State attorney general consulted over 400 block
The Hollister City Council is still on recess, but there’s activity at city hall. City Clerk Tom Graves is validating signatures for the 400 block petition that Mayor Ignacio Velazquez submitted for certification earlier this month, after leading a successful signature gathering effort.
The petition seeks to give voters a say on what type of development will occur on the vacant, city-owned grass lawn on San Benito Street, a crucial parcel at Hollister’s busiest intersection.
City plans are for office space for the Community Foundation for San Benito County, some retail and a handful of condominiums.
While Velazquez collected an estimated 2,465 signatures, more than the 1,600 required to force the city council to revisit its decision to sell the parcel to the nonprofit and the Del Curto Brothers Group, developer of the project’s commercial and residential component, the city clerk has reached out to the California Attorney General’s Office to check if the mayor’s petition is valid. An opinion is expected on Friday, according to Graves, after the Hollister Free Lance goes to press. The story will be updated online at SanBenito.com.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Last year, Councilman Ray Friend filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against Velazquez, which asked the agency to investigate whether the mayor had a conflict-of-interest by speaking out against the possible sale of the 400 block when it first went before city council.
While Velazquez has recused himself from subsequent council decisions regarding the parcel due to his ownership of a neighboring building, The Vault, he has been vocal in his opposition to the current plan, leading to the petition drive this summer.
In response to Friend’s complaint, the commission concluded that Velazquez’s communications “do not fall under the Political Reform Act’s conflict of interest prohibitions” and the FPPC would not pursue the matter further. Now, it appears it is up to the state’s top attorney to weigh in on the matter.
The Hollister City Council will hold a public hearing August 14 at a special session to consider approval of four medical cannabis operations within city limits. The meeting was initially to be held on August 1, but due to unforeseen circumstances, was postponed, according to city officials.
Pacific Organic Wellness Inc. is requesting city approval to operate a distribution facility at 1802 Shelton Drive. Jam USA LLC and YHL Inc. are requesting approval to operate manufacturing facilities at 1971 Airway Drive. HSC Ventures, LLC is seeking approval to operate a medical cannabis cultivation facility at 120 Fallon Road.
In June, city council failed to decide on two potential medical cannabis dispensaries due to a lack of votes. The council was expected to hold a public hearing for several applicants in the distribution, manufacturing and cultivation sides of the medical cannabis industry.
In other cannabis-related news, San Juan Bautista council members are mulling the hiring of former Hollister Councilman Victor Gomez as the city’s new cannabis consultant. Gomez, president of local political consulting firm Pinnacle Strategy, is currently drafting San Benito County’s cannabis business ordinance.
“San Juan Bautista is their own incorporated city, so whatever laws are passed by the board of supervisors don’t apply to San Juan,” Gomez said Tuesday. “The city is interested in doing community outreach and potentially drafting a policy for any cannabis business within the city.”
If approved, the former councilman would be on a nine-month agreement. He said San Juan hasn’t decided if their ordinance will apply to medical or recreational cannabis.
“They’re supposed to approve my contract next month at the council meeting,” Gomez said. “Really everything’s currently on the table. It’s up to the mayor and council members how they want to move forward. Nothing’s really been defined yet.”
At a recent county meeting, supervisors delayed approving their cannabis business ordinance until an Aug. 22 meeting. Numerous people spoke during the public hearing and highlighted issues in the ordinance. Gomez said he felt the board’s decision to push the approval wasn’t a hindrance to businesses in the process.
“Anyone out there currently operating are either one of 27 applicants seeking amortization or it’s illegal,” Gomez said. “It shouldn’t delay anything. There’s valid policy issues that still need to be ironed out in the proposed ordinance and I think that’s what led to the board’s desire to move the item to next month. That way, it allows the board of supervisors to do more research and see where they land on some of these issues.”