Government / Politics

San Juan Bautista planners take up controversial issues

The Planning Commision receives a presentation on projects along Hwy 101, discusses commissioners’ commitment to the position and the recent Sphere of Influence meetings.

The Aug. 2 San Juan Bautista Planning Commission meeting began with an announcement that Luis Matchain had been removed from office as a commissioner for lack of attendance. This now leaves two seats open—Matchain’s, and the one previously held by appointee Mary Bains. There are now only three active commissioners: Chairwoman Yolanda Delgado, David Medeiros and Jackie Morris-Lopez.

The first order of business was a presentation by Abraham Prado, assistant director of the San Benito County Resource Management Agency, on the status of four development projects located immediately outside the city. 

  • Strada Verde Innovation Park: Proposed for a 2,767-acre lot between Hwy 101 and Hwy 25, with access from the Betabel Road exit, the project would include 166 acres of testing grounds, research park facilities, e-commerce and commercial areas. No housing is proposed. Tribal consultation has been requested, and the projected date of the county Planning Commission hearing will be the second or third quarter of 2023.
  • Traveler’s Station: A proposed development on a 2.6-acre lot at the intersection of Hwy 101 and Hwy 129, Traveler’s Station will include a 4,000 square-foot convenience store, an automobile and truck fueling station, electric vehicle charging station, and county information kiosk. No housing is proposed and the facility would be open 24 hours. Tribal consultation has been requested, and the project is scheduled to be submitted to the Planning Commission on Oct. 29. 
  • Betabel Commercial Development: The proposed project is similar to the existing Casa de Fruta complex on Pacheco Pass and would develop 2.5 acres of a 26-acre site to include a gas station, restaurant, fruit stand, motel, outdoor event center, livestock corral, exhibit areas, and a visitor center. The fruit stand and a restroom are currently under construction. No housing is proposed. According to Prado, tribal consultation is in progress, and some areas of interest have been identified. The projected date of the Planning Commission hearing is Aug. 21.
  • San Juan Oaks: Construction has begun with some grading work at the 1,994-acre San Juan Oaks project site, located off Union Road at Hwy 156. The construction will encompass 160 acres of the site and includes 1,017 age-restricted and 67 non-restricted single-family homes, a 200-unit hotel, and office and commercial space. Around 1,200 acres of the total area will be preserved as a wildlife habitat. 

While these projects are being developed under the authority of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors, San Juan Bautista Assistant City Manager Brian Foucht said there are several points where the public can provide input and that the city would be monitoring the processes for each development in any area where San Juan Bautista’s interests are involved.

The second order of business was to consider a response drafted by Medeiros to an open letter critical of the planning commission, which the City Council appoints. It was issued by the council on May 18, 2022. 

The letter, in part, said that some of the planning commissioners are “sometimes absent or late to meetings, frequently appear to be unprepared or unfamiliar with the staff report, ignore evidence, interrupt one another, challenge staff’s professional advice, and reach arbitrary conclusions.”

Medeiros outlined what he had found in his review of previous meetings and suggested there were ways the council could improve their approach to their work, though he questioned the need for an open letter rather than a more informal discussion. All three council members attributed the perceived lack of preparation to receiving agenda materials from the city in some cases only 24 hours before meetings; they said at least 72 hours would be more appropriate.

The Brown Act, a law that aims to make public agencies transparent to the public, requires agencies to make their meeting agendas and documents accessible to the public 72 hours in advance of a regular meeting. 

A resolution was passed that acknowledged Medeiros’ presentation, pledged that commissioners would find ways to more effectively run meetings, and requested the city provide meeting materials sooner.

Two recent BenitoLink articles were among the final items on the agenda for discussion: a recent interview with Health Foundation President/CEO Rosa Vivian Fernandez, San Benito Health Foundation plans for clinic, housing in SJB and an account of the June 21 joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting,

Initial SJB sphere of influence maps appear to minimize public input in favor of housing, a contentious meeting that saw two City Council members and about half the public attendees walk out halfway through.

While Foucht thought the Health Foundation article was interesting, covering a project not yet before the city for consideration, he thought it might help people understand the ongoing process and said he would share details about the project as they become available.

He characterized the second article as an “editorial on San Juan Bautista’s process with a particular slant,” saying that he thought there was “a sense of divergence between what we are trying to accomplish and what the article portrays with respect to our sphere of influence.”

“Some people may agree with the articles,” Foucht said. “Staff, I can tell you, feels differently about them as do our consultants, who are really, heart and soul, trying to identify what is important in this town and achieve that for the community through this plan.”

Morris-Lopez told Foucht she disagreed with the characterization of the article as an editorial and said that as someone who attended the meeting, she considered it to be a “report of actual things that happened that I witnessed and I saw. There was a lot of the public there, and I tend to listen to what they want. And I have to say, they walked away.” 

Morris-Lopez said that since the joint meeting with the consultants continued unofficially after there was no longer a quorum and most of the participants had left, she is hesitant to accept the results they will be presenting to the Planning Commission.

 

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I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.