of San Benito County Governments (COG), the regional transportation agency. “We’ve identified that we have a $1.8 billion need for improvements.”
Gilbert named “crumbling” roadways and traffic which has visibly multiplied over the past 20 years as major factors for voters to consider. She noted that she sees many “safeguards” in the wording of Measure G, intended to ease voters’ minds.
“The goal that we have is becoming a ‘self-help’ county,” Gilbert said. “With a measure like this being in place, there is local revenue that is generated in San Benito County and it stays in San Benito County.”
John Lemos, a Hollister rancher and San Benito County Republican, expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the measure, saying he has been “on the fence” about it.
“I don’t think Measure G is going to fix our problems,” he said. “Even if you fix Highway 25 or 156, it’s still going to be screwed up.”
He said if voters approve the measure, he hopes area officials will do their “due diligence” in carrying through with reparations to the county’s most problematic roadways.
While many voters may be decided on Measure G, at a recent meeting some local farmers said they weren’t.
Pat Wirz, president of the San Benito County Farm Bureau, said his organization is not taking a position on the measure.
“The congestion on the highways, particularly 156 and 25, kind of impedes the flow of goods out of our county,” Wirz said. “We had a very mixed discussion at our [recent] board meeting.”
He said for years, county farmers who shipped perishable goods across county lines would often lose out on spoiled products, like vegetables, when delivery trucks sat in traffic. So while board members see benefits in expansion and decongestion of area roadways, there is the possibility that farmers whose land borders along Highway 25 could lose acreage to construction and development.
It’s one of several reasons why the farm bureau’s board could not reach a unanimous position on Measure G.
Still, Wirz offered his own feelings about the measure.
“I see the need for the expansion of Highway 25,” he said. “I don’t know if Measure G is the answer, but it’s probably a good start.
“Whether the people vote how I want them to or not is neither here nor there,” he continued. “The main thing is that the voters go to the ballot box and voice their opinion.”