The Hollister City Council should go back to the drawing board on the 400 block. Dueling petition drives in a divided community are not a good way to make strategic planning decisions and revitalize a downtown.
To make downtown the place it should be requires consensus and buy-in. The bumbling, secretive process that led to this ballot box war is having precisely the opposite effect, and could leave scars that will last decades.
After voting in 2016 to give an exclusive negotiating agreement to a developer, the city kept its plans under wraps for a year. It then unveiled a new scheme to divide the property just days before a council vote, without public hearings or a public debate.
That’s not exactly confidence inspiring. At minimum, the city should have allowed a new round of competitive proposals based on its change of heart about its willingness to divide the property.
When more than 2000 citizens attached their names to a petition to rescind the decision or place the plan on the ballot, it should have made city leaders rethink their course. Instead, what did the city do? It ran to the attorney general in hopes the land sell-off would be declared a simple “administrative” or “executive” action exempt from the democratic process.
The 400 block is downtown’s busiest corner and should be a signature project with iconic architecture that’s integrated into a broader downtown revitalization plan. The present downtown plan is outdated. The city and business leaders should be looking at retail and entertainment mixes, traffic and streetscape beautification, as well as how to create a pedestrian-friendly environment. The “let’s build this thing and figure it out later” notion is misguided and desperate.
The 400 block properties were acquired by the city as an opportunity to create a transformative project, such as a cinema complex or a regional center for the arts. An office building and modest condo complex don’t rise to that level, and many members of the public argue that an open space for local events brings more benefit to the community.
Whichever side of the debate one is on, a broad-based, open and inclusive community discussion, as well as a well-publicized competition for proposals, would serve Hollister well. The last set of discussions was limited to insiders.
It’s not too late to do it right.