The Strada Verde Innovation Park Voter Initiative is 139 pages long and includes plans, design diagrams and maps detailing the project. This is an overview of major parts of the initiative, covering new land use, projected uses and community impact. Numbers in parentheses refer to a section or figure within the initiative (PDF of full initiative below).
The initiative states that the project will “expand and diversify the regional economy by providing a home for a new technology-based employment center” which will include “dedicated research and development areas,” with “advanced automotive testing facilities,” as well as an “e-commerce center for distribution and logistics businesses” and a “centrally located business center for hospitality, retail, and civic uses.” It also says the development will create a large number of jobs during the construction and final phases of the project as well as substantial tax revenue.
An overview of the site
The Strada Verde project encompasses 2,777 acres of land at the northern edge of San Benito County and is part of the Floriana Ranch property, which had been twice proposed for housing and rejected by the Board of Supervisors.
The site follows the northern county line at the Pajaro River from where it intersects Highway 101 to the west and Highway 25 to the east. The western edge of the property is defined by Y Road and the eastern edge by the railroad tracks along Highway 25. The southwest boundary follows the base of the 928-foot Lomerias Muertas mountain.
The land is classified, under San Benito County land use designations, as primarily agricultural with a small strip of land against Lomerias Muertas considered rangeland (figure 2-2).
It’s considered part of the 100-year floodplain and is currently being used for agriculture. This area will continue to be used for agriculture as well as for a river park and bike trail.
While zoned for agricultural uses, according to the initiative and confirmed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the land outside the floodplain has not been used as productive farmland for over 40 years (section 2.3.1). Author Marjorie Pierce’s “East of the Gabilans” refers to the land as historically used for cattle grazing, not agriculture.
With budget shortfalls and record unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, county residents are keenly interested in the prospects of jobs and tax revenue.
The project cost over 10 years is $2.3 billion with an estimated 18,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs created during the initial building phase (section 1.8.1).
Direct jobs are those involved in the project’s construction. According to initiative spokesman Scott Fuller, 14,000 of the 18,000 jobs will be on-site union construction jobs with a Project Labor Agreement.
Indirect jobs are positions that support construction such as architects, planners, supervisors, security, accountants, medical staff and other related jobs.
Induced jobs are those created indirectly by money spent within San Benito County by employees and workers at the site. The initiative aims to phase in 5,500 permanent jobs, again a combination of direct, indirect and induced (section 1.6.2). Of this total, 1,100 will be off-site jobs. There will be 4,400 jobs on-site broken into three categories: e-commerce, automotive research/development and retail/hospitality.
Five areas comprise the labor pool: San Benito County, Gilroy, Watsonville, San Jose and Salinas. Fuller said that just over 2,300 applicants make up the pool the developers will draw from in San Benito County.
A study by the developers place San Benito County as the No. 1 labor pool for both the e-commerce and retail/hospitality categories. For the automotive research/development category, San Jose is the No. 1 pool, with San Benito County, Gilroy, and Salinas tied for second, and Watsonville third.
The developers plan to work with the local high schools and Gavilan College on training programs to increase local jobs in the automotive research/development category, according to Fuller.
Tax revenue and financing
The initiative projects $12 million a year in tax revenue which would include property tax, payroll tax, hotel tax, and sales taxes. There will also be an additional $6 million a year in taxes to be paid to local school districts.
At the start of the project, the developers will also pay a one-time fee of approximately $18 million as mitigation for required road work. The initiative mentions other county fees as well.
The project will rely on private investments and intends to be “fiscally self-sufficient,” with the money coming from applicants, developers and property owners (section 5.8).
Zoning and environmental reports
The initiative rezones most of the land from agricultural to commercial and industrial use (table 3.1). There is an allowance for hotels in the commercial zones, but there is no housing element in the initiative in any of the proposed zones.
“The initiative locks in that property for commercial and industrial use, period,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho explained. “What we are all voting on with this initiative in November is a specific plan with a specific zoning. They have to keep it to autonomous cars or related businesses. It has to be what they told the voters it will be.”
