During the Oct. 18 meeting, San Juan Bautista City Council members unanimously approved and adopted a revised mitigated negative declaration for a proposed fuel station, convenience store, and Quick Serve restaurant at the 404-408 The Alameda. The city was required by the court to redo a noise study related to the project as it found the old study failed to show accurate noise disturbances in the area.
Mayor Rick Edge opened the discussion saying, “basically what this means is that we are going over the mitigated negative declaration. This was mitigated in court, both sides appeared, the attorneys worked on this and this resulted in a hearing where we had to redo the noise element of the mitigated negative declaration. So that is what we are considering. Everything else has been discussed here, voted on here and at the planning commission. I apologize if any of you think we are starting from scratch, but we aren’t.”
Vice Mayor Chris Martorana said he wanted to hear from the city attorney, Deborah Mall, as to whether to matter needed to be opened for a public hearing.
“You actually need to open this up,” Mall said. “Of course, you are focusing on noise because you had previously approved all other aspects of this project. In truth, you do need to open this up to hear all public comment and keep your mind open to what the public has to say.”
Anthony Lombardo, attorney of the developer, Harvey Dadwal, gave a brief overview of the timeline of the project. “It’s been two years since we approved this project, immediately after it was approved, a suit was filed against the city by a group calling themselves ACCORD, which really was representative of the adjacent commercial property owner who opposed the development of the project.”
“The suit contained 12 causes of action and 283 paragraphs alleging that the city council basically everything wrong in approving a project. The trial did not occur until February of this year,” Lombardo continued. “Ms. Mall and I represented the property owner and the city and Ms. Mall did an excellent job explaining to the court the decision of the city council.”
Lombardo said the courts ruled in favor of the city council in all areas except for the noise report because the report had been done for a much larger project that included a drive-through restaurant and a much larger fueling operation. “As a result of the discussions and the direction given to the planning commission, the project was scaled back significantly and so the court simply said that the city did everything right,” he said.
Having ruled in favor of the city, the court directed it to go back and prepare a noise analysis based on the updated project plan to determine if the noise generated by the project would be a problem or not. “Both your general Glan on a cumulative basis and the noise report prepared for the city by this project reach the same conclusion — the noise impacts were not significant either on an individual or cumulative basis,” he said.
Lombardo added that there would be a deceleration turn lane constructed prior to the opening of the project, set forth by a Caltrans comment letter.
“We respectfully request that you re-approve the project with those additional conditions of approval,” said Lombardo. “Then, what we do is we return back to the court and present the court with the final action of the city and then the court will decide if the city has carried out its direction to analyze the noise from this project. The court will hopefully in favor of the city and then Mr. Dadwal can move forward with the completion of this project.”
In article published in March of 2014, Dadwal told BenitoLink that he thought the project would be a bonus for the town and there would be a lot of jobs generated by it.
Ray Sanchez, member of ACCORD (Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development) said during the coujncil meeting that there was no way that the project wouldn’t have significant noise impacts on the residents along The Alameda, on the Hacienda de Leal hotel and San Juan School. “These are the facts. The city's own consultant even says the project will generate more than 1,300 trips per day, seven days a week. There will be 46 parking spaces, it will be open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., there will be daily deliveries of fuel and food and merchandise. Judge (Steven) Sanders has already concluded that the city's noise analysis was flawed and that is why we are here tonight," he said.
Sanchez went on to say that the second noise study was no better and was “in fact it is full of discrepancies and ignores realities.” He cited Page 54 of the report, which said that the building equipment had not yet been determined, therefore the noise levels could not yet be calculated. “I don't understand how this council can approve this project. This is not the right project for the quaint city of San Juan Bautista and I ask the the council to deny this project,” he said.
Martorana said there is a misunderstanding with Sanchez’s interpretation of Page 54 and Mall explained that the inclusion of what equipment was chosen for the project was not necessary in the noise analysis. “It requires there to be a consultant on the site to monitor noise level so the accumulation of the noise from the equipment that is chosen does not exceed the levels that are set forth during the construction period,” she said.
San Juan Bautista resident John Hopper asked the council members if they were really prepared to vote on a noise issue. He said that, if so, he felt the council has been misinformed and were exposing to the city to liability.
“With all do respect as former mayor of this town, you need to do the right thing," Hopper said. "I might be in favor of this project as long as you don’t violate the basic tenets and concerns of our community and that is what has happened here. I challenge you tonight to search your souls and hearts and say ‘does it really need a second review? Is it something more that what we think it is?’”
San Juan Bautista City Council candidate Dan De Vries — who provided legal representation for Hacienda de Leal when it fought against the project in 2014 — reminded the council of a similar project he and Mayor Rick Edge had denied in the past. “It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now,” he said.
He also stated that Edge and Councilman Robert Lund had said they were against franchise businesses at the Candidates' Forum adding, “If you are inclined to approve this project tonight in spite of the vast majority of public opposition, are you willing to put your vote where your mouth was a couple weeks ago?”
