City leaders discuss Hollister growth

Locals concerned over new housing, traffic, lack of well-paid jobs

NEW GROWTH Construction of the new Vista de Oro housing development continues in west Hollister. Since the city's building moratorium was lifted in 2008, 560 homes have been constructed in Hollister.

Residents crowded Hollister City Hall during a special meeting Monday to express their concerns about the city’s growth.

City leaders were discussing housing allocations for next year when the council decided to push the topic to a future meeting because of the amount of community interest.

More than twenty people spoke during public comment. Most were skeptical over the flurry of new housing that is popping up in the city and were concerned about increases in traffic congestion and the lack of local jobs. However, no one suggested a no-growth policy.

Former Hazel Hawkins Hospital Board Director Gordon Machado said he didn’t want to see another moratorium.

“That’s the worst thing that could happen to a community,” Machado said.

In the early 2000s, Hollister was hit with a building moratorium from the Regional Water Resources Control Board after 15 million gallons of wastewater spilled into the San Benito River bed.

The local economy was hurt by the moratorium, which affected housing, commercial development and job growth for more than half a decade.

Since the moratorium was lifted in 2008, 560 homes have been built, including 143 homes that were completed in 2016, according to a presentation on the history of growth in Hollister by City Manager Bill Avera.

On Monday, city council were considering limiting housing allocations in 2018 to 244 units or 165 units when they decided to continue the discussion.

Pinnacle Strategy President Victor Gomez, who owned a pizza franchise, said he was forced to lay people off during the moratorium.

“That moratorium completely halted housing and took money out of small businesses,” Gomez said. “I encourage you as you move forward to please consider conducting an economic study on any of these options. Whatever you decide to do, please consider an economic impact report to help you make a better, educated decision as you move forward.”

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the city needed a growth management plan.

“I’m not anti-growth,” Velazquez said. “I want to make sure everyone understands that. What I can’t stand is unplanned growth.”

While some residents spoke about the congestion on Highways 25 and 156, resident Marty Richman talked about traffic problems within city limits.

“What’s the sense in arguing about the highway if you can’t get to the highway because we don’t do anything about the roads that go around the schools?” Richman asked. “At 2:20 p.m. there’s a massive traffic jam in the entire city. It has nothing to do with the commuters.”

San Benito County Chamber of Commerce President Juli Vieira advocated for more local jobs.

“More jobs here will mean a more robust local economy and in the long term forecast, fewer commuters,” Vieira said. “Fewer commuters means more dollars spent locally to support both businesses and the city. Local, higher paying jobs will help to reduce traffic on 25 and 156.”

She said growth is needed in order to have a vibrant community.

“We as a community need smart growth, not no growth. Growth may be a bad word to some in the audience. However, growth is needed to sustain a strong local economy.”

San Benito County Business Council Executive Director Kristina Chavez-Wyatt agreed.

“The best way to fund and ease the burden on our roads and highways is to increase local employment via promoting entrepreneurship, career opportunities and the growth of existing businesses and attracting new employers,” she said.  

Councilman Jim Gillio asked for more community involvement in putting together a growth management plan for the city, as well as the general plan update in 18 to 20 months.

“We need to be involved in the general plan update,” he said. “It’s our guide to the future of our community. If we’re not involved and engaged in that process, then I don’t think we have anybody to blame but ourselves for not being involved in that process.”

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