Editor’s note: This article was updated to include comments from Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki and update the headline. The previous headline and first paragraph incorrectly said supervisors approved the funds. It was also updated to clarify the separation between the resolution and the education outreach program.
San Benito County supervisors are concerned the public is confused about the proposed Strada Verde Innovation Park as well as Measures Q and R, all of which are interrelated. Supervisor Bob Tiffany called some social media comments opposing Strada Verde “an absolute lie,” and when the Board of Supervisors met on Aug. 23, they agreed to agendize at the next meeting a resolution to clarify the board’s position against housing. The board, excepting for Kollin Kosmicki, who remains neutral, had previously agreed to launch an education effort to set the record straight, specifically about Measure Q. Tiffany said up to $50,000 without further board approval could be spent on the education program.
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki reached out to BenitoLink after the publishing of this article to clarify that he does not support the education effort or funding.
Since 2020, politicians and advocates opposed to Strada Verde Innovation Park have linked it to the emotional topics of additional housing and heavy traffic. Strada Verde’s proponents say the project is about jobs and revenue for the county.
The project developers have stressed that no houses would be built on the 2,770-acre project. The facility would have hotels and restaurants for auto industry visitors, as well as distribution centers, but no homes are planned or permitted.
However, Andy Hsia- Coron (Measure Q), Mayor Ignacio Velasquez and Frank Barragan (Measure R) have published election brochures and used social media to give the impression the project includes homes.
In an October 2020 video, Velazquez says “I’m here at the site of where a home builder wants to build a whole new city out here, or as you might know it: Measure N. This is a really bad idea.”
Measure N concerned the first version of Strada Verde, which was rejected by voters in 2020.
“As a fully commercial/industrial project, Strada Verde is not compatible with housing and is not proposing any housing,” Scott Fuller, a Strada Verde spokesperson, told BenitoLink. “If approved, the project will not allow any housing.”
Adding to the confusion is the discovery, revealed in an Aug. 22 BenitoLink article, that Palo Alto housing developer Philip Taylor has been acquiring land in the same part of the county.
Tiffany also wants to codify the county’s promise of no housing by changing the General Plan.
“We should remove the New Community Study Areas (see map), including the Bolsa Area from the General Plan, so there can be no further claims that houses and a city are planned for that area,” he said. The General Plan currently lists four areas that could potentially become new communities in the county.
Tiffany encouraged residents to become “fully educated,” because “it’s an extremely important measure for our community.”
He told BenitoLink the county is legally allowed to educate but not campaign—the difference being that the county cannot take sides.
The money will cover signs, brochures, Instagram posts and direct mail pieces. Tiffany said individual supervisors can take a position for or against a measure. He also said he has been particularly vocal in his support of Strada Verde and been involved in the new Neighbors to Save San Benito committee to campaign against Measure Q.
Misinformation on social media
Tiffany also requested that an item be placed on the next agenda to address “lies on social media” about housing developments. Springboarding off what he called “the illuminating article in BenitoLink” he said, “Someone behind the scenes is trying to bring houses out there against the wishes of everyone in the county, including everyone up here [the supervisors],” Tiffany said. “Despite the [BenitoLink] article, there are people trying to turn that around and say ‘I told you so. It was always about houses.’”
The “someone” he was referring to is developer Philip Taylor, who had recently transferred over 7,400 acres surrounding the Strada Verde project acreage to the ownership of a Delaware LLC called Churchill Rains.
“I am tired,” Tiffany said, “as I’m sure everyone up here and on staff is, of continuing to hear falsehoods about us wanting to build houses at Strada Verde, which I think everyone knows is an absolute lie.”
Tiffany said the area is perfect for commercial projects, such as Strada Verde, but is “a lousy place for houses.” He asked for a resolution to guarantee the board will not support any housing developments in the Bolsa Area. While the entire board favors the resolution, none were willing to say out loud who is misinforming the public.
Unlike the current supervisors, former supervisor Anthony Botelho, who now represents Strada Verde, publicly challenged Hollister Mayor Velazquez’s accusations on Facebook.
Frank Barragan, who spearheaded Measure R and whose committee spent over $100,000 gathering signatures and $242,000 in consulting and legal services, took to Facebook to call Strada Verde Innovation Park “a gateway drug.”
On the Hollister Neighborhood Watch Facebook page, the two leading voices opposing Strada Verde appear to be Velazquez and Barragan. Both have maligned Strada Verde associates and continued to insist that the real goal behind the project, and the desire of the supervisors, is housing.
“I’ve been warning you that developers are trying to build a new city along Hwy 25 and now the truth is here,” Velazquez wrote in a Facebook post. “The new city along Hwy 25 will create massive traffic and infrastructure issues for all of us. Just say no to these developers and their scams!” Velazquez owns an electrical contracting company which does a lot of business in the Central Valley. In his remarks, Velazquez conflates the commercial Strada Verde with the yet to be revealed interests of housing developer Taylor.
Barragan, who described himself in 2020 as a financial controller and business manager, wrote on Facebook: “Anthony Botelho is now working for Strada Verde. Of course, he’s going to make up lies without any facts. He will be paid a huge bonus if Strada Verde is built and later the housing developer comes in to build houses.”
Although Kosmicki has refused to take a formal position, the four remaining supervisors support Strada Verde.
Tiffany said it may not happen this year while he is still on the Board of Supervisors, but he hopes a future board will move forward with his suggestion to eliminate the study areas from the General Plan.
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