Home World Measure to slow development in San Benito County qualifies for ballot

Measure to slow development in San Benito County qualifies for ballot

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Hollister is 45 miles south of downtown San Jose — a small town that can seem a world away from the freeways and office towers of Silicon Valley. But a measure heading to voters this fall could have big impacts on both communities.

Saying that Silicon Valley residents seeking cheaper housing are bringing too much traffic and sprawl, activists in San Benito County, the rural county touching Santa Clara County’s southern edges, have qualified a measure for the November ballot that could dramatically put the brakes on new development there.

The measure, if approved by a majority of San Benito County residents, would ban most new development on land zoned for farming and ranching in the county unless it is approved by voters.

The area is famous for its rolling ranchlands, the soaring California condors of Pinnacles National Park, and the 18th-century Spanish mission at San Juan Bautista.

Map of San Benito County

As housing prices in the Bay Area have continued to surge, more development in San Benito County is bringing a new generation of commuters, a need to build new schools and stores, and losses of orchards and farmlands to become suburbs — not unlike what happened in Santa Clara County in the 1950s and 1960s, some say.

“We’re growing extremely rapidly,” said Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired school teacher who is one of the organizers of the initiative. “There are forces in Silicon Valley looking to use our county for housing and dumping their garbage. It’s a rural county next to a huge metropolitan area. And we are paying the consequences of that.”

In 2022, Andy Hsia-Coron hands out a Measure Q flyers to residents outside the post office in San Juan Bautista. After Measure Q, was defeated two years ago, Hsia-Coron is one of the organizers of a similar initiative that could dramatically put the brakes on new development in the area. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
In 2022, Andy Hsia-Coron hands out a Measure Q flyers to residents outside the post office in San Juan Bautista. After Measure Q, was defeated two years ago, Hsia-Coron is one of the organizers of a similar initiative that could dramatically put the brakes on new development in the area. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Opponents say such measures can go too far, limit property rights and stall local economic growth.

“Land use measures of this type are pretty drastic,” said Donald Wirz, president of the San Benito County Farm Bureau in Hollister. “It makes it so that farmers and ranchers are stuck in terms of the improvements they can make on their land. It makes it more difficult to get bank loans, and can limit property owners’ flexibility.”

From 2020 to 2023, San Benito was the fastest growing of all 58 counties in California, according to the U.S. Census, growing by 5.6%. By comparison, the nine Bay Area counties each lost between 1% and 7% of their populations over that same time.

San Benito County starts from a much smaller population base, however. Even though its land area is the same size as its adjacent neighbor, its population is only 3% as big — 68,175 in 2023 — about the same as Santa Clara County’s population was in 1910.

In 2022, a portion of the Fairview New Community proposed development in a drone view looking east near Hollister, Calif. Activists in San Benito County have qualified a measure for the November ballot that could dramatically put the brakes on new development there. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
In 2022, a portion of the Fairview New Community proposed development in a drone view looking east near Hollister, Calif. Activists in San Benito County have qualified a measure for the November ballot that could dramatically put the brakes on new development there. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Napa, Sonoma and Ventura counties already require voter approval to change the zoning and develop orchards, ranchlands, vineyards and farms. Backers of the ballot measure say San Benito County needs that protection also.

“County supervisors allowed developers to cut down our orchards and build subdivisions to house Silicon Valley workers,” the November ballot measure says. “For many years, inadequate road impact fees allowed our roads to deteriorate. Our schools are overcrowded and residents feel that the supervisors have not required developers to do enough to support our schools. A majority of San Benito residents live in areas with less than three acres of parks or open space for every 1,000 residents. Many residents now realize that our supervisors’ cumulative land use decisions are negatively impacting our quality of life. Our peaceful, rural lifestyle is disappearing.”



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