While environmental issues mostly did well at the ballot box in November, there was one big disappointment in San Benito County with the failure of Measure Q, meant to protect agriculture and ranchlands across that county. Regardless, Green Foothills is proud to support local environmentalists and will help with some important next steps there in 2023.
Measure Q Would Have Protected Key Cultural and Rural Landscapes
In November 2020, with Green Foothills’ help, San Benito County voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure N, also known as the “Strada Verde” project, a warehouse proposal disguised as high-tech jobs. The proposal would have developed 1,100 acres and formed the core of an eventual new city sprawling between Gilroy and Hollister. Strada Verde developers are now trying to get San Benito’s planners and Supervisors to ignore the 2020 vote and approve the warehouse development at the County Board level.
Measure Q would have stopped this attempt to overturn what the voters decided and given them a say in protecting the vast majority of the County, focusing growth instead in already-developed, better-planned areas. It also would have helped protect the Juristac area, the most sacred site for the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band as Juristac extends into the San Benito County Pajaro River area.
County’s Deceptive Mailings at Public Expense a Violation of California Law
It is not always easy to unravel the reasons for ballot box defeats. Two victories in 2020 on referendums against sprawl gave reason for optimism, as did other, past successful referendums. One potential lesson could be that it may be easier to defeat individual bad projects, but with a comprehensive measure, some voters may have interpreted it as “going too far.”
The other significant problem is the County – not wanting to be controlled by its voters – sent a campaign mailing at public taxpayer expense that selectively emphasized what they believed to be the negative implications of Measure Q. While the County purported the mailing to be neutral and educational, it was clearly biased and in violation of California law. In response, we have filed a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint over the issue, in hopes of preventing it from recurring.
Continuing the Fight to Protect the Environment
Green Foothills has had some great environmental victories at the ballot box throughout its history but we have occasionally lost some there as well. History has shown us that despite those defeats, the public cares about the natural environment and we must persevere in its protection. The recent protection of Coyote Valley and thousands of acres of open space preserved elsewhere is solid proof of this.
The same can happen in San Benito County. Going forward, our next priority is to ensure that the County Supervisors honor a commitment they made to prevent sprawl by changing the County’s General Plan to remove four large areas of farmland and ranchland in northern San Benito from consideration for development. We can also support a strong Habitat Conservation Plan – like the one we advocated for in Santa Clara County – that is under consideration for endangered species. And, of course, we will continue to fight bad proposals as they occur, including defeating the Strada Verde proposal yet again – we beat their Measure N voter initiative in 2020. However, they are now trying again with a different process, and so we will just have to beat that one as well.
There is still plenty of reason for optimism that San Benito can protect its environment and retain its rural character.