All remaining lawsuits against Betabel project and county dismissed
The two-year legal battle to stop the Betabel Commercial project concluded June 9 when attorneys for the three petitioners filed to dismiss the non-CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) claims against the project and the county over zoning issues.
The petitioners were the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the Center for Biological Diversity and Protect San Benito County. The non-CEQA claims were the only ones remaining after Superior Court Judge Patrick Palacios dismissed the CEQA claims May 24.
“The [non-CEQA] claims didn’t make much sense as the property has a Regional Commercial designation in the General Plan for this very kind of use,” said Betabel attorney Peter Prows, adding, “All claims are gone. There won’t be another suit.”
Prows said the dismissal will take effect immediately, adding that the petitioners can still appeal the dismissal of the CEQA claims.
“The project can proceed in the meantime,” he told BenitoLink on June 14. “I don’t expect those appeals to be successful as California Supreme Court authority squarely holds these claims are time-barred [past CEQA statute of limitations]. We’ll also be filing a motion to recover our attorney fees against the petitioners”
He said the lawsuits against the county and Board of Supervisors were also dismissed.
The county did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment on whether there will be a lawsuit to recover court and legal costs.
Rider and Victoria McDowell, owners of the Betabel property, have stated all along that their incentive to remain steadfast was that the project would eventually become a funding mechanism for the charity Cancer-A-Gogo to honor their teenage son who died from brain cancer.
Rider McDowell did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment.
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki is the only supervisor to take a position against the project. Kosmicki has been adamant that the project did not need to be rushed and suggested that a compromise between the developer and opponents would be a better approach. He questioned the concept of using cancer research “as the pitch to sell this project to this county, to soften the blow with regard to land-use concerns to sell this to the public. We’re setting a really dangerous precedent by allowing this to be considered.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and Protect San Benito County, formerly known as Preserve Our Rural Communities or PORC, filed the lawsuit against the county and the project on Dec. 9, 2022. The commercial project is located along Hwy 101 on the northern tip of the county.
In their lawsuit, both Protect San Benito and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band argued, “The project’s EIR [environmental impact report] fails to adequately identify, evaluate, and/or require mitigation for all significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts the project will cause.”
Andy Hsia-Coron, one of the founders of PORC and Protect San Benito, did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment on whether he intends to appeal the decision or come back with another lawsuit.
In March, the California Department of Justice filed a motion to intervene in the case but Judge Palacios denied it at the May 24 hearing. Deputy Attorney General Yuting Chi attended the May 24 hearing on Zoom but did not comment during the hearing. After the judge’s ruling, the attorney general’s office did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment on why it got involved or whether it will take any future action.
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