After hearing a comprehensive presentation on land use, San Benito County Supervisors and their respective district Planning Commissioners provided feedback to county staff to further adjust the land-use element of the 2035 General Plan. Photo by John Chadwell.
After hearing a comprehensive presentation on land use, San Benito County Supervisors and their respective district Planning Commissioners provided feedback to county staff to further adjust the land-use element of the 2035 General Plan. Photo by John Chadwell.

The San Benito County Resource Management Agency gave three presentations over nearly four hours at a joint Supervisor and Planning Commissioners’ meeting June 6 concerning the update to the county’s 2035 General Plan. The presentations covered land use and housing elements, as well as mining operations. (All three topics will be reported on in separate Benitolink articles, land use being the first.)

Abraham Prado, county planning and building director presented on agriculture for over an hour. When the meeting was opened up for comments two speakers objected to possibility of the county “unwinding the existing General Plan” and the continued loss of agricultural land.

The opportunity for the public and concerned agencies to comment started April 19. The comment period will end July 17. The public can comment through the General Plan website, supervisors and planning commissioners. 

The General Plan, adopted in July 2015, is the foundation for county planning. All future developments and planning decisions must be consistent with the document. It can be amended no more than four times a year, though each amendment can include several changes. It can take years to complete and depending on the number of consultants and studies conducted, they can cost over $1 million, said Prado.

Prado reminded the gathering that in August 2022, the supervisors directed county staff to initiate a General Plan amendment to modify or eliminate the four New Community Study Areas, known as Bolsa, Fairview, San Juan and Union. These areas were originally added about 20 years ago to the 2035 General Plan as potential sites for commercial and residential developments. The move was made “to stop lies on social media” regarding the possibility of housing developments in Bolsa and Strada Verde, according to then-supervisor Bob Tiffany.

Prado covered 12 land use (see PDF of land-use maps) designations and their purposes.


He said out of the 890,000 acres, or 1,391 square miles that make up San Benito County, agricultural land use accounts for 60,708 acres throughout the county. This area is divided into 2,675 parcels, a designation to help maintain productivity of agricultural land, especially prime farmland. Rangeland, which is listed below, is considered a different category of agriculture. Only one housing unit per five acres is allowed.

“San Benito County has some of the best ag land in the world,” Prado said at the meeting.  

According to a Nov. 2020 BenitoLink Special Report on Prime Ag Land, “Mitigation allows for such clusters, since developing prime agricultural land within the city limits can be offset by obtaining a conservation easement for prime agricultural land located either in the county or elsewhere. This prevents the haphazard, unplanned growth known as urban sprawl.” Currently, in San Benito County when prime ag land is mitigated, it is not necessary that the land replacing the prime ag land is in San Benito County. 

But in another BenitoLink Special Report, also written in 2020, San Benito County had already lost 21,674 acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance (prime agricultural land on the Important Farmlands Categories system), which is a 39% decrease from its 1984 total of 55,614 acres. 

He said that in order to be shown on the Department of Conservation’s Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program map as prime farmland or land of statewide importance, land must meet two criteria: it has been irrigated and in production at some time during the four years prior to the Important Farmland map date; and the soil must meet the physical and chemical criteria for prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Unfortunately, he said a developer may buy prime farmland and intentionally let it sit fallow for four years, after which it loses the prime designation. And once it does, according to the 2023 General Plan, it cannot be mitigated back to prime.

He told the commissioners if this was important to them they should advise the staff to take action to add it to the land use element because even though the General Plan does have a natural resources element that mentions open space, it does not have an agriculture land use element. He further reminded the commissioners that they had approved the staff’s request on March 14 to initiate a General Plan amendment to add an agriculture land use element, as well as allowing staff to apply to the Sustainable Agricultural Life Conservation program in order to protect critical agricultural land.

During public comments, resident Paul Rovella, who took part in developing the 2035 General Plan, spoke on the “exhaustive efforts” to develop the plan that included surveying 14,000 homes and three workshops, presentations and interviews with various stakeholder groups.

“As a participant in that process, I probably take it more personally than I should that the board is considering unwinding stuff that the county previously spent so much time and effort getting implemented in the 2035 General Plan,” he said. “I’d rather see the county implement and use the General Plan that so much time and money was invested in.”

Lynn Overtree, who lives near San Juan Bautista and works for the San Benito Agriculture Land Trust, commented over Zoom that she wanted to remind everyone when the General Plan tries to protect an equal amount of prime farmland on a one-to-one mitigation basis “you’re accepting a 50% loss.”

“So some areas have gone to two-to-one or three-to-one,” she said, adding about Caltrans’ plan to link the 152 to Hwy 25 “I see it cutting right through a very large, proactive agricultural land and important flood plain area and I  just don’t know quite what the answer is, but I wanted to state that we are concerned about the impact that will have on agriculture and flooding in the area.”


