San Juan Bautista Silicon Valley GP likely a non-starter

With Laguna Seca just a stone's throw away from this planned circuit, and with zero infrastructure in place to support it, this proposal has a near-zero chance of going anywhere. The developer would be better off spending his money to improve Laguna Seca to bring it up to F1 standards
With Laguna Seca just a stone's throw away from this planned circuit, and with zero infrastructure in place to support it, this proposal has a near-zero chance of going anywhere. The developer would be better off spending his money to improve Laguna Seca to bring it up to F1 standards

The San Juan Bautista Planning Commission held a public meeting Aug. 1 to discuss a proposed project that includes a 550-acre Formula One raceway, along with a luxury hotel and condominiums on the Nyland Ranch adjacent to Highway 156, south of the city.

There is already a movement, though, against the development that seems to be spearheaded by San Juan resident Emily Renzel, who is urging the Planning Commission to reject the proposal. In her lengthy letter, Renzel talks about how it would negatively impact groundwater, sewage, traffic and parking, bring noise and fumes from high-octane fuel, and even change the scenic view coming into the city, as well as impact wildlife and wetlands.

She encouraged the San Juan Bautista Historic Resources Board and Planning Commission that would be reviewing the proposal Aug. 1 at San Juan's City Hall to reject it, and asked people to send comments to the Planning Commission by July 24 and to attend the meeting.

“The proposal suggests an attendance of 200,000 people at each Formula One race, plus many other public activities attracting large crowds," she wrote. “Currently, they propose ‘access from 156 on Rocks Road and Lasuen Drive,’ which will be 'improved as needed.’"

San Juan Bautista Mayor Chris Martorana said the issue was one of logistics. A self-described “car guy," who likes nothing better than to be hanging around the race tracks at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca or Thunder Hill Raceway Park, he laughed at the thought of a proposed multi-million project set in the nearby hills. The sheer logistics would be too ambitious for an area that has no infrastructure whatsoever, he noted. He also said it would be hard to imagine that the developers would not be looking to the city to provide services.

“Our entire city General Fund budget is $1.6 million," he said. “As a salesman, I sell more stuff in two months than our annual budget. So, if you’re going to bring in 250,000 people for an event, the city couldn’t handle even a fraction of that traffic."

Taking into consideration there are only two lanes coming in and out from Highway 101, Martorana said it would bring a staggering amount of traffic in an area that is normally backed up to San Juan Bautista every weekend.

Then there’s the water.

“Generally speaking, we don’t have trouble with the quantity of water from the municipal water supply, but our quality is very bad," he said. “How many gallons of water would you need per person for flushing toilets, washing hands, preparing food, cleaning, drinking? That’s a couple million gallons per day, plus maybe one million gallons or more for fire protection. They’d probably need to build their own fire station."

Martorana said sewage would be a huge issue because there isn’t enough flat land in the area to build a treatment facility, and septic systems are out of the question for a quarter million people. He speculated that Hollister’s waste treatment facility might be able to handle the load, but that would mean a pipeline would have to be built across three jurisdictions. Not an easy task considering the three can’t come up with a solution to fix county roads.

The mayor also wondered just how serious the developer, WY2M Inc., could be taken.

“They don’t have a website, the business address is an apartment in Los Gatos, and the two phone numbers are cell phones," he said. “There isn’t a business phone number. If you’re talking about a $100-million project (the developer estimates it at $300 million) and they don’t have a business phone, there isn’t a lot of credibility."

Martorana also had problems with WY2M’s business presentation.

“If you review the presentation, the statistics have no bearing on what they’re proposing here," he said. “It’s just a bunch of pretty numbers. They acknowledge that they’re real estate developers. Real estate developers typically come in, woo everybody, create a project, but have no intention of ever building anything. Once they get the approval, the property value shoots up and they turn it."

As someone who has been a professional racer most of his adult life, Jim West, vice mayor of San Juan Bautista, said he couldn’t be any more excited at the prospect of a Formula One facility being located in the county.

“I love motor racing," he said unabashedly. “But as a city councilman, I have to look at what the economic benefits are against the tradeoffs. It could be a tremendous economic engine because those things operate not just on major race days, but for tire testing and other things. I would look at anything that would potentially help the financial status of the county or city. That doesn’t mean I would support it, but I would certainly want to look at it."

He recognized that there is already pressure to reject the project, or at least set as many roadblocks in its path as possible.

“Delay will kill a project," he said. “If you delay it long enough, people will go somewhere else. I am excited about it, personally. I think it has big potential for economic benefit, but I know there’s going to be a tremendous amount of opposition. I hope we give it a fair hearing. I’m emotionally in favor of it."

Matt Orbach, San Juan Bautista's community development director, said the council has not yet reviewed the project, stating that the developers appear to be testing the waters with the Planning Commission.

“This is in the infancy stage of the process and not even to the point where city staff has reviewed it," he said. “There were five letters in my in-box this morning (July 25), and I forwarded them to the city clerk so she can file them as public comments for the Aug. 1 Planning Commission meeting."

Before the project landed on the San Juan Bautista’s Planning Commission’s desk, the San Benito County Interagency Review Committee had considered it on June 15, and provided the applicant, William F. Yao, president of WY2M Inc., with feedback on several potential areas of concern before sending him off to San Juan Bautista.

The review concurred with Martorana’s thoughts that there would be a number of issues, including: noise, availability of water and sewer, and traffic. The committee told Yao that the issues would have to be analyzed as part of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which would most likely be the next step if the project were to move forward.

In its letter to Yao, San Benito County Planning and Building Inspection Services informed Yao that his proposal would be “re-defining for the region, but many of the infrastructure and support utilities and facilities would need consent and corroboration from the City of San Juan Bautista, as well as the county."

The letter further stated: “It appears to us that potentially new or expanded water services and sewage treatments would be necessary and that such expansions and development would need the consent of the city, special district service providers and most likely the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO). The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the San Benito Council of Governments (COG) should also be directly consulted by you on the degree of regional infrastructure impacts."

According to WY2M’s pre-application to the county and San Juan Bautista, it proposes to build a 550-acre motor and technology center of excellence that would be comprised of five components:

  • Vehicle technologies testing facilities
  • Re-configurable race track that can accommodate Formula 1 Grand Prix, GP Moto racing, and vehicle test drive
  • Luxury condominiums
  • Luxury hotel and convention center
  • Hospitality facilities

Additionally, the proposal states that a component of the project is designed to support community and family/children in need. Through the establishment of a community charity, a percentage of profit each year will be designated to the charity fund account, which will provide opportunities for children and young adults to apply and receive funds to support travel throughout the world to focus on aiding and educating other children.

Yao and Stacy McAfee, vice president of WY2M, told BenitoLink that the Formula One industry is interested in coming to California, and San Benito County is probably the best area because of available real estate and its proximity to Silicon Valley, which is important because the company is emphasizing technology and vehicle testing as part of the project.

“We also know from looking at the general plan of San Benito County they’re looking at increasing tourism and economic value to the area," McAfee said. “So, it could be a win for the county, as well."

Yao said his organization has looked throughout the state to find the most suitable location for the project from not only an investment perspective, but one of value to the local area.

“The project does not intend to just put money in peoples’ pockets, there is also an intent to help the community," he said. “We looked at general planning in multiple counties in the area and one of the most welcoming comments that we read was coming from San Juan Bautista."

McAfee said the company realizes one of the biggest obstacles in proposing such a project in California is resistance from environmental organizations. She said resistance is expected and they are prepared to deal with it.

“We know there are environmentalists. We know we’re looking at ag land," she said. “There’s that whole rezoning and permit change, so to investors who are interested in this it’s not necessarily the cost of the project it’s are we going to be able to overcome the barriers in California to bring it in? Those investors who we’ve spoken with the context of the project is very appealing. It’s just whether we can find the land to allow it, so it’s not a barrier as far as building a water treatment plant. That’s not been the issue. It’s just finding the land that is willing to allow it."

McAfee said when the company did its analysis of the Nyland land with an engineering firm, it took into consideration the possibility of having to build a new sewer or water treatment facilities. She said that was the reason they were looking for a large tract of land in order to build supporting infrastructure.

“If we build a water plant, the city can benefit from it," Yao said. “We’re not going to use as much water every day, so that can be something the city can connect to."

McAfee added that they have been working with a Realtor and have signed an agreement that will allow the company to utilize the land to do its studies and to bring it forward with their proposal. The project will be built in stages, with the racetrack and supporting infrastructure being part of the first phase. Initially, they think there may be a need for off-site parking with shuttles bringing race fans to the site.

“We will eventually have enough space for parking on the property, but we’re looking at transport options, extensions of right of ways," Yao said.

McAfee commented that the company is looking at building at least one luxury hotel onsite, but expects as word spreads about the project other hotels and businesses will start looking at the county for opportunities.

“That’s where the economic advantage would be to San Benito County to bring in that tourism, hotel and restaurant business," she said. “In the initial phases, people will be flying into San Jose and San Francisco and staying in those areas as San Benito continues to expand. That’s where the need for off-site shuttles will come in. We know there will be impacts on the 101 and that’s going to take time to work with Caltrans."

Yao added that the economic impact for the county would be significant.

“We have to look at the economic impact of San Juan Bautista being exposed at the international level," he said. “Close to two billion people watch Formula One racing every year. We also want to make sure we bring jobs here. This will empower San Juan Bautista as property values skyrocket and businesses come in."

McAfee said that if they receive city and county approval, their engineering firm would begin designing the master plan, and analyze the land for the track development.

“That would happen immediately, and it would be developed within six months," she said. “From there, the project really is moving forward. It could happen in three to five years, realistically." John Chadwell/BenitoLink

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