Government / Politics

Mention of moratorium heats up supervisor discussion

When Supervisor Jerry Muenzer mentioned a possible building moratorium, there was pushback from Supervisor Mark Medina and others at the danger of just mentioning the word.

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer may come to regret uttering a single word at Tuesday morning’s San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting. That word was “moratorium.”

Despite insisting he did not support a county-enforced building moratorium, by the end of the meeting Muenzer indicated it might be the only answer to growth issues currently facing San Benito County. But just the mention of a moratorium turned the meeting into a dust-up when Supervisor Mark Medina objected to the perception that growth was out of control.

The donnybrook began with a brief update from Resource Management Agency Director John Guertin on a proposed growth management ordinance. Guertin made it clear from the onset that he was asking for direction from the supervisors. He reminded the board they had asked that discussion of a growth management ordinance be placed on the April 17 meeting agenda.

Muenzer said that he was the one who wanted the discussion added to the agenda, and did so because of the public’s view on growth.

“I don’t know if the rest of you have been receiving emails, but I have,” Muenzer said to the four other supervisors on the dias. “People are saying, ‘Just do a moratorium until Highway 25 is fixed.’ I’d like to have that addressed.”

After stating there were numerous projects in the pipeline for his South County district, Muenzer accused staff of being active proponents of future development and that if a planning commissioner attempted to get voluntary concessions from a developer, the staff was denying the requests. He questioned why county staff would hinder voluntary concessions that would benefit the community.

“Why are [developers] being told at planning commission meetings they can’t do that?” Muenzer said. “I’m not happy hearing that. So, we either need to address the rate of growth or we need to address the benefits to the community that these projects are bringing.”

He continued on to say his opinion of out-of-town developers remained consistent.

“We cut them big benefits and then they turn around and sue us over some fee they have to pay. Any time we try to get them to help us with infrastructure issues, they cry poor or they don’t have to. I’m tired of hearing that. We need a mechanism to have these infrastructures dealt with or we need to slow down growth.”

Supervisor Medina quizzed Muenzer if he knew what the growth rate was and how many building permits had been pulled between 2015 and 2018. Muenzer said he believed it was fewer than 100 in the unincorporated area. Medina said in three years, two developments were issued a total of 285 building permits.

As the back and forth continued on into claims about how many houses were in the development pipeline, Board Chair Anthony Botelho rapped his gavel to stop the argument.

Medina said it wasn’t an argument and that he was only answering Muenzer’s question about why he opposed the reimbursement agreement before a development moves forward and millions of dollars have been spent.

“When you’re talking a moratorium and slow growth, what that does is it brings a bad taste for potential businesses coming into this town,” Medina said.

Supervisor Robert Rivas, currently campaigning for California’s 30th State Assembly district, said the state is in the midst of a housing crisis and two state candidates are calling for the construction of 3.5 million homes between 2018 and 2025. He blamed local governments, including San Benito County, for the crisis and “not building our fair share.”

“The question of moratoriums or no growth are not options,” Rivas said. “It’s incumbent on us in working with our cities to decide how and where we’re going to grow. The rate of growth in the county has been extremely low.”

Rivas said in 2011 that he was the only supervisor who voted against removing the existing growth management ordinance and now the discussion is to bring it back. Any decision to do so should be data-driven, every development has to have due process, and any discussion about growth will be controversial, but the numbers should dictate growth, he said.

“The last thing I would want to see happen is to impose a moratorium or taking a policy that would cause us to lose a competitive advantage as a county,” Rivas said.

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz suggested the topic come back before the board for further discussion at a later date. He agreed with Medina that the numbers weren’t that significant.

“For members of the public it doesn’t matter,” De La Cruz said. “You approve one unit and they’re up in arms because of our infrastructure. We should see what’s in the pipeline and what we’re about to approve. I’m okay with that. That’s our job.”

De La Cruz reminded the other supervisors that they had discussed a sales tax to place on the November ballot.

“If the public has the perception that we’re just going to approve more housing units that’s going to hurt our sales tax,” De La Cruz said. “Supervisor Medina might be correct. Supervisor Muenzer might be correct, but we don’t know yet. I’ll tell you this, the public looks at us as just approving housing every day. And if we continue to give them that reason, the sales tax is going to lose.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he had concerns about the procedures in the planning department and that the first area of concern was to have qualified staff to evaluate the process that applications go through. As a member of the San Benito County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), Council of San Benito County Governments (COG), and being a supervisor, Botelho said his perception is that the process is upside down in that questions concerning developments often come at the end of the process rather than the beginning. He agreed with Medina that there has not been substantial growth in San Benito County.

San Juan Oaks Golf Club Manager Scott Fuller, a moving force behind the development of a 1,085-unit senior development, said he hated to hear the word moratorium thrown about. He said there was a lot of talk about a regional transportation plan and sales taxes, and that the transportation plan relied on developer traffic impact fees.

“The total local money in that transportation plan is about $500 million,” Fuller said. “Of that, $263 million is traffic impact fees. You’re hoping with your sales tax measure, which I support, to raise about $450 million over 30 years. The regional transportation plan relies on $263 million over the next 22 years. On the one hand, you’re talking about the need for infrastructure transportation and on the other hand you’re talking about measures, right now, that would pretty much preclude that and put a huge hole in your regional transportation plan.”

Fuller said he was frustrated when growth issues came up. Because of heated emotions, the possible solutions are not well thought out, he said.

“You’re saying, ‘Yes, we agreed to all those land uses, but now we’re going to throw those out.’”

He reminded the board that at one time the county had a one percent growth cap of 60 units. “With that kind of restriction you’re not going to get any master-plan community. You’re going to get smaller developments of five or 10 units, which can’t do anything for infrastructure.”

Pinnacle Strategy President Victor Gomez, who represents numerous developers, said he was shocked at the conversation taking place because state legislation would force communities to build.

“You’re not going to have a choice,” Gomez said. “You have to build houses. People hate that and some candidates are using that as their platform that they’re going to slow down building. People running for public office have got to say things, but as Supervisor Rivas pointed out, you’re going to have state mandates to do these things.”

Gomez said the Hollister City Council realized in late 2017 they had no choice but to build because of state mandates, despite a push for a moratorium “by a certain leader in the community who said ‘we’re done with this; we want slow growth.’”

He further reminded the board of supervisors that in 2010, both Hollister and San Benito County were begging developers to build in the region. He said not a single home was built in Hollister in eight years.

“We waved impact fees to get developers to come to build houses,” Gomez said, speaking to his time as a city councilman and mayor. “Here we are eight years later saying, ‘Shove it and get the hell out of our community.’ I’ve looked at franchises to open in Hollister and the first thing I hear from corporate is ‘What are these talks about a growth management plan or a moratorium? If you pass a moratorium, we’re not going to give you that franchise.’”

Resident Elia Salinas, currently running for Muenzer’s contested District 4 supervisor seat, said “You can’t stop growth.”

“You can’t come into a town, set your roots and then say ‘I’m building a wall and I don’t want anybody else coming here,’” Salinas said. “How are you going to get businesses to come to this area if you’re going to tell them we don’t have housing for them?”

County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa wrapped up the moratorium conversation by telling the board that after the summer break he would bring back an agenda item to discuss the issue.

Said Rivas: “What’s going to be different? We’ve done this before. Let’s clearly define what our goals are.”


John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]