Editor’s note: This article’s headline was updated to better reflect Tiffany’s position on commercial development
San Benito County is one of the poorest in the state when it comes to the amount of revenue it gets from taxes, according to District 4 Supervisor Bob Tiffany. He said there isn’t enough money coming in to cover full staffing, infrastructure and maintenance of the facilities the county already has.
Tiffany, who has an MBA and ran the Tiffany Ford dealership for 32 years, is firmly against a slow-growth initiative that is being circulated in the county. He said it could leave the county unable to pay for basic services residents expect.
He noted that if it were to pass, the initiative’s tenets would be in play until 2050. “It will have a major chilling effect on anyone [business] who wants to come into the unincorporated areas of the county for the next 30 years. I don’t feel the people who are behind these initiatives are being truthful,” he told BenitoLink.
According to the April 4 General Fund Budget, projected revenues to the county from all sources is $55.7 million. Under expenses are salaries and benefits at $31.7 million, services and supplies at $15.4 million, and other charges at $9.8 million.
Thirty-nine percent of the revenue comes from property taxes, with $6 million in sales taxes, along with licenses, and transient occupancy taxes, Tiffany said. The shortfall, which is mainly salaries for county staff, is around $6 million annually. That is softened by the fact that the county is markedly understaffed. Tiffany said this shortage of personnel is saving money but hampering the delivery of services.
Consequently, much-needed projects like an adequate library, extensive road re-building and expanded emergency services are not feasible.
“We need sales taxes generated from businesses because building houses doesn’t do us any good. The impact fees from houses barely cover the impacts from the developments. That’s why we need commercial and industrial developments that bring in jobs and revenue in the form of sales taxes,” Tiffany said.
Challenging the General Plan
A path to improve the county’s financial strength was set by residents working on the General Plan 10 years ago. The document describes itself as the “county’s constitution for land use.” County supervisors are expected to follow the plan but the Campaign to Protect San Benito (CPSB) initiative aims to circumvent this process.
“When the General Plan was developed in 2015, part of the process was to hold extensive public meetings on commercial nodes,” Tiffany said. “There is a tremendous need to bring in more revenue. So, they looked at places within the county where it made sense for potential commercial or industrial development at main arterial intersections where there’s already traffic that you can take advantage of.”
In 2017, traffic along Highway 101 through San Benito County ranged from 45,000-66,000 vehicles per day, according to Caltrans. By 2035, volumes are expected to continue to increase to a range of 70,000-105,000 per day. That’s over 25 million vehicles a year using the lower 70,000 daily figure.
He said approving a commercial node project requires review by the planning department and public input in planning commission meetings. Tiffany said even after approving a commercial node, it could still be challenged by the referendum process, meaning the voters still have the ability to voice their objections. He said it is vital that people educate themselves on referendums, on what exactly voter initiatives are proposing and their potential impacts on the community.
However, participating in government meetings can be difficult for many county residents who commute to work. Projects are first considered by the San Benito County Planning Commission who meet once a month at 6 p.m. If projects are appealed, they are voted by the Board of Supervisors at their meetings, which take place twice a month starting at 9 a.m. All of the meetings are streamed by the county.
‘Real impacts’ on daily life
Tiffany said residents need to do their homework about how the CPSB initiative is being presented and fears it could potentially impact the county. “But I just want them [voters] to know, if it passes it will have real impacts on them and the services we provide. For instance, the sheriff would like to add more deputies to cover the county. It costs money to fill those positions. To improve the roads, we need more money. As far as I’m concerned, if you vote for the initiative, don’t ever pick up the phone and call your supervisor and complain about a pothole or a lack of law enforcement. You are creating part of the problem.”
Andy Hsia-Coron in a recent BenioLink interview, said slow-growth advocates in his group believe the General Plan does not live up to its mission of protecting agricultural and ranch lands.
Currently, it’s the Board of Supervisors which makes land use decisions in the unincorporated areas of the county. Hsia-Coron, a CPSB founder, said his group opposes supervisors having the final say when it comes to developments in the county. They object to 13 of 16 specific commercial nodes and commercial projects, including the Strada Verde Innovation Park, particularly on the west side of the county. Tiffany said the group’s objections to the three nodes on Hwy 101 is because the projects are located near to the Hsia-Coron’s residence.
A commercial node is a zoning designation that guides the nature and intensity of commercial activity or redevelopment that occurs in a designated area. CPSB’s backers have attempted to place three separate but similar initiatives on the ballot over the last couple years. Formerly known as Preserve Our Rural Communities (PORC), the group hopes to take the responsibility for planning away from the supervisors and give it to voters.
In the November 2020 election, only 46% of county voters cast ballots. Tiffany questioned not only whether the public is informed about both sides of the issue, but whether they will even vote. He said those who understand the ramifications of such initiatives “need to do a better job of educating those people who are going to be voting.”
He conceded that “the PORC [CPSB] people have been very effective in terms of getting out from a grassroots effort. But what they’re telling the people is very misleading and, in many cases, just not truthful. They find a ready audience that is frustrated by too much housing and the traffic on Hwy 25, so they buy into what they’re being told.
“It’s going to take the business community, the blue-collar workers, people like myself on the board or connected in other ways, and go door-to-door and talk one-on-one about this,” he said. “That’s what it will take to defeat this initiative.”
Tiffany stressed that the Board of Supervisors as a group cannot take a stand on a measure or initiative going before voters, but they can share their views as individuals.
At the heart of the CPSB initiative is the claim it is protecting agricultural land. Tiffany said all the current supervisors “are ag-oriented,” and that the General Plan that identifies the commercial nodes “clearly lays out preservation of ag land and the importance of that.”
He added a caveat: “With that being said, not every piece of open ground is prime ag land. There’s other land that is not as conducive toward growing crops. Some prime ag land, like where Strada Verde is hoping to locate, has not been effectively farmed in decades. Not all open land necessarily needs to be preserved.”
Tiffany said that even if all 16 commercial nodes were developed, there would still be a tremendous amount of prime ag land left in the county. He added that when the nodes were drawn up preserving prime ag land was always a consideration.
“The initiative people are trying to make it sound like we’re trying to cover everything with asphalt. That could not be further from the truth.”
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