State opinion on 400 block delayed

Attorney General Office’s opinion could take “some weeks”

An opinion from the California Attorney General’s Office on the validity of the 400 block petition has been delayed, according to city officials.

City Clerk Tom Graves recently reached out to the state attorney general’s office for an opinion on whether Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’s petition to prevent the city from selling the open 400 block property on San Benito Street for development could actually affect the council’s decision.

An answer was expected Tuesday, August 1, but Graves received an email from the state office stating it would be “some weeks” before a response was issued.

“I’m not happy and this comes as an unwelcome surprise,” Graves said by phone Tuesday.

He explained why he reached out to the office in the first place.

“There are three kinds of ‘acts’ that a city council performs: executive, administrative and legislative,” Graves said last week via email. “If an act is administrative or executive, it can’t be undone by a referendum petition. If the act is legislative, then it can. Having said that, there’s a difference of opinion about whether or not Resolution No. 2017-139 was legislative or administrative. Hence the letter to the [attorney general] asking for an opinion.”

Velazquez said that the 400 block is a city issue, not a state issue.

“The people are speaking out and want to be heard,” Velazquez said by phone Tuesday. “I think it’s time to stop looking for ways out of it from the city’s side and it’s time to start listening to the public. Overwhelmingly the public wants that as an open space. It’s time to listen and not look for another way out.”

Council members approved selling the 400 block property to the Community Foundation for San Benito County and the Del Curto Brothers Group for development in June. City documents list the sales price as $390,000 based on a 2015 appraisal. Plans for the grassy plot include building a new philanthropy center, or headquarters, for the Community Foundation and a mix of residential and commercial space. Total project development costs are estimated at $4.5 million. Construction is expected to begin sometime next year pending site and design review.

Velazquez recused himself from the June 5 vote due to a financial conflict of interest as owner of the Vault building adjacent to the 400 block lot.

But that didn’t stop Velazquez from speaking out against the sale on social media. He collected signatures for a petition that would require the city council to revisit its decision to sell the grassy parcel.

On July 11, Velazquez gave the city an estimated 2,465 signatures, more than the 1,600 required for a referendum.

Graves is currently reviewing the 400 block petition. He has until September 20 to either decline it or declare it sufficient.  If the petition is declared sufficient, it will move to the San Benito County Registrar of Voters for further review. The city clerk needs to notify the city council by October 2 if the petition is sufficient.

“I’m really hoping I’m not going to have to wait that long,” Graves said.

The council can choose one of three options if the petition is sufficient: amend the resolution approving the 400 block sale, withdraw it or do nothing. If the council does nothing, the item will go to the ballot at a future election.

There’s also technically a fourth option: the council could choose to take the issue to city voters with a set election date. Officials said a regular election ballot could cost Hollister up to $50,000, compared to a special election that could cost approximately $150,000.

The city owns the 400 block lot 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.

The California Department of Finance requires Hollister to sell the property, meaning the city would still need to sell the contested property even if the petition results in a withdrawal of the development proposal.

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.

Leave your comments