This is the largest category in the county with 684,537 acres and approximately 3,289 parcels, with the minimum size of a parcel being 40 acres. In the General Plan, rangeland is not included in the agriculture category. Prado said the purpose of this designation is to maintain open space on grazing lands, hills and mountains.

Residential mixed-use

This consists of 3,928 acres throughout the county. Focusing on acreage surrounding Hollister and Tres Pinos, he said there are 2,687 acres near public infrastructure needed to support the increased density of 20 dwellings per acre.


This category is made up of 9,361 acres, with 620 parcels to allow very low density residential development in areas not suited for agricultural use, but because of a lack of public infrastructure are not suitable for high density residential designations. Only one dwelling unit is allowed per five acres.

Rural transitional

This designation is made up of 694 acres of approximately 246 parcels to allow traditional rural development as a transition between rural and urban areas. The maximum density allowed is one dwelling unit for two-and-a-half acres.

Rural residential

This comprises approximately 2,477 acres and 5,004 parcels for large rural residential homes located in areas that are generally unsuitable for protected agriculture. Typically, they lack public infrastructure. Density is usually two dwelling units per acre.


This is made up of approximately 283 acres and 78 parcels to provide commercial services near highway interchanges along thoroughfares, parks, and tourist attractions, and to allow for commercial users that serve the agriculture and rural unincorporated community through shopping centers, gas stations, hotels and motels.

Commercial neighborhood

This is composed of about 160 acres and 56 parcels to provide convenience goods such as retail and restaurants within or near communities or other concentrations of population, and to reduce unnecessary vehicle trips to commercial centers in the cities. It allows for 20 units per acre.

Commercial regional

This is composed of 152 acres, providing areas that function as destinations for commercial activities serving the regional population. This designation intends to function as key intersections along Hwy 101, and the users include shopping centers, gas stations, tourist attractions, hotels and motels.


This designation is divided into industrial heavy and industrial light. Industrial heavy consists of 721 acres and 50 parcels that are used for activities not suitable for urban areas because of their size, noise, traffic or safety concerns. This would include large stone manufacturing, mining, recycling, transfer centers, chemical and explosive manufacturing, or similar uses.

Industrial light comprises 552 acres and 12 parcels to allow light industrial development near existing transportation systems. This includes warehouses, contractor yards, lumber yards, auto repair, light manufacturing, research and development operations.

Public and quasi-public

There are approximately 429 acres and 40 parcels. The designation provides for public and quasi-public uses, including public utility facilities and services. This applies to schools, landfills, recycling, resource recovery, sewage treatment plants, fire stations, sheriff stations, jails, religious meeting areas, libraries, energy generation, and water distribution.


This is made up of 72,542 acres and 279 parcels. The lands belong to federal, state and county agencies covering public recreation facilities, golf courses, community parks, neighborhood parks, community centers, campgrounds and recreation corridors and trails.

Prado said that during a mobility partnership meeting in May composed of county and city elected officials, representatives from Caltrans and the San Benito County Council of Governments, there was an update of some other projects.

New Trade Corridor Project

“We invited Caltrans in discussions concerning the extension of Santa Teresa Boulevard [in San Jose] from its existing southern terminus, east along Hwy 25 for a potential connection with Hwy 152, which is located primarily in the agricultural land use area,” he said. Santa Clara and San Benito counties are working together to develop and deliver infrastructure improvements to the SR 152 Trade Corridor from US 101 to I-5. VTA, in coordination with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), is leading the development of this project.

According to the Valley Transportation Authority, “This project proposes to construct a new 4-lane highway between U.S. 101 and SR 156 and provide eastbound truck climbing lanes over Pacheco Pass. The improvements would accommodate the long-term travel needs of commercial, commuter, and recreational traffic and result in an economically viable, safe, and efficient highway system that would enhance the quality of life for the local communities and the economic vitality of the region.”

As part of the amendment process, Prado said the county would provide opportunities over a 45-day period that began April 19 for comments from the public and concerned agencies, such as Caltrans and schools. The comment period ends July 17.

The public can comment through the General Plan website or by contacting the supervisor or planning commissioner for your district. 

Related stories:

What is the purpose of Measure R and its 3.5-mile buffer zone? | BenitoLink

BL Special Report: Company transferred 27 parcels along Hwy 25 corridor | BenitoLink

The years-long and costly journey to build a project in San Benito County | BenitoLink

Related stories:

What is the purpose of Measure R and its 3.5-mile buffer zone? | BenitoLink

BL Special Report: Company transferred 27 parcels along Hwy 25 corridor | BenitoLink

The years-long and costly journey to build a project in San Benito County | BenitoLink

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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...