Vehicle testing center proposed near Gilroy

Proponents begin gathering signatures for development

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EARLY LOOK A conceptual plan for the Strada Verde Innovation Park shows the scope of the project. Submitted drawing

Proponents of a major development just outside Gilroy that would add an autonomous vehicle testing center, park and other facilities are hoping San Benito County voters will give the project its first step toward reality in November.

The Strada Verde Innovation Park Voter Initiative was filed with the San Benito County Registrar of Voters in late May, and new guidelines from the county will allow proponents to begin gathering signatures. In San Benito County, 2,060 valid signatures from registered voters are required to qualify the initiative on the November ballot.

The 2,777-acre project, which would be accessed from the Betabel Road interchange on Highway 101, is located between highways 25 and 101, bordered by the Pajaro River to the northwest. It is near the Santa Clara County border line, roughly seven miles south of Gilroy.

Early proposals call for automotive testing facilities, including a three-mile straightaway and high-speed tracks, which are in “high demand by automakers and emerging technology companies,” the proposal by Newport Beach-based developer Newport Pacific Land Company states.

An e-commerce center including up to 5.8 million square feet is also envisioned.

The project proposes 562 acres for agriculture, as well as a 209-acre park adjacent to a three-mile stretch of the Pajaro River, where a multi-use trail and wildlife observation areas for the public would be built.

According to the proposal, the area currently consists of organic farms on 600-800 acres, while the majority is fallow agricultural land that has “not supported profitable agriculture in the last 40 years.”

Proponents estimate the project would bring more than 18,000 construction jobs, and once fully built out over a number of years, would provide 5,500 permanent jobs.

“Simply put, we have never seen a job creator of this magnitude,” said Steve and Donna Haynes, who own a small business in Hollister and are official proponents of the initiative. “This initiative provides a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity for San Benito County, bringing our region the high-paying jobs we desperately need.”

Scott Fuller, a spokesperson for the project, said the initiative, should it qualify for the ballot and pass in November, would establish a Specific Plan for the property, as well as General Plan and zoning designations. The project would still have to complete an environmental impact report as well as other county and resource agency approvals and permits through the public hearing process.

“As to why Strada Verde is going the initiative route, we think giving the voters of San Benito County a chance to have their say on a project that promises to be an economic game-changer for the community, while preserving on-site agriculture and dramatically expanding park resources, just makes sense,” he said.

In February, citizens group Preserve Our Rural Communities filed paperwork to begin collecting signatures for an initiative that would put San Benito County voters in charge of agricultural land rezoning for 29 years.

Fuller said Strada Verde’s initiative is consistent with Preserve Our Rural Communities’ proposal.

“The Strada Verde initiative is not a counter to PORC’s initiative, and actually complies with the provisions in PORC’s initiative that requires a vote of the people for this type of project,” he said.

In guidelines released by the county June 4, signature-gatherers must maintain a distance of six feet of each other, and are recommended to wear cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Gatherers must disinfect the tables between each signer, and petition signers must use their own pens to sign the petition or use disposable pens provided by the circulator, among other requirements.

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