Marty Richman accused Sen. Cannella of selling his vote for $500 million and supervisors for doing the same, but for much less. Photos by John Chadwell.

It was a curious exercise of jurisprudence and government-speak. It looked like the board of supervisors was enthusiastically onboard at the Jan. 23 meeting to send a letter of support opposing of an appeal to the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, better known as SB-1. But after residents Marty Richman and Elia Salinas voiced objections to the letter, the board seemed to back off a bit.

It was an example of high school math, where a double negative equals a positive. The board was being asked to sign a letter supporting the recommendation made by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) to oppose any appeal of SB-1. What made it interesting, though, was the fact that there is no actual appeal at this time. So this was a preemptive move against an appeal—should one ever materialize in Sacramento.

In essence, the county was agreeing with CSAC’s stance to disagree with others who may disagree with SB-1.

In taking a position to support SB-1, the county is accepting the premise that the $52 billion transportation bill that increases everyone’s gas and diesel tax by $6 billion annually will eventually return between $2 million and $3 million back to the county, which is slotted for road repair.

Gas tax expected to bring $3.5 million to county.

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz took the opportunity to voice his support of SB-1, not once, but twice, the first time being during the board announcement portion of the meeting. He said then that he had taken part in a conference call concerning SB-1 in which CSAC was asking all 52 counties throughout the state to send letters in support of opposing a move to appeal SB-1.

“I voted to support the opposition to SB-1,” he said, meaning he is taking a pro SB-1 stance. “We’re talking (about) a lot of issues that can happen, such as canceling some transportation programs; the potential to lay off staff. If the repeal of SB-1 does occur, then in the future, to pass any type of transportation measure will require two-thirds of the California legislators and a majority vote of the voters, which is almost impossible to pass.”

De La Cruz said it was important to continue the funding mechanism and that he realized that Richman and others in the community felt the county got the short end of the stick. He said he told those listening in on the conference call of residents’ concerns and that he was just expressing their opinions, even though he did not agree with them.

“At the same time, I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds us,” he said, and added, “I’m a true believer that the State of California is no friend of San Benito County.”

He said he hoped that when Supervisor Robert Rivas is in Sacramento [if he should win a legislative seat he has announced he is running for] communications between the county and state will continue to grow. When he was referring to Richman, it was about Richman’s comments made earlier during public comments when Richman accused retiring Senator Anthony Cannella of selling his vote for SB-1 in order to secure $500 million for Stanislaus County, in connection to rail transportation. Richman added sarcastically that he wondered whether San Benito County would receive any portion of the $500 million, since Cannella also represents it.

Those comments, however, were tame compared to what followed when the agenda item on the letter finally came up for discussion.

After Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, recommended the board support CSAC’s position in order to keep funds coming into the county; and De La Cruz, along with Supervisor Anthony Botelho, added their support for SB-1, Richman came back up to the podium and gave a fiery retort, accusing them not only of being bribed, but doing so cheaply.

“They’re (legislature) giving our senator (Anthony Cannella) $500 million for his personal transportation needs in his county and we’re not getting anything,” he said heatedly. “Our people in San Benito County are going to pay $12 million on SB-1, and they’re going to get back maybe $3 million. And we’re going to consider that a good deal.”

He maintained that the county would be better off if SB-1 went away and suggested supervisors approve a large tax to pay for local roads, rather than give the money to the state.

“Then they give it to some senator who’s going to use it to put in a railroad where he lives and tell his constituents, ‘look what I got for you for my signature on SB-1,’” he said. “The fix is in. This is legalized bribery, and the fact that they can buy you off so cheap is an insult, not the fact that they’re buying you off. You’re getting back almost nothing and the commuters are getting the shaft. I think you ought to represent the people who live here and not Sacramento.”

Elia Salinas was the calm after the storm, but she also objected to the supervisors signing a letter of support against an appeal. She said the board needed to protect county residents.

“We’ve been run over by so many corporations and all these taxes,” she said. “It’s time we put our foot down and say ‘no’ and assert our rights. Let’s keep some of this money here in this county.”

Supervisor Botelho said he did not agree with the assumption the county was not getting its money’s worth from SB-1. He said the county’s roads are crumbling and it needs the monies from SB-1.

“We can’t go out and fix it on our own,” he said. “A lot of commuters buy their gas in Gilroy or San Jose. It’s (SB-1 funds) distributed throughout the whole state. This is what needs to be done, and I’m sorry, I don’t agree.”

Espinosa commented that residents had rejected a tax proposal in 2016 that would have funded local road repairs.

“At this point, there’s legislation (SB-1) that’s been passed and I want to make it clear with this particular item (appeal) that we don’t know that there is going to be somebody that’s going to oppose this,” Espinosa said. “There’s nothing yet, but we’re requesting that the board be in line with CSAC with regards if this does happen. The monies are there and ready, and we already have plans for these particular items.”

Supervisor Rivas asked if there were a time limit for submitting the letter.

“I take the comments that were made for what they’re worth,” he said. “There are some discrepancies between rural counties and the rest of the state. I think what Senator Cannella did was highly publicized and it was wrong of Sacramento. Just because 60 percent of that district is over in the valley in his neighborhood, what happens to the other 40 percent, which is us over here?”

Rivas said the data needs to speak for itself and described the state as being in a crisis.

“Do we as a rural county get our fair share from this deal?” he questioned. “What does the data say? That’s why I’m curious to see what those numbers are. We’ve been presented stuff by COG, and if we become a self-help county later, do we have more benefit, more skin in the game at that point through SB-1? I don’t know.”

De La Cruz said of the letter, “This doesn’t have importance in terms of time. I do believe that even if staff gets that information to us this body would still have to make a decision if we’re for or against it (the letter).”

De La Cruz said the public needs to know the numbers and to have a clear understanding if SB-1 was a good or bad deal for the county. He recommended nothing be done until the next supervisor meeting in February. In any case, Espinosa reminded the board there was no resolution for them to vote on.

“There’s nothing to really argue against,” he said. “This is just a support letter. We haven’t submitted it yet because we’re waiting to see how things pan out. It (appeal) hasn’t officially happened yet. We just wanted to make sure the board was aware of it. There’s no major urgency. We can do some more homework and come back.”

De La Cruz concurred and suggested that now that Rivas was on the CSAC committee it might be prudent to let him become more acquainted with the information and come back with a recommendation at the next meeting. The supervisors agreed to table the issue and bring it back for discussion in February.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...