With the initiative tentatively approved, residents will likely be hearing about Nodes until the November election. This article attempts to explain what and where nodes are, why they were designed by the county and why some residents oppose them.
The term “node” has been commonly used among the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, supervisor candidates and land use groups discussing county growth. But county residents’ understanding of the word is not quite as common.
A node is defined as a point at which lines or pathways intersect. When referring to land and planning designs, a node is a designated area for commercial or industrial development. It is identified as a place to serve the surrounding community or passersby.
The Campaign to Protect San Benito (CPSB) is focused on growth in unincorporated parts of the county. It seeks to amend the San Benito County 2035 General Plan by removing 13 of its 16 adopted nodes. It also wants to require that all rezoning requests for commercial, residential, industrial or landfill uses in unincorporated areas would need to be approved by a majority of county voters.
CPSB is working to put an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot to enact these changes to the General Plan and redefine the process by which unincorporated county land is rezoned for development. Rather than county officials approving rezoning, it would go before the voters.
The three existing nodes not targeted by the CPSB initiative are at the intersection of Fallon Road and Fairview Road; at Fairview Road and Airline Hwy; and on Panoche Road and Highway 25 in Paicines.
According to Wikipedia, nodes such as the unincorporated town of Tres Pinos, just south of Hollister, once had two passenger and two freight trains arriving each day. By 1910, Tres Pinos was not only the end of the Southern Pacific Railroad line, but a stage coach stop and home to the Southern Pacific Hotel, rodeo grounds, with grain barns, saloons, restaurants and a brothel. The node, though smaller, continues to exist on Hwy 25, between Southside and Quien Sabe Roads, and is almost 150 years old.
Planners of downtown areas view nodes as a way for counties to take advantage of highway vehicle traffic and provide services for locals and travelers. Looking to increase revenue, San Benito County residents in 2008 identified 16 possible nodes.
The General Plan, according to its creators, “provides a vision for how the county will grow and change in the future” and contains official policies on land use, economic development, transportation, community design, housing, resource protection, public services, and health and safety. It also describes goals for the community’s future. “Its maps, diagrams, and development standards form the basis for the county’s zoning, subdivision, and public works decisions.”
In 2008, the General Plan Advisory Committee sent out community mail surveys and held community workshops. In 2009, the committee reviewed this public input and began drafting the plan. A series of meetings to discuss and draft the vision and guiding principles for San Benito County were held between July and September 2009, which were then reviewed and refined by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
Despite extensive community input and planning of the past, San Benito County voters may now be asked whether they want to keep future development from occurring in unincorporated areas.
Andy Hsia-Coron, president of Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC), did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment. Previously, he has said that CPSB’s initiative wants to give county voters the choice to decide on how the county grows.
“What this really does is instead of us having to fight each fire that breaks out, the understanding is that no major rezoning happens without it going to the vote of the people,” Hsia-Coron said. “I think that would lead developers and the elected officials to try to figure out how to make whatever development patterns we have actually meet the people’s needs.”
Tres Pinos is an example of an existing node that could be rescinded by voters. Tres Pinos resident Jason Noble, who served as a member-at-large on the 2035 General Plan Advisory Committee, said that if the CPSB initiative passes, the end of future development on any node in the county could affect county revenue.
“If you didn’t have these nodes at these key intersections throughout the community, we wouldn’t have the opportunities to create jobs, to increase sales tax dollars, or to put another deputy in a patrol car,” Noble said. “Without these opportunities, you don’t get these other benefits in the community: property tax dollars, sales tax dollars. These are the things that improve our community.”
San Benito County resident Mike Howard, who served on the Tres Pinos Water District Board in 2018-19 and has lived in the county for 32 years, said that in the last 15 years, commercial developments in Tres Pinos have been “stymied” based on the water district’s claims of the area’s lack of source and storage.
“We have an opportunity to really have a cultural benchmark,” he said, noting that Tres Pinos could become similar to San Juan Bautista in regards to tourism and revenue.
“If you’re a newcomer from the north, you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this existed,” Howard said of Tres Pinos.
Howard said that just as San Juan Bautista has kept its historical character by adopting smart commercial growth, he feels Tres Pinos should have the same opportunity.
When determining the placement of nodes, the General Plan committee looked at existing traffic flow in the county, according to former county supervisor Anthony Botelho, who served on the committee at the time of the plan’s development. He said commercial nodes such as Casa De Fruta, which is in Santa Clara County, could provide the opportunity for more jobs for county residents, as well as revenue for the county.
“Because of Hollister’s growth, the balance has fallen behind, with jobs lagging,” Botelho said. “We need this so bad for our young people to have an opportunity to live in their community that maybe they could find an interest and a career and have a decent job for the future, where transportation and technology is taking us. Very few people in our community have any ties to it. Everybody drives an hour away—it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“The Tres Pinos Country Store is the only gas station that fronts on a highway in [unincorporated] San Benito County,” Noble said. “We have four highways that run through our county. All of our surrounding neighboring counties have truck stops, gas stations, hotels, conveniences that you can pull on and pull off of. All of these vehicles are traveling through San Benito County, and we are doing nothing to stop them and shake them down for a cup of coffee, or a slice of pie, or a tank of fuel, and that’s not right.”
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