Mayor seeks ‘smart growth’ votes

Ignacio Velazquez

Any trip to a Hollister City Council meeting would display a usual scene. A typical vote? Three in favor and one against.

For almost the entire last year of his two-year term, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez has voted no on any bill that has to do with growth or development. This, he says, is intentional.

In an interview, Velazquez says he can no longer approve residential projects in Hollister, he says the city’s infrastructure cannot support it. Velazquez acknowledges the vote is largely in protest and says, “that’s how it’s been, three for, one against.”

But with an election looming, and three district seats on the line, the mayor—who is facing his own re-election battle—could finally get his majority. Only one incumbent council member, Mayor Pro Tem Mickie Luna, is seeking re-election.

Another seat, for District 1, was recently vacated by Ray Friend and will see a replacement appointed at the Oct. 1 meeting of the City Council.

Despite the appointment, if slow-growth candidates win in two of three races in Districts 2, 3 and 4 and if the mayor wins his race, he would no longer be the lone vote against new development.

District 2 candidate, Rolan Resendiz had said that the commercial development of the 400 block was a reason he got involved in local politics. He said that while he could not guarantee he would always vote with the mayor, if he is re-elected, he believed that he and Velazquez shared a similar position on growth. “I think that our interests definitely align,” said Resendiz.

Luna has voted for residential development during her tenure on City Council and said she had primarily focused her efforts on bringing affordable housing to her district. She views growth as a “trickle down effect,” and said that if residences are available people will come and in turn businesses will as well.

“If people cannot afford to live here they move on with their jobs,” said Luna. “With the housing projects comes businesses”

Luna said candidates that don’t support residential growth in Hollister likely do not understand the city’s history. Luna cited the building moratorium which began in 2002 and which halted growth in Hollister following sewage problems that resulted in million dollar fines from the state water board.

The moratorium stopped any kind of growth in Hollister until 2008, when Hollister opened a new wastewater treatment plan. Luna sees the six year gap in development as all the more reason to resume building. She thinking accelerating growth now will make up for lost time, but Velazquez views this as repeating past mistakes.

Velazquez called his outlook “smart growth.” He said he has grown frustrated with the way things have been during his tenure with the rapid residential growth he has voted against. “All of these things I wanted to do got bogged down,” he said.

The mayor said he was aware of some candidates that aligned with his agenda, although he said he has tried to refrain from endorsing any of them. However, Velazquez said there are some candidates running that he believed to be pro-development who also are campaigning on a “smart growth” platform, but he declined to identify them.

Velazquez indicated that if candidates continued to misrepresent their goals about new development in the city he may make more public statements about his support for candidates. “I’m trying not to,” said Velazquez. “But as I see more of this go on I’m tempted.”

Raul Escareno, a candidate in District 3, said he also wants to focus on building infrastructure within Hollister before expanding.

Escareno said he did not know any of the candidates on a personal level, but thought the mayor “had a point” with his ‘smart growth’ campaign.

Many of Escareno’s points echoed sentiments of Velazquez, who said he hoped to stop growth until an effective development plan was put in place.

Escareno said, “When you wanna grow a city, it’s baby steps.”

Honor Spencer is running against Escareno in the district and has opposing views on how to bring revenue to the city. “We have to bring in residential developments so we can have businesses coming into our towns,” said Spencer.

Spencer sees residential development as the key to bringing in business that will ultimately lead to the infrastructure improvements Velasquez has called for.

She said she can understand the logic of candidates that want to curb growth in order to fix existing problems but said, “when you really start listening and looking around the only way the roads are going to get fixed is with he tax dollars.”

Resendiz believes this election could usher in a shift for Hollister growth plans. He said,“It’s definitely the old guard versus the new guard.”
The mayor is running against Gordon Machado and Keith Snow. Machado has previously served 12 years on the City Council and Snow has previously run for mayor.

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