Government / Politics

San Juan City Council approves 45-unit subdivision

The Copperleaf project will consist of 45 single-family homes north of Old San Juan Road

The San Juan City Council approved the final map of the Copperleaf subdivision in a 3-2 vote at its Feb. 21 meeting. The project will bring 45 new single family homes to the north of Old San Juan Road in San Juan Bautista. Edenbridge Homes, based out of Cupertino, is spearheading the project.

Councilman Dan DeVries said in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, “Your City Council (Martorana, West, Boch) last night granted *Final Approval* to a 54 unit San Jose-style tract housing development east of town on Hwy 156, complete with a 16 foot high stucco sound wall alongside the freeway…The City Council even refused to require that the developer comply with SJB's mandatory Affordable Housing Ordinance and gave the San Jose developer a "free pass." Under that law, the developer is required to sell every 5th house at an affordable price. Nor did they even allow an inquiry into whether the amount of fees charged to the developer was appropriate, saying that such an inquiry was "irrelevant."

Councilman John Freeman, who also voted against the project, said at the meeting that the city's planning commission wasn't prepared to take on such a project.

“They were left hanging on a project that no one has approved — no one in this room has approved other than the developers," he said. "We’re kind of left in hard place because the last attorney said the only reason we can overturn the map is for fraud and I don’t have any proof that has occurred. I can't really make that claim."

Councilman Tony Boch said that he has suggested that an attorney be present at planning commission meetings, adding, “Not one of those commissioners made a motion to deny this map, period. According to everything we got and the additional attorney we paid to review it, it’s a done deal.”

DeVries at the meeting said he didn’t think it was appropriate that the council approved the map and he made the motion to reject it “based on California government code section 66458 that says the city council may only approve the final map if it conforms to all requirements of this chapter and any local subdivision ordinance applicable at the time of approval.” 

He said the city failed to follow its own affordable housing ordinance under San Juan Bautista Municipal Code 11-09-400, which states that one in five housing units must be reserved for very low- or low-income households in residential projects of six or more units.

That code section reads as follows:

“No for-sale residential project of six or more units subject to this Chapter shall be approved in any area of the City unless at least one such housing unit is reserved for sale to very low- or low-income households or reserved as rental units for very low- or low-income households for each five units of market rate housing.” 

City Attorney Deborah Mall said that the housing ordinance was something that needed to be brought up to the developer as to how it was addressed. “Furthermore, I just want to note that the time to bring this up would have been at the hearing of the subdivision tentative subdivision act map. You don’t really have authority to question the way that the conditions were put in and you have the city engineer who says, under his authority, the conditions were all fulfilled.”

Community member Jacqueline Morris said during the meeting that she agreed with councilman DeVries and added, “I feel like the process has been muddied and you're being dealt with a flawed product and it feels like you're being pressured by members in your audience that their better interest is to go ahead with this map and this project. I find that you need to take some time.”

Mayor Chris Martorana responded by saying that even though the council was not being rushed by members of the audience, the requirements of the state code were forcing them to make a decision. 

“The questions that you brought up should have been brought up months ago at the planning commission," he said. "I think we all agree here that they were not adequately addressed. The process was at best extremely poorly handled by the city staff at the time and today we are faced with a mess."

“I have a lot of problems with this project personally," the mayor noted, though he did vote in favor of it. "I don’t think it’s a good project for a variety of reasons. I do lament the fact that the planning commission was not well prepared to handle this. I agree with John that we need to look to the future and how we put into place some safeguards to ensure that this does not happen again. This project has seriously eroded confidence in this body and this planning commission and the city and has done a tremendous amount of damage to this city. I am very very unhappy about this moving forward but unfortunately I don't see a clear path to another outcome,” said Martorana, ending the discussion. 

Laura Romero

Laura Romero has been a reporter and handled marketing/social media for BenitoLink. She has covered education and city government. Formerly, she worked as an assistant account executive at Pembroke PR in San Francisco, where she assisted with press outreach, event coordination, and social media planning. With her PR skills, she has helped to implement social media strategies and develop online giving campaigns for BenitoLink. Laura continues to contribute to BenitoLink on a freelance basis.