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OPINION: Bad Road Ahead – How the Board of Supervisors Added Decades and Millions to the Route 25 Widening Project

Who benefited from the votes that stopped collecting Route 25 widening impact fees from new development?

At the April 17 meeting Supervisor Jerry Muenzer took his usual election year swipe at out-of-town developers over fees and roads. I guess he forgot that the county has been paying a pile in legal fees trying to defend an in-town developer and former member of the Board caught in a development conflict-of-interest scandal that occurred while he was in office. .

It also apparently slipped Jerry’s mind that it was his own votes and maneuvering that helped eliminate the Route 25 widening project impact fees for approximately 5-years and added more than a decade, perhaps two, and millions of dollars to the cost of its ultimate completion.

The public should be asking who benefited from the votes that stopped collecting Route 25 widening impact fees from new development? Certainly not the majority of county residents and why did Jerry Muenzer lead the charge to keep it that way?

What happened to the widening project is a perfect example of how politicians manipulate the system. In 2011 Supervisor Muenzer and other members voted to stop collecting impact fees for the Route 25 widening project as part of the Traffic Impact Fee Mitigation Study.

That vote also automatically removed it from the Caltrans active project list even though it was a major project in the 2010 Regional Transportation Plan only a year before and Caltrans had identified the route concept in the Transportation Concept Report (TCRP) as a 4-lane rural highway from the Santa Clara County Line to San Felipe Road.

That no-fee situation remained for about five years because in 2014 when he had a chance to correct that bad decision, Supervisor Muenzer moved heaven and earth – including removing the Board’s COG representative - to keep the project off the active list. No project – no fees.

Instead of the widening project, the Board inserted a phony placeholder, two one-half-mile passing lanes; a start from scratch idea designed to never go anywhere and that’s exactly what happened; you’ve probably never even heard of it.  The baseless excuse for killing the widening was that the county did not have a funding mechanism for the project, but neither did they have a funding mechanism for the passing lanes and they even admitted that the passing lanes would not bring Route 25 to the required level of service.

Now Supervisor Muenzer wants to use the road’s problems – problems he made worse – as an issue in his reelection campaign. He is certainly not the only local political leader to try and choke the county by stifling its transportation needs, but his actions were especially egregious and he believes he can benefit from the problem he helped create. Well, let’s give him credit for nerve.

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About:
Marty Richman (Marty Richman)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer.Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects. You can follow Marty Richman on twitter @Marty_Richman. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.

Comments

Submitted by (Scott Howard) on

Seriously. Everyone there needs to stop pointing fingers and figure this transportation debacle for both Hwy 25 and Hwy 156 out. It's embarrassing.

Submitted by (Rick McGee ) on

Thank you Marty for very a very insightful article about what I too see as a very shortsighted and self serving group of commissioners.

Submitted by Brad Sullivan (badgeman) on

Jerry is only taking direction from his boss and Planning Commissioner.

Submitted by (Stephen Mills) on

Is this a serious opinion piece on widening Highway 25 or a scurrilous election year hit piece attacking Supervisor Munzer? Evidently Mr. Richman doesn't understand government enough to realize that Supervisor Munzer cannot waive fees all by himself but decisions such as these require a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors. Evidently Mr. Richman does not understand history either. In 2008 and in the years following the housing and the job markets melted down and it was impossible to get anyone to do any housing construction because they would have lost money. In such a situation it would be entirely reasonable to waive fees to encourage new construction and the jobs it would bring. Come on Benito Link you are a better organization than this drivel.

Mr. Mills, you obviously know nothing about this subject.  Your claim that Mr. Muenzer waived fees to encourage new construction and the jobs is a total figment of your fertile imagination or a weak defense fed you by someone trying using you.

The fees were not "waived" there is a process (development agreements) for that, the project was taken off the constrained list (you may not be familiar with the term), which means that it went into the Caltrans "no project" drawer, when it came back out five years later it went to the bottom of the pile, not back to its original postilion.  No word was ever spoken about waiving the fee, I have the meeting minutes.

As I pointed out, three years after 2011 Mr. Muenzer (in the powerful position of Chairman because he makes committee assignments) led the charge to remove Supervisor De La Cruz right before the COG vote so he could keep the project off the AMBAG list.  The date was April 14, 2014 the vote 3 to 2.

There is nothing scurrilous about this article, it is the truth; what is shameful is to have the man who killed the impact fees complain that developers don't pay enough impact fees (he also blamed staff); it's beyond politics, it's basically dishonest.

Supervisor Muenzer killed the Route 25 widening project,.  You'll have to find a better excuse than the one you gave if you want to make an argument to the contrary.  If I made a factual error in the story, I appreciate if you'd point it out; lacking that, I stand by what I wrote.

Marty Richman

I remember when this happened and I believe I commented then that it would not be a good idea. Bottom line:  we lost that momentum. 

Submitted by (Kathleen Diekmann) on

Marty, who is the local developer who had the conflict of interest and why is the county paying the legal fees for this? Any insight you have would be appreciated.

In March of 2015, "a judge has ruled in favor of an attorney who sued former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti in October 2003—while ordering him to pay $237,500—and concluded the ex-official had a conflict of interest on a development decision and failed to properly report a series of financial conflicts.
The judgment  ordered the former, longtime supervisor to pay $237,500.

The BoS defended former Supervisor Richard Scagliotti at great expense even though that portion of the suit was against him personally and after he lost he refused to pay them back as evidenced by the closed session descriptions.  How it finally was settled - if ever - I do not know.

I am not a lawyer, but in my layman's opinion that was the correct ruling. 

According to the Free Lance article - "Most of the penalty amount–$160,000 of it—is linked to one count in the case. That count relates to an allegation that Scagliotti inappropriately voted against a development project as a member of the Local Agency Formation Commission. Scagliotti’s development firm was in competition with the 170-unit Estancia project on the west side for housing unit allocations. He voted against the application and also failed to properly report his conflict, owning a competitive development property. 

If that's not a conflict, what is?

Marty Richman

Submitted by Tod DuBois (John Galt) on

I see some new shiny faces in the race for Supervisor, it seems Hollister is starting to grow up - it's time for the County to let the OLD families know there time is done. Time for a change, time for new leadership and those OLD entrenched stewardship families to fade into history. 

Submitted by (Bill) on

Mr. Smith I have watched and listened to Marty challenge the BOS when they try to slip a piece of legislation by everyone who isn't at the BOS monthly meetings. I trusted his opinion and I have one question for you. Why have I never heard your name called at a regular BOS challenging something that the BOS is trying to get back the voters of San Benito? I know that Marty has been at almost all of the meeting over the last 10 years I have lived in San Benito County. I have watched him in person and on the video link be a spokesperson for the people of San Benito County. He has given his free time to keep us informed. Haven't seen much for you but negative comments and nothing that will help move anything forward.

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