The race for mayor is crowded in Hollister, with incumbent Ignacio Velazquez up against former planning commissioner and city councilmember Gordon Machado and five-time candidate Keith Snow.
In Hollister the mayor sits on the City Council as a member at large, with council members representing four districts. Machado served as mayor when the position was a rotational appointment among council members.
Velazquez owns and operates The Vault, a banquet hall on San Benito Street in downtown Hollister. He is running for his fourth consecutive to-year term.
Along with serving on the Hollister Planning Commission for eight years, Machado also served on the Hazel Hawkins hospital board for 12 years. He owns and operates a local business, Rustic Turtle Embroidery.
Aside from his past runs for Hollister mayor, Snow is a retired engineer-foreman and frequent attendee at council meetings.
In interviews this month with the Free Lance, the three candidates offered sharply different views on city growth and downtown development strategies.
The Free Lance asked each candidate the same questions, developed from Facebook posts where Hollister residents indicated issues they would like to hear elected officials discuss.
Machado emphasized his Hollister roots as giving him insight into understanding the constituents he hopes to serve. He said the key to being mayor is understanding the city as a corporation.
Role of the mayor
“It should be utilized as a corporation and managed as a corporation,” said Machado. “First you have to learn the functions of the corporation.
“You really do more oversight than management,” he said, adding that his service on the Hazel Hawkins board and his business, Rustic Turtle Embroideries, had prepared him for these duties.
While Snow does not have political experience, he believes he had gleaned understanding of mayoral duties during his past campaigns. “You learn things as you go,” said Snow. , “I know what the job of mayor is; (it’s) “to work with the council with what’s on the agenda.”
Snow emphasized the importance of the mayor’s role in the city’s public safety. “The mayor works with the city manager and the city clerk,” he added.
Velazquez said the single most important duty of mayor is to have vision. His vision has been at odds with the rest of the council for his entire tenure, as he has consistently voted against development projects that come before the City Council. While he acknowledges this is mostly symbolic, he said he hopes to work with a new council to create a set plan for the city’s growth,
“putting together a plan or a vision for where the city wants to go,”
“The tricky part of that is getting the other City Council members to go with that vision,” he added. “Unfortunately, currently we’re out of sync.”
Ultimately, Velazquez said, “The mayor needs to work with the public, answer questions and try to implement some of those ideas.
“The rules of how the city is run have to change.”
City government transparency
When discussing transparency within city government, Velazquez and Snow said improvements needed to be made. However, Machado said the city government already operates transparently, and that there is a common misconception among residents that it does not.
“If you’re available,” said Machado, “then the answers are available.”
Machado said attendance at city meetings is important for residents to see the local government’s transparency.
“The concerns that people have, the answer is there,” said Machado. “But they’re not at the meeting in the presentation of it and then it gets misconstrued by the time it gets out into the public.”
Snow said he favors more public transparency and is unhappy with how the city is currently working with the public.
Velazquez said he’s not content with the level of transparency in City Hall and that more should be out in the open for the public to see.
“It’s for us to listen, not just to say, ’Oh they don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Velazquez, “which is what’s happening right now.”
He said that too often city officials make decisions based on relationships they have formed behind closed doors. “It really works by those that are connected getting to another council member and saying, ‘Here’s what you need to do.’
“That’s why I ran in the first place,” said Velazquez. “It was just so wrong, and it just continues.”
Infrastructure and growth
Among residents’ top concerns are maintaining or improving infrastructure in the city and managing growth. While all candidates agreed something needs to be done about those issues, their approaches and personal philosophies differ.
Machado said those issues were the reason he had decided to re-enter city politics. He said residents who are concerned asked him to run again because of his history dealing with growth and infrastructure while on the City Council.
He chaired a growth initiative after leaving the council that advocated “balanced growth” and aimed to balance city resources with the growth rate. He cited his past involvement with getting funding for repairs on Highway 25.
Machado said, “You have to be a self-help county or else it just doesn’t happen, especially with the priorities of Highway 25. So we did that, and we ended up with not only the Highway 25 bypass but also the 156 bypass.”
When it came to repairing Highway 25 and widening it to a four-lane expressway, Machado said it needed to happen, but warned it could create more traffic problems, bottlenecking on US-101. “I don’t know what the salvation is, to be honest with you,” said Machado. “I don’t want to be negative.”
Snow claimed that infrastructure and growth problems stem from corruption within city government. He said a supporter told him, “I’m voting for you because you’re trustworthy; all of these other ones are crooks.”
“We need to stop this growth,” said Snow. He told the Free Lance he is a proponent of affordable housing and that he had written to the council in an effort to understand the affordable housing situation.
He believes the council is not being truthful about commercial development. “They’re all involved in backdoor deals,” Snow alleged, without being more specific.
Velasquez said his dissenting vote on numerous projects illustrates his feelings toward controlling growth in the city.
He said, “My goal is to make sure we have a council that understands the needs of the public so we can implement what I’ve been trying to implement, and that’s a smart growth plan where were focused on how many units we’re going to be building a year, making sure every unit pays for itself the first day and 20 years down the road. Making sure we’re building the infrastructure to stay with it. Making sure we’re providing the quality of life for our residents.”
Velazquez hopes that if re-elected he would be able to serve with other council members who share his stance on growth and infrastructure. “It’s not complicated,” said Velazquez. “ It just has to be done.”
The 400 block
Machado and Velazquez clashed over their ideas and personal histories with the 400 block in downtown Hollister.
The vacant lot previously owned by the city sits adjacent to Velazquez’s business, The Vault. He recused himself from votes on the development, but was vocal on his support for a plaza as opposed to the mixed-use apartments and non-profit building that just passed an early vote by the Planning Commission. The property was sold by the city in 2017 to developers and the San Benito County Community Foundation.
Velazquez had gained enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot that would have let voters decide the fate of the block. The state’s Attorney General said the public could not vote on the issue.
“You’re asking me all of my history,” Machado said when talking about the 400 block. He is familiar with the history of the project because of his work on the Downtown Association.
He said the city contacted him and said, “What we want to have the downtown association do is have one person per block, a block captain.”
“I was so lucky [to be] the block captain of the 400 block,” said Machado, “so I coordinated that for probably about two or three years..”
He has seen several proposals, including one that almost came to fruition until the economic downturn of 2008. “It’s been a frustration over the years,” said Machado.
He said during his time with the downtown association the lot had been used to show outdoor movies, but ultimately it wasn’t big enough for long-term use. “It’s just not the size of a facility that the mayor claims it would draw,” said Machado. “He refers to other areas where they’re successful in the park use. … It’s a larger area where you can perform bigger affairs and more conducive to that.”
Machado said he still gets criticism from Hollister residents who believe they should have been allowed to vote on the fate of the property. “People are still convinced that they had the right to vote for it, which was never an option.”
Velazquez disagrees, and still believes the referendum should have been put on the ballot. “Even though a good portion of the population wanted to vote on it, they said, ‘You’re not smart enough to vote on it; we have this handled.’
“It would have passed with 80 percent, easy,” said Velazquez.
He doesn’t believe the mixed-use building or philanthropic center will bring business and thinks not requiring a parking structure underneath the proposed apartments will cause the city to lose businesses if residents park on the street. “It’s a failure,” said Velazquez. “it just is.”
He pointed to Machado as one of the reasons the plan went through. “Gordon Machado was the one lobbying for it,” said Velazquez, “and lobbying to make sure people cannot vote on it.
“That’s an example of really bad planning and something that’s going to hurt our community for years,” he said.
The election will take place Nov. 6, the last day to register to vote in California is Oct. 22. Voters can already vote by mail or at an early polling place.