The San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted at its July 18 meeting to send a letter to the Santa Clara County Planning Department requesting that traffic mitigation efforts proposed by the Z-Best composting facility, regarding re-routing of their firm's commercial vehicles along Highway 25 in southern Santa Clara County, be incorporated as conditions of approval for all planning and building permits associated with the project.
Z-Best wants—if the Santa Clara Planning Commission approves it—to not only change the way it recycles green waste, but to also double the number of trucks entering and leaving the facility, which is on the major commuting route between Hollister and the Silicon Valley.
Since being informed of the company’s plans to spend approximately $1 million to address traffic mitigation measures on Highway 25, and the fact that the majority, if not all, of the trucks would be coming and going at night, the board decided to send the letter.
Before doing so, though, Supervisor Jerry Muenzer wanted to make it clear that he had never toured the Z-Best facility. He was apparently under the impression that “it had been put out there that we all went out and saw the plant.” This comment may have been in reference to the July 8 BenitoLink story detailing the company’s mitigation plans, which did not make the claim that the entire board visited the facility.
Muenzer went on to say he did not view the proposed letter as supporting the project.
“This is a letter saying that we recognize, if this project goes forward, that traffic mitigation conditions need to be in place,” he said. “I have met with their representative (Victor Gomez) and he explained what Z-Best plans to do to mitigate the traffic, and I was happy with those plans. That’s why I see this letter as letting the Planning Commission of Santa Clara County and Santa Clara County itself know that we are aware of this potential increase in this business. Also, we feel that traffic mitigations need to be enacted, and we feel the ones the company is proposing are good ones.”
Supervisor Mark Medina wanted to refine the draft of the letter that staff had provided to the board. He asked that the language be more precise in stating the board’s position. Supervisor Anthony Botelho said that as a frequent driver on Highway 25, he is aware of the traffic conditions at the entrance to Z-Best. He said it was in the board’s purview to make comments about implications of Z-Best’s traffic mitigation plans. He also said it might be beneficial to work with Santa Clara County to improve the entire Highway 25 corridor, from Highway 101 to Hollister.
During public comments, Kristina Chavez Wyatt, representing the San Benito County Business Council, as well as some of the farms and property owners near Z-Best, said the company’s letter to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission was incomplete. She said the commission sent back a seven-page letter asking Z-Best for more information.
“The Planning Commission hasn’t even received this application,” she said. “They simply don’t have the technical information to determine sufficient mitigation.”
She went on to say the Business Council's executive committee had met with Gomez and John Doyle, Z-Best operations manager, and felt much of the mitigation elements being proposed were impressive. She said the mitigation details have not yet been provided to the commission.
“The applicant has said it plans to do presentations once the application is complete,” she said, adding that neighboring farmers have commented about Z-Best’s impact to their crops, food safety, employee safety, and water pollution concerns.
“First of all, there is no application,” Gomez stated on behalf of Z-Best. “There’s no application to comment on because this is a concept. We’re encouraged by your willingness to support the project if these mitigation measures are taken into account. We are committed to them, so if you do end up drafting a letter of support, as long as it includes traffic mitigation, the client is 100 percent behind it and is ready to invest over $1 million into the frontage of Highway 25.”
Gomez said that because most of the truck traffic will be taking place during non-peak driving hours there would be a 60 percent reduction of daytime traffic related to Z-Best. He also said the expansion and change in composting techniques will result in 30 new employees, many of whom will likely come from San Benito County.
Gomez advised the board that a letter to the Planning Department of Santa Clara County detailing their support might be more appropriate than a letter to the Planning Commission, which he said would be premature because they have not seen an application.
“We did receive information that our application was incomplete,” he said. “We knew it was incomplete. It was a concept. We wanted to see what feedback we got from the community and planning staff. We will eventually need to submit a full application and ask Caltrans to support the traffic mitigation, as well. Once we get to that point, we would love the support of the board of supervisors.”
Muenzer wanted Gomez’s assurance that he would keep the board apprised of the project’s progress because he did not want it “to fall off our radar,” and that “the comment period will come and go and we won’t get the letter out.” Gomez walked the board through the steps they could take to remain in the loop.
Botelho said he felt that by sending a letter it would give the two counties the opportunity to engage in conversations on a needed improvement.
“There’s nothing there right now and sometimes you get caught up in the rhetoric that’s on social media and you think that project is going in tomorrow,” Botelho said. “The fact is, we have a highway that needs better accesses and this is an opportunity to get something and work with Santa Clara County to express that we need more of this to happen.”
Gomez commended the board for moving forward with the letter and said it’s an opportunity to let the community know the board is watching over the project.
“You’re right, a lot of this stemmed out of inaccuracies in social media that were out there,” Gomez said. “A lot of folks were correct in that there weren’t traffic mitigations in the conceptual. It’s because it wasn’t at that stage of the application.”
Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz voiced his concern about odors coming from the facility and asked Gomez what Z-Best was doing to address them. Gomez told him that the new technology Z-Best was hoping to employ at the facility would not only add an additional 1,250 tons of product, but would also significantly reduce the odor.
Taking Gomez’s suggestion, Muenzer made the motion to draft the letter, including mentions of traffic mitigations, to the Santa Clara Planning Department rather than thePlanning Commission. He also said that as the project evolves, the board would know if its concerns were being addressed before drafting a second letter to the Planning Commission.