Members of San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future and Preserve Our Rural Communities demonstrate outside the San Benito County Administration Building before a July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Members of San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future and Preserve Our Rural Communities demonstrate outside the San Benito County Administration Building before a July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo by Noe Magaña.

An initiative for the Strada Verde project proposed near Highways 101 and 25 will go before the voters in November after the San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution on July 21 calling for its placement on the ballot. Supervisors also accepted the certification of the petition signatures collected for the initiative. The San Benito County Elections Office certified 2,538 signatures submitted on June 29. The initiative needed 2,009 valid signatures to qualify for consideration. 

Two groups, Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC) and San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future, demonstrated their opposition and support, respectively, for the proposed autonomous vehicle testing facility outside the county administration building before the meeting. Both sides urged the board to allow voters to decide whether or not to approve the project rather than directly adopting the initiative. 

The project encompasses 2,777 acres of land and proposes open land with a 2.4-mile trail, a business center with a hotel, retail shops and restaurants; an automotive technology and research center with automotive tracks.

County Counsel Barbara Thompson said the board’s options included continuing the item to its Aug. 4 meeting, when supervisors are expected to discuss a study on the potential impact of the project.

The study also includes a look at the impact of the Preserve Our Agricultural and Rural Lands Initiative, which seeks to remove 16 commercial nodes from the 2035 San Benito County General Plan, the legal document that serves as the county’s blueprint for future growth. It would also require that any zoning change from agriculture, rural and rangeland properties be decided by a vote of the people in a special or general election. Without an extension granted by the courts, the deadline to submit the initiative is Aug. 3.

At the meeting, PORC secretary Mary Hsia-Coron said the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was being bypassed and that she supported job creation within the Hollister area that uses properties already zoned industrial and commercial. CEQA requires review of new developments for their impact on the surrounding environment including water, animal habitats and transportation.

Hsia-Coron also said she was concerned with traffic impact on Highway 25 and the intention of developing housing at the site. 

“I do believe even though right now they say they won’t have much impact on Highway 25, they will,” Hsia-Coron said. “I think once you allow this rezoning, it will expand and there could be residential development.” 

She claimed the intention of the developer was to continue with El Rancho San Benito, a 6,800-home project proposed in 2015 at the Floriani Ranch property where the autonomous vehicle testing facility would be located. The project was eventually withdrawn. 

Mia Casey, co-founder of San Benito Citizens for a Brighter Future, said the Strada Verde project would stabilize the county’s economy by attracting auxiliary businesses and creating partnerships with Gavilan College for student training. 

“We’re dependent on agriculture and agritourism here in San Benito County, but when a county is limited to one or two types of industry, if one of those industries falters it can mean big trouble financially,” Casey said. “Diversification is key to economic stability. Strada Verde will bring a new cutting-edge industry to San Benito.”

Casey also said claims that environmental reviews were being bypassed are not true and that the two times housing projects were brought forward, the Board of Supervisors turned them down because it was not a good location for housing. 

“There is absolutely no housing in Strada Verde,” Casey said. 

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Noe Magaña is BenitoLink' content manager, co-editor. He began with BenitoLink as in intern and later served as a freelance reporter and staff reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography....