SOLEDAD — Soledad City Council heard an update on the Pinnacles Parkway project during its Oct. 7 meeting.
The project would create a new road to connect the city’s southern and eastern portions, but it would need to cross existing farmland to do so. One of those properties is on San Antonio Winery land, and owner Steve Riboli was present to give his thoughts.
Ron Sissem, principal with EMC Planning Group, opened the update by reviewing the informal question-and-answer session held earlier this year, in which community members and stakeholders were invited to give ideas, namely what route to use to connect the two divergent parts of the city and how to deal with the logistics of crossing over the railroad in the area.
“We had a pretty good turnout, better than what I’d expected,” Sissem said about that early meeting. “We had about 25 people there, probably more. I think by and large, across the board, everyone who participated supported the project, they agreed with the concept.”
Sissem credited community input with helping to narrow the many ideas for a route down to three potential pitches.
“I think probably the main point that came across besides the amount of support, people expressed the desire that the connection and this alignment be as close to the city on Metz Road as possible,” Sissem said.
The other consideration for the parkway was the city’s future expansion. The city and county have an agreement that Soledad can only expand future neighborhoods on the west side of the parkway, with expansion ruled out on the east side. The closer to town, the closer to existing neighborhoods, but the less possibility exists for adding neighborhoods to Soledad.
Sissem said community input as well as responses from landowners were used to refine plans.
“We had several communications with Riboli Farms and Steve Riboli and his representatives since the beginning of the year,” Sissem said. “Steve’s group is important because they would be the main affected landowner in terms of the alignment of a roadway in this area. They are concerned about the hardship the roadway would place on their ability to continue farming.”
Sissem noted the substantial recent investments Riboli has made into the vineyards, which is a concern to have the city look into annexing a chunk of the property and leave the remaining portions difficult to access.
“There was some concern about any of these alignments cutting off their current access to the property located south of the railroad tracks,” Sissem said. “That’s something that’s hopefully a technical issue we could resolve over time, but that is certainly a valid concern.”
Riboli contended that the difficulty would be too extreme, and that a better solution would be for the city to annex the entirety of the Riboli Ranch property.
“That would require a major modification to the city and county MOA for future growth and agricultural land conservation,” Sissem said.
Discussions with entities, such as the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, led to the conclusion that a full annexation would not be feasible.
“There’s a lot of land there, and it’s far more than the city could justify or LAFCO could justify or the county, in terms of their role, as being needed by the city to meet its forecast growth needs for the long term,” Sissem said.
Interim City Manager Brent Slama weighed in by saying the solution would take an honest discussion over what the city’s needs and wants are.
Riboli contended he had not been contacted earlier, and only found out about a January informational meeting on the parkway eight months after the fact. He said that happened pre-Covid, but even with pandemic complications, he is open to discussion.
“We have not been able to sit and meet in person with LAFCO, but we have every intention to do that because growth boundaries should be looked at carefully,” Riboli said.
He shared information about the farm owned for decades by his family, with the land featuring a unique microclimate ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
“The three proposed routes will destroy the value of this vineyard operation,” Riboli said. “Not just the road and the bridge, which is enormous. … It is a tall bridge because it has to cover not only the railroad but 16 to 18 feet above the rail lines. … The severance damages are going to be extreme and the planned bridge over the railroad tracks will cut off all access to the 30-acre portion of the vineyard that is south of the railroad.”
Riboli noted his discussions with engineers concluded there would be no way to effectively use the land in its divided state.
“It’s not a small taking, it is a severe damage,” he said.
Riboli reiterated his call for discussion, and his company’s desire to be part of the process.
“We propose working together as partners since we have been partners now with the city for 30 years, to move to the easterly route and annex the entire 160 acres.” He added, “I propose that we urge the council tonight to address these very real and legitimate concerns of ours and consider an alternative route.”
After the presentation, Mayor Fred Ledesma said city staff will be in touch with Riboli to continue the process.