The end of the year, especially one as chaotic as 2017, is often a time for reflection.
The Free Lance asked all members of the Hollister City Council, San Juan Bautista City Council and San Benito County Board of Supervisors to share their thoughts on the year’s biggest accomplishments, issues and challenges, as well as goals for the coming new year.
In this first part of a multi-part series, your elected officials answered the following question: What were the biggest accomplishments for 2017?
Hollister City Council
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez
The biggest one in my opinion would be paying the $10 million in retirement debt we had from the past. We paid it off this year, It’s saving us about $750,000 a year now. We paid it off in about four years.
We were able to allocate $3 million toward the roads this year.
We also got the new West Hills Water Treatment Plant open this year, which is a big deal.
Community wise, we finally opened the year round HOME Resource Center.
Vice Mayor Karson Klauer
One of the bigger ones was doing the joint use agreement in place with the Hollister School District for six school sites for parks and after school hours. That was pretty big. It’s going to be important going forward as some [agreements] had expired and some were set to expire. It’s another opportunity, another success story at least from getting the negotiation agreement together between agencies.
For the most part, we’re working a lot better with the school districts and I think our relationship with county is getting a bit better. There’s still work to do, but that was a good one where you have two agencies working together to benefit the public.
Another approved earlier in the year was the implementation of the pavement condition index. We’ll be able to actually know which roads we should be working on going forward as we identify funding. I think we set aside a little over $3 million for road projects coming up soon.
Other things we’ve started but haven’t finished are the Parks Master Plan and the General Plan Update.
Another is quarterly business outreach breakfast meetings. I think that has helped because now people have a forum to go to on a normal basis. If they have success stories or issues that need to be addressed, they know those meetings will be coming up.
Other big things to happen this year, I think paying off the side fund debt, starting the process of lowering the sewer rates, and opening the West Hills Water Treatment Plant were other big things that happened this year.
Councilman Ray Friend
I think helping supporting the city in paying off the unsecured loans saved the city millions, also doing that and keep with our budget.
Councilwoman Mickie Luna
To have been able to hold District 2 meetings for our residents as a continual engagement is a big accomplishment. We applied to Caltrans for the Active Transportation Plan grant and were approved, due to the communication and documentation of our district meetings with the constituents who participated in dialogue about the west side of the city and improvements needed. Also due to these meetings, we were able to apply for CDBG funds on Dec. 1 to build a river park trail between Bridge Road and the new Apricot Park. The community engagement helped us document the need for the park improvements in west Hollister. The City was also able to apply for funding to prepare a plan for improved bicycle/pedestrian access on Buena Vista Road. This was a hot topic at one of our District 2 community meetings.
Councilman Jim Gillio
From a council perspective I’m happy to see council and staff have committed to paying off lingering debt in the side funds. I try to give other people credit and they did outstanding job.
I was also excited to see staff brought the council a balanced budget and we were able to set aside 25 percent of the budget for a rainy day fund. We also committed $3.5 million for road repairs for 2017-2018. As a council we were able to add two police officers and a parks person and still have a balanced budget.
Public safety is a priority for me. I met with Police Chief David Westrick early on and the council was able to add an additional two officers. Now with a person working in cannabis, there’s another police position. Our police department is very understaffed and working their butts off to do what they can to hire people and get up to speed. This will help our community in terms of public safety.
We’ve been working with many commercial developers, a lot of opportunities are coming soon. It will help keep folks in the city and in town as well. We have some exciting stuff coming in.
The term smart growth, when I started here I heard it a lot, but wondered what it meant. Over the last two months both council and staff took a huge step in the right direction. I’m hopeful the council will come together to implement a reasonable growth management plan. This month the council agreed to bring back growth management plan in ordinance form in January. I’m glad that’s happening.
I’m personally proud to have participated in many economic development conversations on behalf of the city with companies looking to relocate to our area as well as local companies looking to expand.
San Juan Bautista City Council
Councilman Chris Martorana
Bringing on an assistant city manager who I believe will become our new city manager in the not too distant future. Michaele has an incredible background and I think she’ll bring something special to the city.
Also surviving the upheaval we’ve had, it’s been a tough year for us. We got through it, the council pulled together reasonably well and we worked well together. A lot of contentiousness was expected with the two new members who came on this year, but we worked well and I’m proud I worked well with John and Dan.
I think finally developing what I think is a realistic plan for securing water and cleaning up the water. It’s taken far too long for this to all come together.
Councilman Dan De Vries
Successful transition to new city leadership.
Councilman John Freeman
Learning to work with the council and then finally finding a city manager with integrity who is actively managing the city.
Starting the process to find a permanent full time city manager. Watching that process work out to what should be an excellent conclusion.
Making significant progress on the potable water problem for San Juan Bautista.
Beginning a study on updating the impact fees for new development for San Juan Bautista.
San Benito County Board of Supervisors
Board Chairman Jaime De La Cruz
Approving the creation of the new San Benito County homeless shelter that will provide services like meals, counseling and education.
