Government / Politics

Election 2020: SBC Supervisor District 2

Candidates Kollin Kosmicki and Wayne Norton face off Nov. 3.

Watch candidates for SBC Supervisor District 2 answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

Following a 16-year tenure by Supervisor Anthony Botelho, voters in San Benito County District 2 will choose between Kollin Kosmicki and Wayne Norton as their new representative. Both candidates advanced in the March Primary Election with 35.1% and 21.8% of the votes respectively, ahead of Frank Barragan, John Freeman and Valerie Egland. 

 

Kollin Kosmicki has been a San Benito County resident since 2002, except for a brief stint away from the area. The former editor-in-chief of both the Hollister Free Lance and the Pinnacle is also the founder of San Benito Live, a local online media outlet which began in 2017. He is currently Anzar High School’s head football coach, a position he has had for three years. 

Since becoming a reporter with the Free Lance, Kosmicki has been close to local politics, holding government officials accountable and offering solutions through his reporting, columns and editorials. 

Photo courtesy of Kollin Kosmicki.
Photo courtesy of Kollin Kosmicki.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for county supervisor?

KOSMICKI: I am running for supervisor because I dearly love San Benito County and want to make a positive impact while bringing fundamental change to the local political culture. I feel strongly that I have the right background and knowledge of local government to serve the community well in this role. Above all, I want to do good things for this county’s great people and provide a brighter future for generations to come.  

What issues are most important to your district?

When I went door to door in the district’s walkable neighborhoods before the pandemic and spoke with thousands of people to learn about their concerns and perspectives, it became clear that our residents generally want slower, more responsible housing growth; more of a focus on providing affordable housing; aggressive road repairs; expanded highways as soon as possible; more local job opportunities; and to maintain our county’s rural character. Overall, I believe most people here want San Benito County to remain an ideal place to raise a family.

Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?

Understandably, most residents have busy lives and don’t have the time to pay close attention to all the details of local government. For instance, some people may not know that we can vastly improve our transparency with the public through more thoughtful use of technology and a more concerted effort to communicate regularly as elected leaders.

Most residents are likely not aware that we can do a much better job of prioritizing our limited tax dollars in the budget toward services that directly impact the people.

They may not know that the state egregiously refuses to pay for Highway 25—a state highway—and that the burden has been placed on our already overburdened taxpayers. Personally, I’m committed to solving this issue and about a year ago broached one particular solution for the Highway 25 expansion delay that is now officially on the table. That is to ask the state to relinquish ownership to the county—which could result in savings of nearly $200 million off the project price tag and get it done much sooner than initially intended.

Residents may now know we have a severe shortage of housing for our highly valued, hardworking, essential farmworkers, a problem I am committed to addressing.

They may not know that our county can legally establish an annual cap on single-family, market-rate housing—which I will propose if elected.

They may not know that our sheriff’s office needs more resources and that, for instance, we have just two deputies patrolling this entire, relatively large county at any given time.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Some of the biggest obstacles for District 2 include a lack of real representation for everyday residents who often feel voiceless with regard to local government, too much subdivision housing growth with inadequate highway infrastructure, getting Highways 156 and 25 expanded to lower commute times and increase quality of life, lacking adequate water sources on the west side of the county, and a lack of available parks and recreational amenities for our families.

How do you plan to address those issues?

These are all among my priorities if elected. I’m committed to representing the interests of everyday residents and will make their viewpoints the priority over those of special interests and developers. I’m the only candidate in the race who’s pushing for slower housing growth while we upgrade infrastructure and will propose a 1% cap on single-family, market-rate housing with exemptions for affordable categories. Aggressive road upgrades are needed, and we must ensure that all areas of the county receive a fair share of tax dollars to do such repairs. As for water, particularly in San Juan, the county should work with the city to explore all viable options for long-term water sources, such as high-quality water in the Betabel area and the West Hills Treatment Plant in Hollister. As for recreation, I am proposing that the county do more to promote tourism, develop a more robust park system and get moving on the river parkway project. We have to do more to take advantage of our rich outdoor resources.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?

I have made the commitment to hold regular town hall meetings with residents before every county board meeting along with special town hall gatherings—which is unprecedented in the county’s history. Along with this, I will make myself accessible at all times by cell phone (831-207-9279), email (kollinforsupervisor@gmail.com) and social media. I will regularly meet with residents and make sure they know I’m enthusiastically available to listen to their concerns and work with them on solutions.

What is the role of local government?

