Why Vote NO on N?

Critical Flaws in Measure N (Strada Verde)

 

Summary: A developer from Southern California is forcing all San Benito County citizens to vote on their proposal for a gigantic warehouse project that will feed truck traffic at all hours on Hwys 25 and 101. This 2,777 acre project will create a traffic nightmare. It's also the first step towards building a new city south of Gilroy.

 

There are many problems with the poorly-written, developer-favoring Measure N. We will discuss some of the key issues below.

 

Topics:

  • No on Measure N - Let Us Count The Ways to Say No

  • Start of a New City That Blocks the Rest of San Benito County

  • Places Thousands of People Next to a Dangerous Chemical Storage Facility

  • This Truck-Traffic-Clogging Warehouse Project Will Create a Traffic Nightmare

  • Destroys Farmland and Habitat, and Its Claims for Open Space Protections Are Full of Loopholes

  • Harms the Entire Region

  • Environmental Review Gutted by Measure N

  • A Vote of the People Should Be a Safeguard, Not a Loophole

 

No on Measure N - Let Us Count The Ways to Say No

 

There are some proposals that have so much wrong with them that the only unifying theme responding to the problems is simply, “No”. Welcome to Measure N, the Strada Verde proposal in San Benito County to redesignate over 2700 acres of undeveloped open space on the border of Santa Clara County to a variety of mostly-developed uses. The developers claim it is a high-tech jobs proposal for autonomous vehicle testing and development, while a careful reading shows it primarily creates massive warehouses and associated traffic, and can be the start of a new city blocking San Benito residents from the Bay Area.

 

Start of a New City That Blocks the Rest of San Benito County

 

San Benito residents have been quite clear that they do not want a new city at the north end of the County blocking Hollister, San Juan Batista, and everyone else from driving north. Two previous attempts to build massive subdivisions in the area of Strada Verde have already been stopped. Now, developers of the same properties claim they are only proposing development for jobs. However, taking this first step of converting the land away from agriculture and ranching makes it much easier to push for subdivisions next, especially on nearby properties. And even Measure N allows a “Business Center” and other areas with restaurants, retail and grocery stores, and other facilities that serve more as a city center than a business support.

 

Adjacent property can be redesignated for housing at any time, or Strada Verde itself under the terms of Measure N could be redesignated by the County in 20 years. People opposing a sprawling new city in San Benito should oppose Measure N.

 

This Truck-Traffic-Clogging Warehouse Project Will Create a Traffic Nightmare

 

Measure N primarily builds warehouses, renamed as “e-commerce center for distribution and logistics”, in other words, like Amazon’s warehouses. The building footage for these warehouses is 5.8 million square feet, while the footage for the alleged high-tech and automotive facilities is 750,000 square feet. Strada Verde is a warehouse project dressed up with a high-tech facade, and warehouses mean truck traffic.

 

Strada Verde claims its main traffic will be on Highway 101 with secondary access on Highway 25, but the County’s own consultant pointed out that the main, currently-small road accessing the land will need additional work and Strada Verde does not own all the land that might be involved. There is also no restriction stopping the congested Highway 25 from being the main access, given that they are choosing to construct that access. While the access will be constructed as a right-turn only, trucks leaving Strada Verde can turn right onto Highway 25 and then do a U-turn at the next opportunity, and trucks wanting to access Strada Verde from 25 can drive past it, do a U-turn and then turn right to enter. This would be much faster than detouring all the way to Highway 101, so Measure N is likely to snarl up 25 as well as 101.

 

If this project had followed the normal process, a traffic analysis would have been done  by the County. The developers circumvented that process by labelling it a “voter initiative” instead.

 

Places Thousands of People Next to a Dangerous Chemical Storage Facility

 

In the current and deadly fire season, we need to be even more aware of physical danger, and Strada Verde literally and almost unbelievably creates the risk of bringing a cloud of deadly poison on top of a crowded area. The risk already exists in the form of an agricultural chemical storage facility called Trical, immediately adjacent to the proposed development, where thousands of pounds of dangerous chemicals are stored. What is potentially new is the idea of locating thousands of people on the neighboring property of Strada Verde. 

 

There are strong reasons to doubt the thousands of jobs promised by developers, but taking them at their word puts thousands of people in danger. San Benito County staff and supervisors, who unfortunately support the project, were forced by their policies to hire a consultant to analyze the risk from Trical, and their consultant found a deadly cloud based on explosion or simply a large leak could extend for miles. Unhappy with this result, they hired another consultant who also found a deadly cloud “only” two miles long could result from Trical, while also mentioning the chemical concentration in the atmosphere could end up being twice the amount that they analyzed.

