Supervisors skeptical of fencing solution at store

Garden Mart is fenced off and has been clear about trespassing with signs like this one.

County supervisors this week discussed the possibility of putting a fence around a property adjacent to Garden Mart, a local nursery in downtown Hollister, to help combat trespassing and loitering issues related to the homeless population.

Groups of homeless people congregate around the Garden Mart property during business hours and leave behind waste, including drug paraphernalia, alcohol containers and human excrement, the business owner has said. Posted loitering and trespassing signs have done little to deter congregations.

Clerk of the Board Louie Valdez reported on the jurisdictional issues relating to Garden Mart’s homeless problem. While Hollister is within San Benito County, the property in question falls under the city’s jurisdiction.

“With regard to the issues that have been raised that relate to law enforcement, this matter isn’t a law enforcement matter. It’s a homeless services matter,” Valdez said.

Marci Huston, owner of Garden Mart, is no stranger to the jurisdictional issues. She’s been in front of both city and county governments to try and get help with her business problem, which she’s previously said is a private property rights issue.

Valdez explained that there’s a limited time an individual can be held in custody if it’s determined that individual has a mental illness. The individual can only be held within the custody of San Benito County jail between 24 and 36 hours, after which they must be handed over to a medical services provider.

The arrest and release cycle costs the county money and does little to improve the situations of Garden Mart and the homeless, respectively, the clerk reported.

“The alternative we came up with was to work with the City of Hollister and come up with an amount of money that we would be able to provide Hollister to in turn address the issue Mrs. Huston has brought to our attention,” Valdez said. “The issue of the fence was floated, and I have not really spoken to folks over at the City of Hollister about it. But at least my preliminary indications are that that’s not necessarily something that they would be in favor of.”

The proposed fence would cost approximately $488 for a six-month period. Valdez said that while the out-of-state property owner Dave Buich is amenable to the fence idea, there’s concern about who would be liable in the possibility of somebody jumping over the fence and breaking a leg.

“It becomes a risk management question that, quite frankly, we’re not necessarily prepared to address because it’s so out of the ordinary,” Valdez said. “But that is an option.”

Supervisor Margie Barrios asked if the property in question is for sale, to which Valdez responded it is. Valdez said a broker associate told him the property is for sale at $350,000.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho had some reservations about the fence idea.

“I thought the property owner would put the fence up at their expense to prevent liability,” Botelho said. “I don’t know if we could be in a position to put up fences for private property in any case. It’s bad precedence.”

County Auditor Recorder Joe Paul Gonzalez gave his opinion.

“In this case the county has no jurisdiction on that property,” Gonzalez said. “The county doesn’t even have ordinances that could deal with that particular property. If the board so chose to deal with this in a manner more consistent with public policy, it could work through the City of Hollister to deal with this problem. But to deal with this directly, I don’t see how the board could expend funds for that purpose.”

After some more back and forth, Supervisor Margie Barrios asked if the issue could be addressed at the intergovernmental committee. Garden Mart’s business problem was brought up at the last intergovernmental committee meeting Sept. 1.

Botelho, who sits on the intergovernmental committee, responded.

“I don’t think the city wants to do anything about this particular problem,” Botelho said. “We feel for the problem, but we’re running out of avenues if the city doesn’t want to deal with it themselves. From everything I’ve witnessed at intergovernmental, the city’s not that interested. We’ll bring it up again at intergovernmental and try to push the issue, but I’m not that optimistic we’re going to get anywhere.”

Huston spoke about her repeated attempts to get assistance from the local governments.

“Here we are three months later and we’ve solved nothing,” Huston said. “So if you want all your resources to go to the police and ambulance scraping people up off the ground, I can do that very easily for you because I’m not getting any help. Either that or I just pick up my toys and go somewhere else. And that’s not a threat, but that’s garbage back there. It’s absolute garbage. In my position, where I am, I cannot do anything about it.”

Botelho asked Huston if she’d thought about bringing a suit against the property owner in question.

“The nuisance, to me, appears to be between private property and between neighbors, and it’s more of a civil thing than criminal or anything that the county gets involved, since it is in the city,” Botelho said.

Board Chairman Robert Rivas had the final word of the discussion.

“One of the first times Mrs. Huston came here, I had told her that we’d work with staff to do everything we could legally,” Rivas said. “I think that we can certainly monitor the issue internally and, as public officials, we can work with our colleagues on the Hollister council and encourage them to look into this issue. I think through our intergovernmental committee, we can continue to monitor this issue and encourage the city, and we can certainly support them in any way we can.”

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