San Juan Bautista resident Nicholas Morietta told the council about his personal experience with a gas station being built across from his mother’s home. He said his mother had to move out of her home after the noise and traffic became a problem. He added that he is afraid to cross the street with his family because of safety issues and any additional traffic is a cause for concern. “We don't even cross the street to go the park because we are so fearful that my little child, seven months old, is going to get hit,” he said.
Former councilwoman Jolene Cosio said she was in favor of the gas station, noting “that is a commercial area. Now, if I lived there I might be a little upset about it, but I understand that I moved into a commercial area and I should respect things like that,” she said.
Tod Dubois wrote a letter to the city council saying he was in support of the project. “We need to let the greater community know that San Juan Bautista is open for business, in order to increase investment,” he wrote.
Jackie Morris Lopez also wrote a letter to the city council saying she opposed the project adding that it would create an increase in traffic. “It’s time you quit trying to shove this way of business or operating down our throats, literally and figuratively,” she said.
Alfonso Castillo, general manager at Hacienda de Leal, submitted a letter that was read to the council. “For the last two-and-a-half years, Hacienda De Leal has been adding value to the community by remodeling the old San Juan Inn converting it into a 5-Star rated (Yelp; TripAdvisor; Facebook) boutique hotel,” he said.
"We have shown a consistent increase in revenue over the last few years," he continued. He stated that during the 2015-16 fiscal year, Hacienda de Leal has made up 17 percent of San Juan Bautista's tax revenue. "Our business has been showing consistent growth over the last few years and is projecting a 30 percent increase in sales over the next year. With this increase, Hacienda de Leal is to become one of the top tax revenue-producing businesses," said Castillo.
Castillo added that the project poses an immediate threat to the hotel's growth as it will be adjacent to their property and the significantly increase the amount of traffic in the area, issues of crime and vandalism, air pollution and noise are also an area of concern. “We are not in favor of this project and know that several of our fellow business operators and owners agree with our concern," he said.
Frank Leal filed an appeal against city council members' approval of the gas station in March of 2014 citing that he had plans to plant grape vines, build a wine tasting room and build a visitors' center for San Juan, San Benito County, the Cienega Wine Trail and the Pinnacles National Park. The city council denied the appeal at a city council meeting in November 2014.
After public comment, attorney Lombardo reminded the council that the issues brought up were already determined in favor of the city. He gave examples previously mentioned such as the traffic safety issues, wildlife and noise. He also reminded the council of an ordinance that allows the it to approve projects that meet the need that are not currently being meet in the city like providing diesel fuel and over-the-counter medicine after 9 p.m.
De Vries asked Edge for a rebuttal saying, “One thing that you’ll notice Mr. Lombardo not say and you will not hear tonight, is that this cluster of businesses will not contain a McDonald's, a Subway, a 31 Flavors, a Starbucks — you name it. I challenge Mr. Lombardo right now to stand up and tell you that it won’t. And I challenge you as council members to make a decision; do you want to protect home grown businesses in this town or not?
“Do you actually think that a McDonald's would go in there? Did you ever investigate what it cost for a franchise?” responded Councilman Tony Boch.
De Vries continued by saying he had a copy of a blueprint from the city files that has plans for a McDonald's.
“Mr. De Vries, you’re taking it out of context. That was the very first plan and we rejected that and told the applicant specifically that it was not allowed,” said City Manager Roger Grimsley.
After the rebuttal from De Vries, Edge said he wanted to make a couple points based off of the comments he had heard from the public. He said that the road already has seen an increase in traffic because of the popularity of Hacienda de Leal. “There is a lot of traffic going in and out of that place already before anything gets built on this property,” he said.
Edge added that there would not be any semi-trucks going to the gas station because it was not formulated for them.
Martorana said he had not heard or seen anything new or compelling that would cause him to change his opinion on the project.
Boch said he was in favor of the project, adding, “I’ve always been in favor of this project. I don't see where its going to harm the downtown area of San Juan Bautista. If one person out of that 1,300 cars that turns into there, comes into town and has dinner or lunch, that’s one more person that they never would have had.”
Lund said, “I think some of the money that we get from this project we need to use it for advertising, tourism, we need to get these people to turn left. Let’s focus on the town. Let’s use this money and start investing in signage off the freeway. This project can be very positive in tourism.”
Councilman Jim West said that while he wasn't a council member when the project first came up, the first thing he did was to look at the law. “This gentleman bought the property and it was zoned for this project. He went through our process and from what I can tell he checked every box, he dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't' and he has a right to do that business because he followed the rules —our rules,” he said.
Edge said no one would leave Highway 101 to go and get gas in San Juan. He added that the traffic would be the traffic that already travels past the town on Hwy. 156. He said that he sees this gas station as a way to get money from the people who already travel though and would stop get gas or food.
"I see it as a way to capture money that we would not have otherwise," he said.