Local government’s purpose is to act in the best interest of constituents, provide services and amenities to enhance the community, and spend tax dollars in the most responsible fashion possible. For individual elected officials, the No. 1 job that is often forgotten is to represent the interests and viewpoints of local constituents.

What potential benefits do you see with Measure N? What potential negatives do you see?

It’s vitally important to weigh pros and cons—and credibility—of any project. With the Strada Verde Innovation Park proposal, potentially disastrous negative impacts far outweigh any possible benefits.

For starters, it is promoted as a multibillion-dollar project, yet developers are willing to pay just $18 million for traffic improvements. Considering its proximity to Highway 101 and Highway 25, where significant impacts would occur from the mega-development, this amount is a drop in the bucket. Developers claim Strada Verde won’t have a major effect on Highway 25, but they also acknowledge plans to build a connector onto 25 and that some of the commercial component is planned to front 25. It just doesn’t add up. Developers should fund a portion of the Highway 25 expansion, and that is not in the plans.

Perhaps most significant, like many other residents, I’m very concerned about severe impacts to traffic congestion on 25 and 101, further adding to public safety and quality-of-life concerns for commuters.

Otherwise, the job numbers touted in promoting the initiative—supposedly 5,500 new permanent jobs and 18,000 construction jobs—are unfounded and arbitrary with no backing whatsoever. Frankly, developers shouldn’t be allowed to legally use those numbers on the ballot because they aren’t backed by any facts.

Then there is the county’s own consultant’s report concluding this project should not go forward due to its close proximity to the Trical facility that manages an abundance of highly dangerous chemicals. The report concludes there should be a buffer around the Trical facility in which a project of this magnitude carries too many risks in the event of a disaster. This is an objective, scientific report commissioned by the county.

Finally, it’s my belief these developers, who specialize in master planned residential communities, hope to eventually build a large housing element at the site. This is the same location where thousands of homes have been proposed over the past several decades, and I am convinced the Strada Verde development is the first step toward building a new city in the area.

As a whole, I don’t see benefits to this project because I don’t trust this developer or the proposal.

What opportunities do you see to bring jobs to your district? How would you attract them?

Creating jobs while maintaining our rural character is among my top priorities.

My jobs plan calls for an increased focus on tourism promotion that starts with the county branding itself as “Home of Pinnacles National Park” and leading efforts to create a new, independent tourism bureau focused solely on attracting visitors to the area. We have an abundance of recreational amenities, attractions like wineries and open spaces that we must do more to promote in a cohesive fashion.

Second, my plan calls for an increased investment in the Economic Development Corporation of San Benito County based on the EDC meeting job-recruitment goals laid out by the county and other jurisdictions.

Generally, we should focus on “smart growth” philosophies that call for mostly infill development in the city of Hollister, which has over 1,500 acres of industrial and commercial zoning available right now.

That said, we must amend the county’s General Plan that calls for creating 16 commercial “nodes” at intersections throughout rural San Benito County by 2035. This amounts to extreme sprawl development and would ruin the rural character of our community, and I don’t believe most residents are aware of this enormously irresponsible plan pushed by the good-old-boy culture in San Benito County.

Other economic development ideas in my plan include a multi-jurisdictional effort to revitalize our downtowns, examining the potential to build an aquatics center fully accessible to the public, building hotels near tourist attractions, ensuring Gavilan College builds a satellite campus here, and aggressively upgrading broadband infrastructure. 

 

Wayne Norton has been a San Benito County resident since 1985 when he moved to Aromas. The former Hollister Free Lance managing editor has also held positions as a founding staff member of Anzar High School and later as a certified long-term care ombudsman where he advocated for residents in nursing homes and living facilities’ rights.

He is a founding member of Aromas Cares for the Environment (ACE), the Aromas Progressive Action League (APAL) and the Rotary Club of San Juan Bautista. He has also been a member of the Hollister Exchange Club, the Aromas Service Club and the Aromas Eagles. Most recently, he volunteered for the primary campaign of State Assemblyman Robert Rivas.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Norton.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Norton.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for county supervisor?

NORTON: I am running for supervisor because San Benito County is at a critical juncture. We are on the Bay Area’s radar. People from around the region want to live here. They like the county for the same reasons we do: the open space, rich culture and traditions, and an unequaled quality of life.

Bay Area employers who need elbow room to expand and entrepreneurs needing space for “the next big thing” are looking our way. Properly managed, this interest could translate into good paying jobs, an expanded tax base to provide needed services, and new investment in the county. But fulfilling this promise takes experienced leadership and skilled governance.

