The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on May 23 told Brian Curtis of Stonecreek Properties, the developer of Santana Ranch subdivision along Fairview Road, that he would not receive a deferral of installing a traffic light at Sunnyslope and Valley View roads as he had requested. In reply, Curtis told the supervisors that nearly 300 construction workers would lose their jobs and the county would be out thousands of dollars in impact fees.

Curtis had asked the supervisors at the April 25 meeting to approve a deferral of the installation requirement until after 300 building permits—up from the original 145 permits per the development agreement—had been issued to him, or 12 months from the supervisors’ decision, whichever came first. The board denied his request, so he returned May 23 with a new proposal: defer the installation until after the 235th building permit, rather than 300th, or three months, instead of 12.

Before the board took up the agenda item, supervisor Jaime De La Cruz asked if his colleagues would consider moving the topic to the next meeting because of a recent revelation that came to his attention the night before. Supervisors Mark Medina and Anthony Botelho were adamant on keeping it on the agenda, so De La Cruz relented.

De La Cruz said that after the April 25 decision, Curtis approached him asking if there was any way the county would reconsider. De La Cruz told Curtis to bring something back that he could present to Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, for further discussion before the board. Curtis proposed to set aside funds in an account and construct the stoplight by Sept. 1, along with the reductions in how many building permits had to be issued and months passed for the work to begin. Espinosa approved putting the item on the agenda. Then, board members received a letter on May 22 from Terpstra Henderson, a Ripon, Calif. law firm that Curtis had asked to review the development agreement and background for the traffic signal.

Attorney Thomas Terpstra concluded that neither the city, the county, nor the developer owns the land or has acquired it by eminent domain proceedings for the required right-of-way within 120 days after the filing date of the final map, and said the installation is deemed to be waived, as the development agreement stipulates.

“Thus, the Valley View traffic signal requirement has been waived and issuance of building permits should continue,” Terpstra stated in the letter.

The supervisors, however, did not agree. Medina, in particular, was resolute that Curtis’ proposal was unacceptable. He said that according to the development agreement, Curtis was supposed to install the traffic signal prior to receiving the 145th building permit.

“They were able to build 145 houses and do the improvements over there, but they ignored this stoplight,” Medina claimed. “We need to hold everyone accountable to what they say they’re going to do in this county. We need to hold strong and not allow them to pull any more permits until we negotiate something or that light is up.”

Curtis said he had no problem adhering to the development agreement and referred to a clause in it that listed the procedures to follow regarding eminent domain.

“It was the city that declined to pursue its power of eminent domain,” he said. “I’m not here today to get out of the traffic signal. I have approved plans and I’m ready to start the instant I walk out the door.”

He went on to explain that he already had money in an account that the county could control, and was prepared to work with the county counsel and give periodic updates. He said he needed nine months to build the signal primarily because he could only purchase the poles, which are built to Caltrans’ specifications, in Colorado, and there is a 16-week backlog. He added that he could not pre-order the poles until he had approved plans, which he only recently received from the city. Meanwhile, he said he could complete foundation work while waiting for the poles.

“All I’m asking is that you release our building permits,” he said. “Our project has stopped. We sold 180 lots to another developer and their project has stopped. We have probably 300 workers who will soon be looking for another job. There’s a big revenue stream the county could receive from our impact fees and increased property values. We formed a CFD (Community Facilities District) that would be revenue neutral and the funding of that will stop when there are no new homes joining that program.”

Curtis also explained that there were other amenities in the development that would be held up, including parks and more than 100 affordable housing units.

Barbara Thompson, interim county counsel, said the county received the letter from Terpstra and that the county was not swayed by Terpstra’s analysis because the signal could still be constructed without the additional right-of-way. She said it wasn’t like “an act of God prevented them from going forward” and the “condition stands if the board chooses.”

Espinosa added that there is yet another “trigger date” that will require the developer to install signals at the intersection of Fairview and Hillcrest roads. He said he did not want to see a repeat of what was happening now and suggested that it be added to the conversation. Curtis said he had no problem beginning with the second signal’s design immediately.

Botelho said that when he originally agreed to the development agreement for the Santana Ranch project, an important consideration was the lights. He said that the impact fees from the project were substantially less than what other developers are now paying and that he was unable to get past the trigger points that, if ignored, could jeopardize public safety. He said the corner was already dangerous enough because there aren’t sidewalks, but by not having signals, it would be even more dangerous.

Curtis responded that he has been trying to get plans approved by the city for more than two years. He said it took that long to get plans approved for the improvements made at Sunnyslope and Fairview roads. Long delays, he claimed, were caused by bureaucratic procedures and frequent staff changes and that he has continued to move forward as fast as the system would allow and there was nothing more that he could do to speed the city up.

Medina challenged Curtis that since he already knew from experience it would take two years to build the Valley View signal perhaps he should have started sooner. Curtis said there was no comparison between the two in that the Valley View light is just a signal, whereas the Fairview lights involved constructing the entire intersection, including storm drains, street entrances, curbs and sidewalks.

Supervisor Robert Rivas said he felt bad for Curtis and that commitments that aren’t honored lead to radical alternatives. He admitted that the board was not doing a good job in providing infrastructure ahead of the sudden growth in housing construction, and yet they should honor any agreements already in place.

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer insisted that the county had to adhere to the development agreement and that it was time to stop cutting deals with developers. He suggested forming an ad hoc committee to sit down with Curtis in order to come to some sort of agreement.

When De La Cruz opened up the item to public comments, Hollister resident Marty Richman came at the board with a broadside of condemnation when he said he was sick and tired of people not honoring agreements, even bad agreements.

“You always come in here six months later and make political speeches because you’re getting heat from your constituents and you say, ‘we signed a bad agreement,’” he scolded. “How about getting a couple mirrors and look in them and say, ‘we’re pretty stupid because we keep signing bad agreements.’ I don’t blame the developer. If I was the developer, I’d come in here and ask you for the world and if you want to give it to me and you sign the agreement, that’s your problem. So, go beat yourselves up. Don’t beat up the developer.”

Botelho told Curtis that he was sorry there were hang-ups connected to the signals and it recognized the fact that it would cost him more, but insisted the county could not amend the agreement.

Bryan Swanson, Hollister’s development services director, told the board that the developer was prepared to move on the signal by June 20, after school was out for summer. He also told them that the city had not been able to acquire the right-of-way, which would seem to support Terpstra’s conclusion based on the agreement that meant the developer was no longer required to build the signal. In addition, Swanson said a building permit does not necessarily mean the building is occupied, which Curtis later attempted to convince the board that even though he had 145 permits, all 145 homes were not sold and occupied. Therefore, he suggested he should be allowed to continue pulling permits and build more homes, and not have to construct the signal until 145 homes were occupied.

Even as Curtis tried to convince the board to abide by the wording of the development agreement that the trigger to build the light was dependent on 145 “occupied homes,” Medina suddenly made a motion to deny the deferral, which was quickly seconded by Botelho. De La Cruz called for a roll call. Muenzer and De La Cruz voted against the motion, but it passed with three votes for it.

“The bottom line is, build that streetlight,” De La Cruz concluded.

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...