Over the past few months, there has been no shortage of comments on Facebook concerning San Benito County roads. The most recent BenitoLink article informed residents that the new state tax, SB-1, which was originally expected to be a $3 million windfall for the county will, instead, trickle in over the years in amounts barely able to cover the cost of repairing just two miles of road.
The estimated 22,000 to 24,000 daily commuters from the county each day are quick to anger at the slightest hint of a problem on the roads, particularly Highway 25 between Hollister and Highway 101. So when Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez took to Facebook to voice his objections when he learned that Z-Best Composting Facility, a recycling company on Highway 25 in southern Santa Clara County, had announced plans to increase the number of trucks that would be coming and going from its facility, the conversation heated up instantly.
Everett Clark wrote an opinion article that was published on BenitoLink June 10 to inform the public of Z-Best’s intentions. He wrote that this is the second time the company has asked for permission to increase its capacity and that, yet again, traffic mitigation would not be necessary.
“I’m putting this out there for all of the commuters of Highway 25 north and south; get in touch with the Santa Clara County offices and voice your concerns,” he wrote. “Let them know that an expansion of this facility should require acceleration and deceleration lanes and/or turn pockets out of the traffic lanes for trucks entering and exiting Z-Best. Let them know that you’re not OK with another five, 10 or 30 minutes of travel time on Highway 25.”
John Doyle, operations manager at Z-Best, said the company is prepared to pay in excess of $1 million to build those lanes and the increased truck traffic will be between 8:30 p.m. and 4 a.m., which would have no impact on most morning commuters. And while the company did request permission to increase its tonnage, the Santa Clara County Planning Department has yet to approve it.
Velazquez said he learned about Z-Best’s plans as a member of the Council of San Benito County Governments (COG), which voted to send a letter to Santa Clara County asking for conditions to be added detailing when the extra trucks would be permitted on travel on the 25. The mayor said COG is only interested in preventing traffic congestion and not preventing the company’s expansion plans.
“It’s just a matter of restricting when they can have their trucks pull out in a left turn on the 25,” he said. “The good news is what’s happening there is they’re becoming more efficient in what they do, which results in hauling more out. This is great, but you can’t have it during those peak hours because it’s backing up traffic.”
Velazquez, like Clark, was under the impression that the company was not being required to meet any mitigation standards, therefore, he said the hours in which the trucks would be operating needed to be restricted.
“What triggered this, as it did in the early 2000s, is a boom in Silicon Valley,” he said. “People are getting paid a lot more money out there. This is why we need to balance everything and why I keep telling everybody to slow down. We don’t need to go through the same problems again.”
Mary Gilbert, executive director of COG, said the board discussed Z-Best in May and decided to submit comments in opposition to the project related to traffic concerns. She said July 7 that COG had not revisited the issue since sending the letter.
“Our COG board won’t meet again until August, so if COG were to take any action, it wouldn’t be until then,” she said.
In the letter to Santa Clara County, COG stated that it “…opposes any expansion of operations at Z-Best due to traffic constraints and the impacts on Highway 25.” It went on to request the construction of acceleration/deceleration lanes. It also requested that peak driving hours, which were listed as 7-9 a.m. in a traffic analysis commissioned by the company, be extended to include the hours of 5-7 a.m. Since Doyle had said the company was already planning on operating the additional trucks from 8:30 p.m. to 4 a.m., COG’s demands were apparently already met.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors had also planned to send a letter to their counterparts on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors protesting the planned expansion. However, since two supervisors have since visited the facility, they now plan to send a letter of support for the project.
To explain exactly what the company’s plans are, Doyle said the company, which began operating in 1999, is permitted to receive 1,500 tons of green waste (plants) and municipal solid waste (food) daily that comes primarily from the San Jose area. Both materials are composted and sold in bulk to farms, landscapers, and the state. Annually, Z-Best produces approximately 120,000 tons of organic compost and up to 50,000 tons of landscape compost. The facility currently occupies 157 acres and employees 58 people. He said the company does have a permit to expand and recently had to build for flood capacity.
“We’re building another pad that will be elevated,” he said. “We will be able to store finished product, mulch and landscape compost out there. We won’t be doing additional composting.”
Doyle explained the expansion permit does not include increasing the daily tonnage that can come into the facility. He said the company has submitted another application to Santa Clara County to change the use permit and eventually the solid waste facility permit.
“We want to do two things,” he said. “We want to change the way we compost the municipal solid waste to a more state-of-the-art technology, which provides two major improvements: a reduction in odor and more efficient composting.”
He said the company also wants to increase the incoming waste from 1,500 tons a day to 2,750 tons. This would double the number of trucks from 60 to 120 a day.
“We’re not just proposing to increase traffic,” he continued. “We thought it through as far as how to avoid impacting traffic. We want to do most of this new traffic and divert some existing traffic to nighttime, probably between 8:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. We’re well around what Caltrans defines as the peak traffic times.”
Doyle said what was not in the original application is the company’s plan to add the acceleration/deceleration lanes, as well as a left-turn lane.
“We submitted our original application and have received comments back and are putting together responses,” he said. “There was a letter from the Department of Transportation and COG. I think they’ve switched gears now because we met with a couple of their board members. Basically, they wanted us to do what we already planned to do at the entrance.”
Doyle said he felt confident that the company’s plans would be approved and the company is busy trying to correct misinformation about what those plans are.
“When we met with the county supervisors and COG board, we shared all the information and everybody seemed to have a change of heart,” he said. “In their defense, nobody wants to increase traffic on Highway 25. We’re very aware of the traffic that’s there and we’re not interested in making it worse. We want to come up with ways to actually make it better.”
The Santa Clara County Planning Department said it is too early in the process to comment on the project and recommended that anyone wanting to know more should go to its webpage.