Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Placing a Price on the Intangible

I recently received survey in the mail from the El Rancho San Benito construction people (DMB Associates), asking where I stand on various issues related to their new project. They would like to build a self-contained community between Hollister and Gilroy that would be a bit larger in area than the city of Hollister proper (that part of Hollister contained within the city limits). The survey's "issues" are such that it's pretty hard to find opposition to them, unless you are either cruel and heartless or that you might actually oppose the project in general, which the survey never addresses. Let's go over the issues in their survey and see how we feel about them.

1. El Rancho is building 6800 homes over 10 years, including 1,360 homes at below-market rate for qualifying incomes. OK, so which part do I vote on? the low income housing or the Hollister sized town? Kind of muddled, but what comes next is better.

2. Long term funding for to aid other housing needs in the county, including Habitat for Humanity, the homeless, farm worker housing, a house for battered women and their children. I mean, why don't they add funding to save cute puppies from being eaten by canibals while their at it? How can you oppose funding for a battered women's shelter? How do you check the "opposed" box without feeling like a degenerate monster?

3. Next is highway and road improvements. They point out that the community will be self-contained and self-managed as far as roadwork goes, except where they hook into the local highways and connections to 101. They say they intend to add a few extra improvements. They point out that "such improvements can(my emphasis) include widening of highway 25", our favorite transportation complaint. I suppose it could include a bridge between Hollister and Hawaii, but I'm not holding my breath. It might be a bit different if their survey said "such improvements will include widening of highway 25", which would be a bit more definite, but on the other hand, widening of highway 25 wouldn't be all that necessary if Hollister 2.0 weren't being added to the landscape in the first place.

4. The next issue is the addition of public facilities, added to keep Hollister 2.0 self-contained. Good idea and difficult to oppose, unless of course the whole idea of Hollister 2.0 is objectionable in the first place.

5. The addition of 1,800 construction jobs (but will they only hire San Benito people? Of course not) and 8,000 long term jobs (I wonder if those long term jobs come with the services and stores within the self-contained Hollister 2.0? In other words, after you create your new town of 28,000 or so, wouldn't it be expected that some of the people might actually work in the town you created? Is this a real point?

"It is projected," they say, "that the the build out project will add $3 billion of local economic activity to San Benito county over 10 years." That sort of works out if they're going to be selling the houses they build instead of just giving them away. Per house, their $3 billion figure equates to $440,000 per house in Hollister 2.0. Should we be inspired that they really intend to sell their houses? On the other hand, am I supposed to stick to my guns and "oppose" economic activity? Again, is this really a point?

6. They are also adding "San Benito Gateway Improvements", which include trails, greenbelts, and historical exhibits that celebrate the county's agricultural heritage -- a heritage which will be more and more historical as the county converts its farmlands and ranches into sub-divisions. Generally, greenbelts are one of those things you don't generally need in the current rural landscape set aside for Hollister 2.0. It seems to me to be a bit redundant to add a greenbelt between the various ranches and farms. It's kind of quaint that the developer intends to preserve a bit of the landscape that they are simultaneously gobbling up into housing.

7. Lastly, they have a long-term legacy fund. This is one of those things which is again hard to oppose. Why? Because they intend to set aside $80 million over 25 years to provide financial assistance to county residents in need of affordable housing and ironically enough, "to purchase and preserve important agricultural lands in San Benito county." Do I oppose helping the poor acquire housing? Of course not! Do I oppose preserving agricultural lands? Of course not! Do I oppose covering 8 square miles of the county in houses? Yeah, I sort of do.

Enough on the Survey

It's obvious the survey is just an advertisement to convince San Benito County residents not to oppose the El Rancho development when it comes before the San Benito County Board, or what have you. The real question of my blog is this: Is it possible to put a value on the intangible things we now have in lieu of Hollister 2.0? How do you place a value on open spaces, or fresh air? Is there a value in having farms and ranches, as opposed to sub-divisions, around Hollister? Is the peace and quiet of an easy commute worth anything? Is having a small, distinct town worth more than being part of a greater sub-urban sprawl? These are things I think the residents of Hollister should consider carefully before accepting the addition of Hollister 2.0. If for no other reason than the path of development is a path down which there is no return.


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