Our opportunity could become our poison under leadership that is driven by personal agendas or is antagonistic toward economic development and strangles new investment.

I am running because I believe government has a duty to set the foundation to allow everyone an equitable opportunity to pursue and achieve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I have served the citizens of San Benito County in a variety of public and private roles for 35 years. When Anthony Botelho retired from his seat, I saw that running for supervisor was an opportunity to continue that service on a new stage. 

Elected office is a privilege given by the voters to conduct the public’s business with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. It is not the place to pursue narrow political agendas. The public has a right to expect leaders to make its government work for the benefit of everyone.

What issues are most important to your district?

There are many issues that need and deserve the attention of the Board of Supervisors such as implementing the Parks Master Plan, improving or replacing a library that our county has outgrown, making sure Gavilan College completes its local campus. Homelessness in our county is a vexing problem that defies easy solutions, and of course, we must always make protecting our environment and natural resources a top priority. I also know that unforeseen events may force their way into public consciousness and derail even the best planning. Who would have predicted one year ago the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?

However, there are four issues that are of immediate concern: economic development (good jobs), roads and traffic, affordable housing, and climate change.

Our county currently has an official unemployment rate that hovers around 15%. We know that in rural counties such as ours, unemployment is about 5% higher than the official number. Our community is hurting. Food banks have never been busier. Local businesses unable to withstand the economic crisis caused by the COVID pandemic are closing. That not only costs local jobs, it also takes money out of our system that is needed to support our residents through their personal crises.

A generation of candidates for local elective office has talked about recruiting companies from Silicon Valley. It appears that, finally, we have the opportunity to do exactly that. But there is an anti-commercial development faction working at cross-purposes to those of us who believe our county needs revenue from new business to rebuild our infrastructure and improve services residents need and deserve.

I believe the best thing we can do for commuters and families is to bring more good-paying jobs to San Benito County so we don’t have to drive long distances to support our families.

I got into county politics because I was fed up with the poor condition of local roads. I became a leader in Measure G to raise resources to expand Highway 25 and fix the roads. While others were watching from the sidelines, I was doing the hard work it took to actually do something to fix the problem.

Measure G funding comes from sales taxes that are being severely depleted by the economic crisis. We must recruit new businesses to San Benito County and the accompanying new revenue sources if we are going to be able to fund the millions of dollars it will take to improve our streets and highways.

Highway 25 safety improvements must be a key focus of county leadership. Building productive partnerships with Caltrans officials and leaders from Santa Clara County will be key to efficient and timely completion of the project.

Our county has plenty of houses. What we don’t have is “missing middle” housing that is affordable to teachers, firefighters and others who have good jobs, but still cannot find homes they can afford. As supervisor, I will be looking to bring economic balance back to the housing market. I will support housing that is affordable for families that shop in local stores and businesses that are the core of our local economy.

I propose the creation of a San Benito County Housing Trust to leverage joint resources to develop a sustainable local source to finance affordable housing. Funding for this countywide trust would include inclusionary housing in-lieu fees, commercial linkage fees, hotel tax, community development block grants, discretionary local revenue, loan repayments and commercial development loans. 

The changing climate is the existential issue of our day. Our county must understand its role and responsibility in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I have called on the county and the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista to jointly create a climate action plan to collect appropriate data to assess our current situation, and to create a roadmap to reduce our carbon footprint.

What issues are important that the public may not know about?

The COVID pandemic has brought to light systemic inequities that were not noticeable before the crisis.

At the top of that list is the inadequate and, for many families, unattainable broadband service. As schools are forced to rely on distance learning as the key mode of instruction, we are discovering our broadband infrastructure is not adequate to meet basic needs.

One example: in the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, more than 20% of the students lack connectivity to the internet. This is not a challenge that can be met with donations of computers and “hot spots.” Devices do no good if students have no internet service.

I am proud to be a leader in the San Juan Bautista Rotary, which is working diligently on this problem. In the last four months, we have equipped school buses with WiFi equipment so they can be located closer to the students in need. We have funded extenders at the two K-8 schools in our district that bring broadband to the school parking lot, allowing greater access for students. These efforts are the beginning of the work that needs to be done to bring broadband to all of our students.

It should be noted that inadequate broadband also negatively affects older adults and recruiting jobs to San Benito County. Older adults who live in rural areas where public transportation is not available are unable to take advantage of telehealth services. Improved broadband would greatly reduce their isolation and increase the acquisition of medical care. And Information Age companies need modern broadband, and its availability is a key factor when looking for an expansion site.