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors can further define and limit the types of businesses or uses permitted during the process of approving any project. Public hearings would also be required.
There are no California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) or environmental impact report requirements during the initiative process. However, these reports are required by law, which the initiative acknowledges in sections 5.4.1, 1.6, and 2.8.A.
“If approved, Strada Verde has to go through the CEQA process and will have to be more specific about what the project is and all the reports would have to reflect the use,” Botelho said.
The project may also require approval from other state and county agencies, and developers will be responsible for all impact and development fees for police, fire services and utilities such as stormwater and flood control, as well as water and sewage fees. (section 5.8).
Access and construction
The main access to the Strada Verde Innovation Park will be via the Betabel exit on Highway 101 and onto Y Road, a farming road that leads around the northern edge of Lomerias Muertas (“Barren Hills”) mountain along the Pajaro River and down along the western property line. An existing farm road will be improved for use as an emergency access road and will exit onto Highway 25 (section 1.8.3).
A third road will be constructed at the southern end of the property, intersecting Highway 25 near Frazier Lake Road. It is planned as a right-turn-only entrance/exit.
The initial stage of construction will include the building of the test tracks at the center and east edge of the property, a total of 831 acres and the largest single component of the project (figure 3.1).
The initiative states the project will pay for widening of Highway 25 and improvements to intersections impacted by the site, including Frazier Lake Road and Highway 25; Shore Road and San Felipe Road; Union Road and Highway 156; and San Felipe Road and Highway 25.
Open space is divided into three areas, the Pajaro River Park (209.5 acres), Agriculture (561.7 acres), and the Channel Greenway (264.9 acres).
The Pajaro River Park will include a 56-acre buffer area south of the river to be “permanently preserved, managed, and made accessible to the public.” It will have a 2.4-mile multi-use trail with interpretive signage (page 3-5).
The park and agricultural areas lie on the river’s floodplain. The agricultural area will continue to be farmed. Should more land in this area be developed, under the San Benito County General Plan the developers would either pay the county a mitigation fee or purchase and preserve other prime agricultural lands at a 1:1 proportion either on- or off-site (page 3-4).
The Channel Greenway runs through the length of the project roughly perpendicular to the river. It will serve as a stormwater collection system (page 3-6).
Apart from the possible inclusion of a farmers market, the open space areas are not zoned for commercial use (table 4-2).
The smaller commercial area (9.9 acres) is designated in the plan as being appropriate for a “farmer’s market or a small neighborhood center” and is located off Highway 25 (figure 3.1).
The larger commercial area (20.7 acres) is referred to as a “business center” and will contain a hotel, retail shops and restaurants. Police and fire services may also be located in this area (page 3-4).
There are four designations for industrial use, known as Innovation Centers 1-4, but the initiative offers few specifics. There will be automotive technology and research centers, e-commerce distribution centers and data centers. In an undated prospectus released prior to the initiative, developers claim this will be the largest facility for autonomous vehicle development in the world.
Neither the initiative nor the developer’s representatives offer any of the names of participants involved with the project, nor has there been any endorsement by automobile manufacturers.
Innovation Center 4 (IC4) is the largest of the four areas. The initiative describes it as an ”automotive testing facility for new technology, including driverless clean energy and higher efficiency vehicles.” This is the location of the main automotive tracks, including a three-mile straight track.
Innovation Center 2 also contains a track, referred to as a “driver experience center” which is in an area away from the tracks at IC4, which are described as being for “confidential testing.”
In the prospectus, this track is compared to the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the BMW Performance Center in Greenville, South Carolina.
Water, waste and utilities
According to the initiative, the project will be “100% self-sufficient” with water coming from several wells tapping two different aquifers. The facility will have its own water and wastewater treatment plants, as well as a stormwater collection system. Historic flows of runoff water into the Pajaro River will be duplicated by a stormwater management system (sections 3.6-7).
Gas and electricity will be provided by PG&E, though the facility plans to make extensive use of solar power. Garbage and recycling will be provided by Recology (sections 3.8-9).
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