 

The County’s existing General Plan requires a buffer between the dangerous chemical plant and land uses like Strada Verde. For political reasons, Measure N tries to hide the ball - instead of expressly overriding the buffer policy, it simply says putting Strada Verde next to Trical is “in the public interest”. Even the County’s own attorneys said the initiative as it is designed “is to avoid having to deal with the buffer zone for Trical...I’m being very blunt”. All this raises the question whether the County and taxpayers will be liable if Strada Verde is constructed and a horrible accident happens.

 

Destroys Farmland and Habitat, and Its Claims for Open Space Protections Are Full of Loopholes

 

Minimizing potential loss of life by having open space adjacent to a dangerous facility makes sense, but Measure N takes the opposite approach and destroys significant open space farmland and ranchland. Over half of the 2700 acres of farmland and ranchland would be converted to developed uses. The proposal supposedly protects a remnant 562 acres of farmland from development - for the 20 years that Measure N can only be modified with voter approval. Afterwards, a simple vote of the Supervisors could eliminate the farmland, and putting those farms next to inconvenient development makes that Supervisor decision more likely.

 

Strada Verde supposedly treats a strip of land along the Pajaro River differently as “permanently” protected park, except that the permanence is illusory. The first of the two phases of the development can be constructed and operated without the park, so the developer can get to that point without providing a park, and then never get further along. Also, dedication of parkland is listed only as a possibility and not required - that means they could choose to not dedicate any ownership rights to the County, and then after 20 years when Measure N expires, give the County Supervisors some excuse or incentive for deciding the "permanent" protection component needs to be removed or amended in the Specific Plan. This supposed environmental protection is not at all guaranteed.

 

Harms the Entire Region

 

Among the many other problems with this sprawl proposal, located along the Pajaro River, is that it threatens one of the two wildlife linkages connecting the Mount Hamilton Range to the Santa Cruz Mountains. The other major linkage is Coyote Valley, and we cannot afford to lose either support for local wildlife. Strada Verde qualifies as a project that is bad both for San Benito County and neighboring counties.

 

Environmental Review Gutted by Measure N

 

Many of these problems could have been exposed and corrected through environmental review, but as a “voter initiative” (one entirely created and paid for by the developers, including the use of paid signature gatherers), it is not subject to environmental review required of development that goes through the normal planning process everyone else follows. The developers and the County staff argue some environmental review will occur afterwards for a subdivision map for the property, but if Measure N passes, the decision to modify the General Plan and enact a Specific Plan for Strada Verde will not undergo review, period. The primary purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act is to "look before you leap" and that purpose will be defeated as to these changes to the General Plan, which can be regarded as the Constitution of the county.

 

County staff are claiming they have started and will do an Environmental Impact Report for a subdivision map that Measure N says is "required" for the project, but this involves far less scrutiny. The General Plan is changed by Measure N and that change will not be examined. Contrary to the staff statements, Strada Verde could be built, operated, and even sold without a subdivision, so whatever CEQA review is done for a subdivision could be ignored as long as the owner doesn't subdivide the property. The subdivision map will be required to comply with Measure N's Specific Plan, so any significant reduction in development would almost certainly be found infeasible and discarded. 

 

County staff like to refer to a subdivision being necessary "as a practical matter, but as a practical matter this after-the-fact, environmental review seems likely to only point out environmental impacts from the project without proposing conflicting mitigations, and it will basically just offer an up-or-down decision on the subdivision where the Supervisors are highly unlikely to vote against Measure N. There maybe some new mitigations that don't conflict with Measure N, but most of the flexibility to protect the environment will be lost.

 

A Vote of the People Should Be a Safeguard, Not a Loophole

 

Rebuilding a bridge across a creek for a small road requires environmental review, but Measure N evades this requirement, making one process for average person and another for millionaire developers. One of the most important things to remember is that a vote of the people works properly as a final safeguard for environmental protection, but Strada Verde is abusing the initiative process to turn a vote into a loophole that evades the public control and oversight that happens in the normal planning process. Requiring a vote of the people prior to a massive sprawl project after it has undergone the full planning process is good - it's one more safeguard against the system breaking down. Measure N is the opposite. We recommend voting NO on N.

Strada Verde drone 2.jpg
View of Strada Verde
(Pajaro River on left)

Help Stop Strada Verde!