Approved a new impact fee that will provide funding for future library capital projects and adjusted all other impact fees to new housing developments.
The new jail expansion project.
Joined the Monterey Bay Regional Power joint powers authority for the sole purpose of creating renewable and alternative energy projects from sources of solar, wind or hydroelectric with the end result of providing lower cost energy to Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz County customers.
Finally reaching an agreement with Duke Energy (Solar Farm) that will generate over $10 million to San Benito County for the next 20 years.
Supported CHISPA in the creation of a 13-unit affordable single-family homes and 41-unit apartment for low-income families project.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho
I am happy this is a plural question, as San Benito County was able to accomplish several items of public need and good. Moving forward with the jail expansion was very important to utilize a state grant to cover much of the construction costs which is absolutely vital, as our county’s growth warrants additional capacity. This has been a project in the planning stage for a long time and it is good to see it move to construction. The jail project is a $21 million project in which the state is covering $15 million. The same can be said with the recently opened HOME Resource Center. I am excited about the homeless shelter, as this is the first step in addressing the issue in San Benito County. Our intention is not to “enable” continued homelessness of the individuals that we all see in our streets, but to provide a place that will be a temporary shelter, address their personal issues, assist in transitional housing and ultimately lead them to a path of employment and off the streets. By no means will this be successful for all homeless folks, but I do believe it will help a good number in the future. The county and our many partners have a lot of work to do to build the complete program.
Personally, working on the updated schedule for impact fees was very important. There were significant changes as the county addressed added costs for the library and public safety infrastructure. Road Impacts had been significantly increased prior to this point.
Also, working out the details for the Nash Road bypass with the San Benito High School District and City of Hollister is so important to the high school campus for safety of the students and for the county to acquire land that is much needed for a future river parkway and trail system. The bypass road will be constructed next year and for the county, much work is ahead for the future park area. It is very satisfying to work and make agreements that are far reaching and impactful into the long term future.
Supervisor Mark Medina
Perhaps my biggest accomplishment for 2017 is to have successfully navigated (thanks to my family community and employers) my first year as an elected public servant for the people of San Benito County. Having never held an elected position, I’m honored to represent the residents of San Benito County and serve for the greater good. I feel that I have taken extra steps to actively reach out, engage and actively listen to residents and the business community, acting as a liaison to get questions answered, help mediate issues and leverage opportunities at hand. Building consensus with fellow board members and working closely with staff, we were able repair the levees in District 1 and adopt a five-year Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Against staff’s recommendation, I also held residential developers accountable to their development agreement to ensure safety, improve infrastructure and accountability.
Supervisor Robert Rivas
As 2017 comes to a close, I think it’s important to remember our successes not only as motivation by showing us what we are capable of accomplishing, but also, it is important to look back at our success and figure out where we can improve going forward.
In 2017 San Benito County took a huge step toward becoming a more inclusive and welcoming county when we approved the opening of a new LGBTQ center. With the help of our behavioral health department, San Benito County has ensured that the LGBTQ members of our community will have the support they need to achieve their goals. Looking forward to 2018, we need to continue to work with our Superintendent of Schools and other school administrators to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses bullying and provides the needed support to every member of our community. As we have demonstrated this year, if we work together and talk about the issues and problems our LGBTQ community faces in San Benito County, than together we become a force against discrimination and homophobia.
In the same vein as the LGBTQ Center, I am also extremely pleased that our community—County/City partnership—has decided to construct a state of the art homeless center/shelter to support the less fortunate in our community. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I believe that the word “nation” can easily be substituted for the word “community” because our nation as a whole is the product of the aggregate of all of the communities within it. By approving the construction of this new homeless center/shelter we have made a choice as a community to take care of the weakest among us, and as a result, we can be an example for others. This project was only possible because of the strong collaboration between county and city government.
In 2017 we also continued to make progress on building a new public library/learning center in San Benito County. While our current county library continues to provide important services to our residents, it is time to prioritize the construction of a new County library and community center. We have modernized several other things in our community – court house, voting, jail, roads, waste disposal, mental and physical health – yet we have a library that hasn’t been updated in decades. We should build a place of learning and discussion that will be a model for the rest of the State. A place where our entire community can come to experience the beauty of learning.
After years of collaboration, in 2017, San Benito High School, the City of Hollister and San Benito County approved a contract agreement to close Nash Road and develop a plan for a new by-pass. This is important for two reasons. First, it is a great example of what we can accomplish when we all work together to alleviate traffic congestion during peak high school hours. Second, and most importantly, it provides for the safety of our youth who attend San Benito High School. For far too long we had a dangerous situation where students were crossing a busy street multiple times a day as they went from class to class. Now we will soon have a bypass that keeps the automobile traffic separate from the pedestrian traffic, which will not only provide safety but hopefully relieve traffic congestion in the area.
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer
The opening of the homeless shelter and resource center
Negotiations with Panoche Valley Solar to keep the county whole per the development agreement
The jail addition was started
The levees in North County have been repaired