In a bid to keep downtown Hollister’s last patch of open space from becoming condos and offices, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez submitted a petition to city hall on Tuesday that would stop the development of the 400 block of San Benito Street.
Velazquez turned into the city clerk an estimated 2,465 signatures, more than the 1,600 required to get the Hollister City Council to take another look at their plans for the city-owned plot along Fourth Street, once the site of open-air movies and other community events.
“I appreciate the public standing up,” Velazquez said after he presented two boxes stuffed with 94 packets of signatures to Tom Graves, the city clerk. Velazquez said around 50 people helped him collect signatures. “They are the answer and I want them to know they’re the answer. All I am is one person, but they’re thousands.”
Last month, the Hollister City Council approved selling the grassy plot – appraised at $390,000 in 2015 – to the Del Curto Brothers Group and the Community Foundation for San Benito County.
In plans first floated in 2016, the plot would be turned into a new philanthropy center for the nonprofit and mix of residential and commercial space. The total project development costs are estimated at $4.5 million.
As the owner of the Vault nightclub next to the plot, Velazquez has recused himself from all council decisions related to the 400 block due to a financial conflict of interest.
The petition and signature gathering effort Velazquez launched after the council’s latest vote to sell the property on June 5, could turn out to be his most effective attempt to realize his vision for the 400 block – a vibrant open space with a stage for weekend concerts and events, pop-up restaurants and cafes.
“First we’d need bathrooms here,” said Velazquez at the grassy knoll. “Then you’d have a pop-up cafe, 10 pop-up restaurants, maybe a couple little shops. If each one has seating for 20 to 30 people, now you’ve got 200 to 300 people hanging around.”
For safety, Velazquez envisions a three to four-foot iron fence and concrete columns to prevent cars from crashing onto the property. He also said the pop-ups could later fill vacant buildings downtown should they become successful.
“This could give them their start,” said Velazquez. “Meanwhile, there’s hundreds of people hanging around, spending money and coming here after work.”
After collecting signatures and submitting them to Graves for verification, Velazquez now must wait for the process to unfold.
The city clerk has until August 22 to review the petition and either decline it or declare it sufficient.
“If I decline the petition, it would be for a technical reason like [Velazquez] didn’t have the full text or didn’t have the right page numbers,” Graves said. “It can be anything. Since he got a lawyer, I’m happy to see that this appears to be – I haven’t looked at one yet – but it appears to be sufficient.”
If Graves declares the petition sufficient, it moves to the San Benito County Registrar of Voters for review.
Graves has to notify the Hollister City Council by the Sept. 5 council meeting if the petition is sufficient, but the council can wait until the November 13 council meeting to act. He said there are three options the council could take.
“They can amend it,” Graves said, referring to the resolution that approved the 400 block sale. “The other thing they can do is withdraw it. The third thing they can do is nothing. If they do nothing, it automatically goes to the ballot for an up or down vote by the citizens. They can’t by inaction make it dead. It doesn’t work that way.”
If the city council chooses to take the issue to city voters, the election could cost the city up to $80,000.
The current 400 block development proposal consists of two buildings, a two-story 9,000 square foot philanthropic center and new headquarters for the Community Foundation of San Benito County, the other a three-story structure with 8,000 to 11,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space and 14 to 22 condos split between a second and third floor.
If the proposal makes it through the development review process in a timely manner, according to the proposal, both buildings could be built by spring 2019, with construction starting sometime next year.
Private donors Randy and Rebecca Wolf have committed $900,000 towards the construction of the philanthropy center.
The city owns the plot through the dissolution of the former Hollister Redevelopment Agency, which purchased the property following damage to structures on the lot during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
According to city officials, the sale of the property is required by the California Department of Finance. So even if the petition results in a withdrawal of the development proposal, the city is still required to sell the 400 block property.
Due to a tax sharing agreement with entities including San Benito County, Gavilan Community College, Hazel Hawkins Hospital, Hollister School District, San Benito High School District, San Benito County Water District and the San Benito County Office of Education, the City of Hollister is expected to receive $43,000 once the sale goes through.