What obstacles and challenges does the district face?

Stretching from Aromas to San Juan Bautista through the San Juan Valley to Hollister, District 2 covers a large geographical area.

Preserving prime ag land and providing the infrastructure to farm and get product to market is a major interest in the heart of our district. As our county and our region grow, there are increasing demands on our transportation system. The high demand for housing puts price pressure on land, making it ever-closer to being unaffordable for farming. We must make fixing our roads and highways a top priority. Free movement of product is key to agricultural profitability. 

The rural portions of District 2 are burdened by the population growth of the region. Increasing traffic on Highway 101, for instance, has overwhelmed its capacity. Too often that sends highway traffic down rural roads that were not designed for heavy use.

As supervisor, I will be the voice for a district that is often overlooked. I will insist that District 2 receive its fair share of county services and that attention is paid to its needs.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with constituents?

Public officials must go to the people rather than expect the people to come to them. The most effective way to be in touch is to be involved, visible and available. 

There is no other candidate more involved in the community than I am. From being emcee at the Holiday Parade in San Juan, to serving in the food distributions in Hollister, to raising funds for Rotary at festivals, to volunteering at Aromas Day, I have set the standard for being involved in the broader District 2 community. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with constituents to solve real concerns in the community builds relationships and trust. No appointment is necessary to talk to an elected leader who is working beside you.

I am active on various social media platforms. My mobile number—(831) 227-3530—and email address—kwaynenorton@gmail.com—are on every piece of campaign literature.

What is the role of local government?

At its most basic, local government provides the foundation for the individual pursuit of happiness. Local government provides the basic infrastructure of daily life. Local government protects the safety of its citizens with police and fire services. It builds and maintains the roads that allow the flow of goods and services and movement of the people. Local government is responsible for the essence of life: clean water, clean air. Local government supplies the basics of civilization: schools, libraries, courts, and civic organization.

Local government is of the people. It is the people.

When it comes time for decision-making, good leaders listen more than they talk. I believe the best decisions are the ones we make together. 

What potential benefits do you see with Measure N? What potential negatives do you see?

Measure N benefits: Strada Verde has the potential to be a game-changer. County leaders have been hoping to recruit this type of job-rich, technology-based operation without residential housing requirements for decades. The 5,500 jobs projected for this project at full buildout would eliminate the need for so many residents to leave the county to support our families. There would be millions of dollars in new revenue to pay for road improvements, social services, schools, parks—and a new library. I have been negotiating the completion of a project labor agreement between the developer and organized labor to make sure the projected 18,500 construction jobs projected at buildout will pay well and support working families.

In addition to these many benefits, here is just one example of the benefit in the western part of San Benito County: Strada Verde is located in the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District. The district has about 1,000 students, and 70 % of those students come from families that are designated as low income. At buildout, the district is expected to get $6.3 million per year. That could go to paying teachers comparable salaries to nearby districts; it could go to building new classrooms to replace aging portables and maintenance of facilities that have fallen into disrepair; it could go to enhanced technology—like the schools in wealthy communities have that we could never afford. 

Measure N potential negatives: This is a huge project. There likely will be significant challenges. The environmental impact report that will be conducted will give us the information we need to identify the relevant issues and review the need for potential mitigations. I will insist that all identified impacts are fully disclosed, that the public has an opportunity to engage in meaningful ways, and that issues are resolved.

What opportunities do you see to bring jobs to your district? How would you attract them? 

It starts by being open to having potential employers locate here. Leadership must be willing to listen to proposals with an open mind and then work collaboratively to create a project that is responsible, protects the environment and public assets while enhancing our quality of life. The worst thing we could do is to send a signal that new businesses—and their payrolls—are not welcome here.

I have supported responsible economic development along Highway 101, and I support the responsible development of the Strada Verde project. All of these projects lie within District 2, and it’s worth noting that I have not accepted any campaign contributions from the landowners or developers.

Job development elsewhere in the county also benefits the residents of District 2. I will be a strong supporter of continuing current efforts to increase local jobs, including supporting the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and its Tourism Committee, the San Juan Bautista Business Association, The San Benito County Business Council, The Economic Development Corporation, and the Pinnacles Partnership. These groups—and others—have been doing the hard work of job development. They deserve credit for their hard work, our thanks, and the active involvement of our leaders.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. 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 also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.