On the Nov. 8 ballot in neighboring San Benito County is Measure Q. If approved by a majority of voters, it would amend the county’s General Plan to require voter approval every time an agricultural, rangeland or rural property owner wants to rezone their land—for example, for residential, commercial, industrial or landfill designations.
It would also remove existing commercial node designations on certain properties along Highway 101 from the county’s General Plan.
Though Measure Q doesn’t affect land use in neighboring counties, it certainly has regional implications in neighboring counties like Santa Clara County: both for those who seek to preserve open space and those who want to see more commercial and residential development. Organized efforts on both sides are funded in large part by organizations, companies and people based outside San Benito County, according to state-mandated campaign disclosure forms.
Representatives of both the “Yes on Q” and “No on Q” committees say the contributions from non-local funders are justified, as they represent interests that impact San Benito County residents.
The “Yes on Q” committee faced accusations that it hasn’t fully disclosed all the sources of its contributions, but its treasurer revealed that a portion of the funds came from the settlement of a lawsuit related to the Betabel project proposed on Highway 101.
The committee known as “Campaign to Protect San Benito—Yes on Q,” as of Sept. 28, has collected a total of $30,558 in contributions from more than 20 listed funders, most of them giving small amounts from within the county. This information is detailed in the campaign’s Form 460, which is posted publicly on the county elections website.
The next deadline to file a Form 460 is Oct. 27. The Yes on Q committee shared its latest Form 460 with this newspaper before the deadline, showing total contributions have jumped to about $86,000 since Sept. 28.
Two of the Campaign to Protect San Benito’s largest contributors are environmental nonprofits based in other counties. Save Mount Diablo, based in Walnut Creek, contributed $10,000 to the effort to pass Measure Q earlier this month. And the nonprofit Environment in the Public Interest, based in San Luis Obispo, is listed on an Oct. 6 disclosure form as a “fiscal sponsor of Protect San Benito” to the tune of $31,480.
Yes on Q treasurer Mary Hsia-Coron said it makes sense that environmental groups would support a ballot measure that aims to prevent development on the county’s farmland and rural properties. She noted that Save Mount Diablo’s mission includes the preservation of the Diablo Range, which extends through San Benito County.
“A distinguishing characteristic between our donors and [Measure Q’s opponents’] is, theirs have a profit to make” from a rejection of Measure Q, she said. “Ours are not making any profit.”
Opponents of Measure Q filed a number of complaints with the California Fair Political Practices Commission over Yes on Q funding. An Oct. 4 complaint states, “The Yes on Q committee (Campaign to Protect San Benito) is apparently laundering contributions through nonprofits, and those nonprofits are not registering as Multipurpose Organizations.”
Hisa-Coron said two payments totaling $19,000 were from the Campaign to Protect San Benito’s late treasurer, Thomas Karis. She added that the campaign has also gained “a good portion” of its funding from a settlement award from a lawsuit against the county and developer Rider McDowell, who is building the Betabel project. Hsia-Coron said attorneys just recently cleared them to publicly discuss at least the initial settlement amount of about $54,000.
The committee formed to oppose Measure Q, as of Sept. 28, has raised nearly three times as much as the measure’s supporters. The most recent Form 460 shows $215,495 from dozens of contributors.
That includes more than $45,000 from different LLCs associated with the developer of the 2,777-acre Strada Verde commercial and tech project proposed near Highways 101 and 25, according to the disclosure forms. The funds were contributed by John Patterson of Newport Pacific Land Co., which is based in Newport Beach.
Other big contributions to the No on Q campaign include $10,000 from the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104; $3,000 from the California Association of Realtors; $20,000 from Watsonville-based Graniterock; $30,000 from the California Alliance for Jobs, Rebuild California Committee; and $10,000 each from the Operating Engineers Local no. 3 and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council Issues PAC, according to the forms on file with the county.
The associated committee Neighbors to Preserve San Benito, which has also received major funding from Newport Pacific Company, was organized earlier this year to oppose Measure Q. The group filed the FPPC complaint against Yes on Q regarding the source of their funding. It has also filed a complaint that some of the Yes on Q committee’s campaign signs do not meet FPPC guidelines for printed disclosures.
FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said the complaints are in “intake review” to determine if there is enough information or evidence to begin an investigation. As of Oct. 25, the FPPC had not determined if the complaints warrant an investigation.