San Juan Bautista City Council, Nov. 11, 2023. Screen capture from live feed.
San Juan Bautista City Council, Nov. 11, 2023. Screen capture from live feed.

Lea este articulo en español aquí.

The previous version of this article misidentified Rhonda Io as “Leanna Brothers.” It has been corrected here.

During a special meeting on Nov. 14 the San Juan Bautista City Council made several decisions that will affect the town for years to come, including retaining food and beverage parklets until mid-2026, passing a long-debated urban growth boundary that restricts future developments through 2035, and reassessing the San Juan Bautista Economic Development Citizens Advisory Committee.

The parklets had previously been the subject of two contentious city council meetings. At the meeting on March 21, the council was poised to extend parklets for food and beverage establishments but not for retail businesses. Claims of discrimination by the owners of the retail shops led to a sudden decision to remove all the parklets by April 28.

Following that decision, many of the Third Street merchants petitioned the council to reconsider its stance, and at its meeting on April 20, it voted to extend all of the parklets through the end of 2023, which is when state guidelines allowing outdoor alcohol sales were to expire.

With the passage of AB 1217, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 8, alcohol service will be allowed in parklets through July 1, 2026, leading the council to reconsider the parklets’ removal date. 

At the beginning of the council’s discussion, Councilmember Scott Freels clarified that the state bill applied only to “temporary catering” for food and drink establishments.

Doña Esther's Mexican Restaurant parklet. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Doña Esther’s Mexican Restaurant parklet. Photo by Robert Eliason.

However, bringing the matter up for what was the third time reignited a debate between the food and beverage establishments, retail businesses and San Juan residents.

During public comment, San Juan Bautista Historical Society Wanda Guibert expressed concern over the aesthetic impact of parklets on the downtown’s “historic ambiance,” asking the council that, if they voted to extend them, the extension apply only to those businesses serving food and alcoholic beverages. 

Mary Baines took a contrary view, saying she believed that targeting retail parklets for closure was a form of discrimination, denying retail stores the chance to “continue to be part of the economic family of commerce.” She pleaded for the parklets to remain. 

Speaking against keeping the parklets, resident Margaret Galvan said that she found them to be a distraction that takes away from the beauty of the town. Taking the opposite view, Planning Commissioner Dan DeVries called in on Zoom to express his enthusiasm for outdoor dining and asked if the remaining parklets could be redesigned to be more appealing.

The parklet extension was passed by a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Jackie Morris-Lopez opposed.

The next matter on the agenda was the acceptance of the Urban Growth Boundary Ad Hoc Committee’s recommended Sphere of Influence, Urban Growth Boundary and Planning Area, which has been under discussion in various forms for over two and a half years.

San Juan Bautista's final draft of the Urban Growth Boundary and Sphere of Influence. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
San Juan Bautista’s final draft of the Urban Growth Boundary and Sphere of Influence. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.

An urban growth boundary limits where a city can build. A sphere of influence describes the area that a city maintains an interest in that is outside of its boundaries. Together, they work to determine the speed and spread of development.

A previous version of the plan was tabled when, during public comment, members of the Loayza family said that property they own which was slated for development was not included in the boundary, which would have complicated their ability to hook up to city services. The matter was tabled and over the last few weeks, the ad hoc committee worked with the family to be sure they were included within the boundary.

Also during public comment, developer Bob Fulton made a final pitch to include the remaining section of the Christopher Ranch property within the boundary. Fulton has been a recent fixture at City Council, Planning Commission and urban growth boundary meetings lobbying for a new development on the 65-acre property, which he said would average one house per acre.

There was no response to Fulton from the council, and the recommendation of the ad hoc committee, which locks down the sphere of influence and urban growth boundaries until 2035, was approved by a unanimous vote.

Another decision by the council was a unanimous vote to pause and reassess the San Juan Bautista Economic Development Citizens Advisory Committee (EDCAC), which was formed two years ago to provide enhanced resources for San Juan businesses. 

Prior to the vote, City Manager Don Reynolds said a reconsideration of the committee was undertaken after concerns had been raised by the council as to whether the EDCAC had produced any “deliverables” over the last year. This follows the council’s refusal at its last meeting to continue with the California Main Street program, which works to revitalize commerce in historic communities.

Among the issues brought up was the continued friction between members of the two local—and competing—business organizations, The Spirit of San Juan and The San Juan Business Association, which was evident during an acrimonious meeting of the EDCAC on Oct. 18. The meeting ended when several members walked out, effectively ending the quorum.

“I watched that meeting,” said Freels, “it just didn’t seem like anything was getting done, and it got a little heated. I think we should hit the ‘pause’ button to let everybody calm down and take a deep breath and focus on true economic development.”

Reynolds said that during his time as assistant director of public works for Salinas, he had seen the same kinds of problems between businesses that are now playing out in San Juan.

“Retail and food and beverage seem to fall on different sides of issues,” he said. “They have different needs and ways of doing their business, and sometimes they clash in the middle.”

Rhonda Io, from Inaka Japanese Restaurant, attended that meeting and recommended to the council that the EDCAC be dissolved.

“It’s dysfunctional,” she said. “The last meeting became personal attacks. It comes down to  ‘you’re Spirit of San Juan, and we’re San Juan Business Association,’ and I think that is out of line. It has nothing to do with economic development. Economic development is not a group.”

We need your help. Support local, nonprofit news! BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is committed to this community and providing essential, accurate information to our fellow residents. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s public service, nonprofit news.