How much growth do people in San Benito County want? Based on the crowd at a public meeting early this month, the answer is, “None, nothing.”
But housing developments that already have been approved or are pending would continue the steady pace of housing and population growth in and around Hollister.
The May 1 meeting at The Vault restaurant was convened by Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina on the heels of a cross-county argument between the officials over the growth in Hollister and San Benito County. The heat from the mostly anti-growth audience was at times red hot.
“We don’t want people to start pointing fingers at each other; we want to come up with solutions,” Velazquez said. “But with good planning, and working together, we can come up with good solutions.”
As much as residents may not want to see any new homes built in Hollister and San Benito County, 2,550 units of housing already have been approved and are “shovel ready.”
“These are shovel-ready projects, meaning, they’re ready to go,” Medina said.
The shovel-ready projects, which have already been approved, surround Hollister on county land:
- San Juan Oaks, near Highway 156 and Union Road will build 1,074 age-restricted units.
Brigantino/Sunny Side, south of Union and Enterprise Roads, will build 200 single-family homes.
- Santana Ranch, off Fairview Road, will add 774 single family homes and 318 multiple dwelling units.
- Fay Bennett, near Southside Road, will include 84 single-family homes, and the Bluffs at Ridgemark will build 90 more single-family homes.
While these projects won’t be annexed into the city, they will put a strain on the City of Hollister’s resources, says Velazquez.
“Building those homes and neighborhoods should be in the city, not in the county,” Velazquez said. “If the county wants to be a city, they should become a city. At this point we are getting a lot of the impact and it makes zero sense, especially where they are building. The people see it, and that’s why they get frustrated.”
Velazquez laid out a vision of a haphazardly planned community with leapfrogging developments throughout the city: school kids walking in the streets because of a lack of sidewalks, and local government held hostage by state government and by developers who he says aren’t paying their fair share.
“I’ve seen good development and bad development, good planning and bad planning—and what I see right now happens to be in the bad category,” Velazquez said.
Traffic is among the main sources of antagonism and anxiety, and it showed among the May 1 meeting attendees. Bringing more business into the county, which may help to stem the daily commute, was offered as a solution.
“We need to bring more business into the community,” Medina said. “We need to align ourselves with organizations like the San Benito County Business Council and Chamber of Commerce. We can use them as a barometer on what needs to be done.”
Medina and Velazquez organized the meeting to help educate the public about why and how growth is occurring.
Many in the audience used the event to vent their frustrations over traffic, taxes, schools and what they saw as inefficient local government. One attendee even suggested that city and county governments be combined. Another advocated for a direct vote on all issues. Medina offered a bit of hope for better cooperation.
“In the past, the city and the county barely spoke; we are doing much better now,” Medina said. “The one big hurdle we need to overcome is growth. We need the five of them, and the five of us, to talk.”
Velazquez, who stated his opposition to further land annexation by the City of Hollister, reminded the audience that he was a single voice on the council. Velazquez laid out dismal financial necessities for fixing Highway 25, about $400 million and more than $100 million to improve Airline Highway. To Velazquez, much of the money needed to make these improvements should come from developers.
- “It will cost a fortune and we need to stop doing this because it will hurt us in the long run,” Velazquez said. “It also gets on my nerves that we have a bad tax agreement with the county. We need to negotiate a better number and we said we wouldn’t annex any new property and yet we did it again.”