The San Benito County Planning Commission unanimously voted Oct. 30 to meet at a later time to consider the landfill expansion's EIR. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
The San Benito County Planning Commission unanimously voted Oct. 30 to meet at a later time to consider the landfill expansion's EIR. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

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In a unanimous vote Oct 30, the San Benito County Planning Commission decided to push to 2024 its consideration of the John Smith Road Landfill expansion’s environmental impact report, after holding meetings with county counsel, consultants and the public.

The project would expand the existing 95-acre landfill by 388 acres for a total of 483 acres. The total waste footprint would expand from 58 acres to 252.74 acres. The Planning Commission met Oct. 25 and 27 to discuss the environmental impact report and will return to vote on it Jan. 31, 2024. 

According to the environmental impact report, the maximum permitted elevation of the final landfill would increase by approximately 29 feet to a height of approximately 949 feet.

Before the presentations, newly appointed Commissioner Vincent Ringheden disclosed that he lives in Santana Ranch and that his wife, Annette Perez, is a member of the Don’t Dump on San Benito group.

“I’ve been married for 15 years and in this time, I’ve not always agreed with my wife on everything in every respect,” Ringheden said. “She’s a Niner fan. I’m a lifetime Raider fan.”

Ringheden said his decisions as a commissioner will be based on what is presented and the public’s opinion. He shared that he walks into the chamber with an open mind. 

Commissioner Vincent Ringheden during the San Benito County Planning Commission special meeting Oct. 30. Photo by Monserrat Solis.
Commissioner Vincent Ringheden. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

Presentations from county staff and Waste Connections covered:

  • Additional disclosures from commissioners
  • Reports from the county and the applicant of any revised conditions of approval
  • Remaining public comment
  • Responses or declarations from county staff or the applicant
  • Commission questions, deliberations and action

County counsel presented new conditions on topics including landscaping, haul route, recycled water, haul truck engines and fuel and daily tonnage.

Clayton Coles, a principal engineer geologist and general manager for Lawrence & Associates, said a mitigation measure requiring landscaping was added to ease some concerns of the viewscape from the west and from John Smith Road. 

Landscaping will be added along the entrance area of John Smith Road and along phase 2A of the landfill expansion, Coles said. The landfill will be required to prepare plans for the design, installation and maintenance of the landscaping, he said. 

The haul route conditions were revised to address haul routes for out-of-county trucks. Citations would be issued if these trucks were found using undesignated routes. 

Commissioners Robert Scagliotti, Richard Way and Robert Gibson said proposed citation penalties were too low. 

Commissioners agreed to raise the fee if waste haulers take undesignated routes:

  • First violation was changed from $1,000 to $2,500
  • Second violation was changed from $2,000 to $5,000
  • Third violation was changed from $3,000 to $7,500

Waste Connections Vice President Paul Nelson told BenitoLink that his company would be investigating any truck believed to be using undesignated haul routes. If drivers are caught, they would be fined and that fine would go to the county. 

“We have eyes and ears everywhere,” Nelson said. 

As for the daily tonnage, the commission will need to agree on a maximum tonnage the landfill will accept daily and weekly. 

If 2,300 tons was the daily maximum, the maximum weekly average would be 14,860; the maximum daily vehicles would be 600; the maximum weekly trucks would be 924 and the maximum daily peak trucks would be 186.

Alternative options include a daily maximum of 300, 1,000 and 1,700 tons. The current daily limit is 1,000 tons. 

During public comment, three residents asked about bringing the landfill expansion to voters, which opened a conversation among the commissioners.

Way said the commissioners can recommend implementing a ballot measure to the Board of Supervisors.

County Clerk-Recorder/ Registrar of Voters Francisco Diaz was called upon to answer questions from the commissioners. He said the supervisors would have to take action before Dec. 8 for the project to qualify for the March 5 primary election. If no action is taken before then, the project can be placed on the Nov. 5, 2024, election ballot or a special election may be called. 

Before voting on the environmental report, Gibson said he had various questions and concerns about the project.

“I don’t feel like we need to be rushed into making any decisions,” he said. “Obviously there’s a deadline about an election, but it doesn’t have to be this year.”

Of the 31 public speakers at the meeting, five were in favor of the expansion and 25 were opposed.  

Michael Gosiengfios, who said he resides in San Benito and Monterey counties, was in favor of the project. 

“My concern is that if a transfer station is required, that can be rather challenging financially for all of us,” he said.

Another resident agreed that a transfer station would increase local trash rates. 

Hollister resident Elia Salinas said if the landfill is expanded, the county would see revenue for 80 years and a transfer station would be the county’s only alternative option, which would also be located in someone else’s backyard. 

“The further the distance from San Benito County, the further the garbage rates for San Benito County residents,” Salinas said about a possible transfer station. 

Neil Smith, who lives on Fairview Road, called the project a “drastic expansion” to go from 95 acres to almost 390 acres. 

“One of my main concerns is, we just don’t have the infrastructure to handle the projected increase in heavy truck traffic,” Smith said. “Anybody that drives around here knows, I mean, our roads are literally broken.” 

Rudy Piche, a Fairview resident, said he understands that the county needs the funding from out-of-county trash for roadway improvements and other issues the county faces. He said the landfill needs to be expanded, but at a slower rate. 

“My question is: do we need to grow too fast, too soon? Just like Hollister has. Do we need to take the first deal that comes along? That is so Hollister. That is so San Benito County. And that is so disappointing.”

Resident Zachary Headley asked commissioners to take a deeper look at the expansion project. 

“I really believe that we can boost our economy if we do this right,” he said. 

After the vote, Headley told BenitoLink he was happy the commissioners decided to delay the vote on the expansion. 

Members of the Don’t Dump on San Benito group were also pleased.

Carly Robles and Maureen Nelson said the commissioners bought them time to educate the community about the project. 

“It was a happy surprise,” Robles said. “It’s a great outcome and one that we were hoping for.”

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Monserrat Solis covers San Benito County for BenitoLink as part of the California Local News Fellowship with UC Berkeley. A San Fernando Valley native, she's written for the Southern California News Group,...