Riled by Gavilan, Hollister council broaches other college partners

Discussion over potentially developing the Leatherback site, seen here in this file photo when there was construction activity on the site, became a major topic in Gavilan politics in the early part of the decade.

Hollister council members Monday expressed disappointment at the continued tone from Gavilan College leaders who are reluctant to build an educational center downtown, and broached the possibility of approaching California State, Monterey Bay or another institution about opening a site here.
Council members Monday held a discussion on the Gavilan College Board of Trustees and its open resistance toward the idea to build an educational center on the former Leatherback Industries site off McCray Street near downtown Hollister. Gavilan trustees at their meeting earlier this month made it clear they wouldn’t support a downtown site, widely supported by Hollister-area leaders, but stopped short of making an official decision.
The City of Hollister has owned the Leatherback property since its former redevelopment agency bought it following Leatherback’s 2007 closure.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez told council members he would like to bring back the item to examine alternative uses for the property. Councilman Ray Friend agreed. He said the way he understood Gavilan leadership’s position, its officials have “no interest.”
“Then I suppose we should be opening it up to other suggestions,” Friend said.
He mentioned possibilities like using it for an educational center, a future library or commercial.
Councilman Karson Klauer said he would like to see the property used for education if possible.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Klauer said.
City Manager Bill Avera followed up by mentioning the possibility of approaching an institution like CSUMB for a satellite campus.
Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked if a survey had been done to find out how many local students were attending places like Hartnell or Cabrillo community colleges, to find out whether they have interest in a location here. She said it’s clear Gavilan College is “not interested in us.”
“I believe that even San Jose State University might be interested,” she said.
Velazquez in closing the talk talked of prospective uses like business, government, recreation, education and a partnership with the YMCA.
He said all options are back on the table, and there was mention of taking it up in a special meeting down the road.
During a February Gavilan College ad hoc meeting—the first of its kind in three years—trustees discussed three possible education centers in San Benito County before an audience of 25 community members that included Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Gavilan College President Steve Kinsella.
The former city redevelopment agency had purchased the Leatherback property and demolished the building before the state abolished the agencies, City Manager Bill Avera told trustees. Last August, city council members OK’d a deal with TTI Developers for exclusive negotiations over possible acquisition of the Leatherback site to lease it as an education center for the Gavilan College. The college, meanwhile, maintains plans to build a permanent campus at the Fairview Corners site off Airline Highway once enrollment meets a certain threshold.
Gavilan College trustees five years ago studied the possibility of using the old Leatherback site near downtown Hollister for temporary classroom space. The college at the time had been pursuing classroom expansion with capacity running out at the Briggs Building downtown.
The building created by developers is designed at 20,000 square feet with the likelihood for a 15-year lease.
Katie Helland contributed to this report.

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