Community members bumped shoulders with local candidates over a breakfast buffet at Paine’s Restaurant on Wednesday morning for a candidates’ forum.
The San Benito County Association of Realtors hosted the forum. Candidates for Congressional District 20, Hollister mayor, Hollister City Council, San Benito County High School District trustee and Hollister High School District trustee turned up to speak and answer questions. No water district or state assembly candidates attended the forum.
Realtor and local resident Tony LoBue moderated the event. After explaining the rules and time limits, he warned candidates and speakers that no additional time would be allowed.
“If need be, I will turn off the microphone,” LoBue said.
San Benito High School District candidates Frank Muro and John Corrigan spoke first and gave introductory speeches on their qualifications. Candidate Patty Nehme had a stand-in speak for her, as Nehme is a teacher within the district. Candidates Jennifer Coile, Mary Encinias, Ray Rodriguez, and Ellen Miller were absent.
Rob Bernosky was the only Hollister School District candidate to give an introductory speech, with Elizabeth Martinez and Mike Baldwin absent.
San Benito High Superintendent John Perales spoke in support of Measure U, the local school bond measure, after the education candidates.
“I urge you to vote for this measure,” Perales said. “This measure will help us continue with construction of science classrooms that are desperately needed, and our special ed facilities which are antiquated.”
Police Chief David Westrick spoke out of uniform in support of Measure W, the city’s 1 percent sales tax extension for 20 years.
“We do have a number of groups and associations that support it, and the reason why they support it is because it makes sense.” Westrick said. “We are a prudent city, under new leadership for the last four or five years. We’ve paid down our side debts with this funding.”
LoBue shifted focus from the measures back to the candidates, who were asked questions on issues like immigration and affordable housing.
District 20 Congressional candidate Casey Lucius, the Republican in the race, introduced herself before answering two questions. Her opponent, Jimmy Panetta, the Democrat, was absent. They are vying to succeed the retiring Sam Farr.
“How do we balance border safety with the fact that we have a shortage of farm labor?” LoBue asked Lucius.
“Immigration reform is a top issue in this district, and it’s one of my priorities for my campaign,” Lucius said. “There are really a couple different proposals on the table in Congress, and one is comprehensive immigration reform. A lot of people talk about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which I agree. Unfortunately, I’m pessimistic that it won’t ever be passed because it’s such a divisive and ideological issue.”
She continued, regarding visas:
“I think what’s more likely to be passed, and what would actually be more beneficial for this district, is visa reform. And in particular H2A visa reform. Agriculture is our No. 1 economic driver in this district. Our farmers need immigrant labor and they require H2A visas. Nationwide, in fact, the ag industry needs about 3.2 million H2A visas, and Congress has set the cap at 140,000. So as a result, you have a million people working in agriculture who are working here illegally. And I believe it’s not because they want to be here illegally; it’s because the federal bureaucratic process has limited their ability to get those visas.”
City Councilman Ray Friend, running unopposed in District 1, gave a short introductory speech. He was not asked any questions.
City Council District 4 candidates Tim Burns and Roy Simms introduced themselves and answered a pair of questions relating to recreational marijuana and local affordable housing.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and his three-time opponent Keith Snow were asked the same questions during their portion of the forum.
“As we continue to get pressure from Silicon Valley for housing, how will you assist local people in obtaining affordable housing?” LoBue asked.
Snow spoke first and said he’d work with realtors, among other things.
LoBue then asked Velazquez the same question.
“So the housing issue is obviously something we’re all facing right now, whether it’s affordable housing or single-family housing,” Velazquez said. “I can tell you one thing for sure: Once government gets involved in housing, it all becomes unaffordable. … What we have to do here in our community is, first, understand what we want to become. If we want to become the bedroom community for Silicon Valley, we’re on the right track.”
Velazquez called that a mistake.
“We can’t afford it here,” he said. “Every house we build we’re at least $600 to $800 in the hole. What we need to do is step back, decide what we want to become, work with developers so when they’re building a community, that half of those homes in that community are townhomes or apartments, and a portion of those are affordable.”
LoBue closed the forum by saying, “I know everybody gets excited about the presidential election … but what truly affects you and I and everyone in this room are the local elections.”