Another victory for the environment – Rancho San Benito proposal withdrawn

Great news in the Hollister FreeLance:

DMB informed San Benito County officials today the company has
officially withdrawn its proposal for the 6,800-unit El Rancho San Benito
development northwest of Hollister off Highway 25, a planning official confirmed
to the Free Lance. DMB representatives submitted the withdrawal letter to the
county today and attributed the decision to the ailing economy, said Art
Henriques, county planning director. “They indicated in the letter, clearly,
there’s a lot more going on in the world than just this project in San Benito
County,” Henriques said. “They have a significant company that is dealing with a
global economy.”

I’m sure economic conditions played a big role, but so could environmental opposition. While the project is in San Benito County, it is right across the county line from Santa Clara County and can have negative impacts on both counties. For example, below is a letter CGF wrote to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors:

May 4, 2009

Santa Clara County Board of

Re: The environmentally-destructive Rancho San
Benito Proposal bordering Santa Clara County

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors;

We wish to bring to
your attention, and hopefully your engagement as a priority, the issue of a
proposed massive development called Rancho San Benito that is immediately across
the county border in San Benito County. This proposal would construct
6,800 residences and funnel the traffic onto highways heading up into Silicon
Valley. The development would occur in the vicinity of the Pajaro River
floodplain, one of only two wildlife corridors connecting The Santa Cruz
Mountain Range with Mount Hamilton Range and the rest of California. The
development would convert agricultural land to other uses in area that is still
relatively close to massive Bay Area population but still undeniably viable for
farming and ranching on both sides of the county border.

Given the
above, the Committee for Green Foothills Board of Directors resolved on April
29, 2009:

1. that Committee for Green Foothills opposes the proposed Rancho San Benito in San Benito County, a massive development project adjacent to Santa Clara County; and
2. that Committee for Green Foothills urges Santa Clara County to oppose the Rancho San Benito project and to work to minimize the project’s environmental harm to Santa Clara County;

We understand that other environmental organizations in the Bay Area and in San
Benito County share our concerns, and we urge the Supervisors to make this issue
a priority.

Thank you for your time, and please contact us if you
have any questions.

I delivered that letter on Tuesday and gave a public statement, and was informed that the Supervisors considered it a sufficiently serious issue that scheduled a special hearing on it.

Also below is a letter we wrote but didn’t send yet to San Benito County (needs to be revised now, obviously):

San Benito County Board of Supervisors
Mr. Art Henriques, County Planning

Re: Opposition to the environmentally-destructive Rancho San Benito Proposal

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors and Mr. Henriques;

The Committee for Green Foothills’ mission is to protect open space and natural resources in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Protecting these counties necessarily overlaps with protecting similar environmental qualities with neighboring counties including San Benito County. While we do not regularly operate in San Benito County, we recognize that stopping sprawl, reducing traffic, protecting air quality, preserving farming and ranching, and keeping viable and healthy populations of fish and wildlife are issues that cross county borders.

For all these reasons, the Committee for Green Foothills’ Board of Directors decided in April to officially oppose the unnecessary and environmentally-destructive Rancho San Benito Proposal. This proposal to create a large new city in San Benito County without incorporating the new city will have significant traffic impacts, in effect “jumping the line” of every single commuter in San Benito County today that heads north for work. The proposal would impose a city, unnecessarily, in the vicinity of the Pajaro River corridor, a crucial environmental corridor of streams, natural habitats, and farmland that keep the California coastal mountain ranges connected to the Mount Hamilton Range and the rest of California. The proposal would harm the farming and ranching business in an area where that business is currently thriving, and recreate the same urban-agricultural interface that has created problems in the past.

These are only some of the potential environmental problems of the Rancho San Benito Proposal. Given the redevelopment possibilities elsewhere, there is no need to consider this project. And these impacts are not just limited to San Benito County – the same traffic impacts, Pajaro corridor impacts, and farming impacts will occur in Santa Clara County. For those reasons, we have already asked the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to oppose this project and to closely monitor and be involved with environmental planning for the project.

If the project proponents and the County decide they will continue planning this project, it will be essential that an extremely thorough environmental review accompany the project. The project will likely require many environmental mitigations to reduce its environmental impacts, if it is approved at all. It may very well additionally require significant downsizing from the current proposal of 6,800 residences. The best approach is simply not to start.

We anticipate that if this planning continues, we will continue to monitor it closely, as well as ensure that Santa Clara County does its share of due diligence over the issue.

We thank the Supervisors for their time, and please contact us if you have any questions.

Previously we wrote a comment letter to the Notice of Preparation for the environmental report. I attended a meeting in San Benito County and another in Monterey County about the project, and several in Gilroy that partially concerned it as well. While CGF was one of several groups showing their concern, I think the fact that environmental groups weren’t going to let this project skate by with minimal review was obvious, and played a role in the decision to pull it.

The future of the south Santa Clara County and San Benito County, or at least a hopeful future, is not Silicon Valley sprawl. It’s a Silicon Archipelago, of vibrant towns with housing and jobs, surrounded by a rural atmosphere that people love to reach, and not miles of suburbia. Rancho San Benito adds nothing to existing towns and cities, and instead detracts from them as well as threatening farmland and natural lands. This proposal stopped for the time being at least, and that’s a very good thing.


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