Less than a dozen people gathered Jan. 5 in the San Benito County Superior Court parking lot to protest what they said was the “chipping away” by county supervisors of the defeat of Measure K.
It was a somber event capped off with a staged funeral procession led by a man carrying a cardboard coffin, followed by professional environmental advocate Adam Scow playing a funeral dirge on his violin. The others walked from the parking lot to the county administration building across the street where they stood, attempting to stay six feet apart, for a few minutes before leaving.
Mary Hsia-Coron, secretary with Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC) and treasurer of Protect San Benito, said the No on Measure K initiative passed with 60% of the vote. But since then, she said the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and developers have eroded the win for environmentalists. The ballot measure encompassed the rules and guidelines for development of any property zoned regional commercial (C-3).
“In the summer they slightly changed the zoning and we tried to do a referendum, but because of COVID and most of our group are older we stopped it,” Hsia-Coron said. “Then in December they approved another node. We feel it’s unfair because we can’t do a referendum, so we’re asking the supervisors to delay signature gathering until it’s safe and all our volunteers can be vaccinated.”
Since 2019, PORC has been at odds with property owners over the rezoning of four sites along Highway 101—Betabel, Highway 129/Searle Rd, Livestock 101 and Rocks Ranch—referred to as nodes. Efforts were made to stop the Betabel node rezoning with a lawsuit, but the property was able to keep its designation as commercial thoroughfare (C-1). Supervisors approved rezoning of a second node, Highway 129/Searle Rd, in December.
Hsia-Coron said the two groups at the protest proved the public does not want developments along the edges of the county, but that supervisors—except for former supervisor Jaime de la Cruz—ignored the voters and voted themselves in favor of Measure K.
Scow, a former state director for Food-and-Water Watch who challenged Congressman Jimmy Panetta in the March primary election, lives in the Pajaro Valley. He came to Hollister to support the protest to “protect our farmlands and watershed.”
“We cannot have this type of irresponsible strip-mall development over our watersheds that are already being overstretched,” Scow said.
PORC President Andy Hsia-Coron said the protest was more about the health of the community and democracy. He said at issue was “bad actors taking advantage of the crises to undermine the rights of people.”
“We have used the referendum, as well as the initiative process, to try to stop what we think is a corrupt system where developers and monied interests have far more influence in government in a county like ours than the people do,” he said. “The people come out to these hearings and tell what their concerns are, and then the elected officials vote with the developers anyway.”
He said supervisors are taking advantage of the health crises to slide through approvals of developments because the people cannot respond.
“That is immoral,” he said. “They are violating their oaths of office to defend the Constitution of the United States and California’s Constitution. But they have really pledged to serve developers.”
No supervisors were present at the protest, but Supervisor Peter Hernandez responded to BenitoLink’s request for comment.
“That was a commercial development and if you ask the voters they’re not opposed to commercial developments, but they were told it was going to be a residential development, some kind of urban sprawl,” Hernandez said, referring to claims made by PORC prior to the March primary.
He said the county is dealing with the repercussions following the defeat of Measure K.
“That owner has property rights and we can’t just tell the owner you can’t use your property,” he said. “That puts the county in the position to get sued because there’s inherent rights with the ownership of property.”
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