San Benito’s year in headlines

From elections to cannabis, it was a year of crazy headlines in San Benito County. Here are some of the highlights.


Missing charitable trust funds

San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper continued early this year to investigate possible criminal charges against local tax preparer Mitchell Dabo in connection with his siphoning of  $644,000 out of a charitable trust.

In addition to a 217-page evidence binder detailing Dabo’s transfer of nearly all money from the Matulich Charitable Trust that was presented last month at a civil trial in Superior Court, documents on record also offered a long list of potential pieces of evidence that had been unsuccessfully sought by the Community Foundation for San Benito County.

Hollister police investigated and passed a report to the Hooper in March, who revealed this month she decided to file no charges against Dabo.

Hollister OKs some cannabis businesses
The Hollister City Council unanimously voted Monday night to allow recreational cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing businesses to operate within city limits. Recreational, or adult-use, dispensaries and retail sales are still prohibited, but medical cannabis will be available.

In December 2017, council members previously approved an urgency ordinance that prohibited cultivation, processing, manufacturing, distribution, testing and sale of non-medical cannabis in Hollister. The 45-day lifespan of the urgency ordinance gave city staff enough time to come up with a list of recreational changes that include compliance with the state for non-medical, personal cultivation and a ban on outdoor cultivation.


New Fairview Road school

A 12-acre plot of land within the Santa Ranch development is being eyed by Hollister School District officials as the site of a new multimillion-dollar elementary/middle school.

District officials said this week they are in negotiations for the site of a new campus they say will be needed to accommodate Hollister’s population growth.

Superintendent Lisa Andrew said the 12 acres, surrounded by new Anderson Homes, were set aside by developers for the purpose of building a school.  Although the district has not acquired the land, it has already put out bids to select a design-build construction firm.

“We’re shooting for August 2020 to open the school,” Andrew noted. “To accomplish that, we would need to break ground this August or September.”

The incoming bids range from $48 million to $78 million, according to Andrew.


Chinese tariffs impact local farms

The announcement the first week of April from China that the country would impose retaliatory tariffs on 128 U.S. products sent shockwaves across U.S. agriculture, especially in California.

Among the Chinese targets are some of the biggest money crops in San Benito County and southern Santa Clara County—fruit, nuts and wine.

The Chinese announcement followed the Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods.

In its statement, China did not indicate when the tariffs would go into effect but said it would implement them in two parts. The first part would affect 120 U.S. products valued at $977 million, including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and wine, with a 15 percent tariff. The second part would cover eight U.S. products worth nearly $2 billion, including pork, with a 25 percent tariff.

China said if it fails to reach an agreement with the United States, then it would place tariffs on the first part of the list.


Gavilan students lead community empathy

Gavilan College Student Vets of America hit the streets in drag in downtown Hollister on April 28 to benefit Emmaus House and Community Solutions Programs supporting victims of domestic violence.

The students were among 175 volunteers and walkers to “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”

Ray Lopez, one of the founders of the veterans’ group said they began participating in the benefit three years ago.

The walkers raised more than $10,000 for the charities.

Community Solutions program manager Erica Elliot said her agency serves survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking and works with Emmaus House, which operates shelter for women and children.

Elliot said the first aim of the event is to raise awareness around the issue of sexual violence.

“The second is an opportunity for the community to get involved and stand together to show that sexual violence is not OK.”


San Benito Rodeo is 85th

Visitors and residents lined the streets of downtown Hollister Saturday, June 16, for the San Benito County Saddle Horse Parade.

The event, in its 85th year, kicked off the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo, which will run June 22-24 at Bolado Park and Event Center in Tres Pinos.

In addition to class eliminations, cattle sorting and roping, a number of family-friendly events are scheduled during the rodeo weekend, including a Western Art and Tack Show, the Mariachi Alma De Mexico Band, a taco bar, and wine and beer tasting.
Hungry ranchers can get their fill at the Cowboy BBQ dinner catered by Mansmith’s.


Motorcyclists visit after holiday

The City of Hollister earlier this year rejected plans for a Fourth of July motorcycle festival, but that didn’t stop hundreds of Harley riders from descending on San Benito Street on July 7 in an informal, impromptu communal gathering of leather-clad enthusiasts. The nearly 150 “hogs” and their riders filled downtown, and visited the iconic Johnnie’s bar and other local restaurants (and gas stations) in homage to a more restless visitation by bikers 71 years ago. Police reported no increase in weekend incidents.


New homes for farm workers

The $26 million, 80-unit Vista Del Oro apartment complex should be finished by October, providing subsidized housing for San Benito farmworkers.

The apartments, ranging from one to three bedrooms, will be restricted to low-income farmworkers.

Applicants who earn 50 percent of the 2015 median income in San Benito County would pay $698 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, $838 a month for a two-bedroom and $968 a month for a three-bedroom unit.  

Vista de Oro’s five buildings will have 16 one-bedroom, 40 two-bedroom and 24 three-bedroom units.

The project, at 1480 San Juan Road on eight acres of land, was approved by the Hollister City Council by a unanimous in 2015.


Council says no election for District 1

On Aug. 20, the council voted 3-1, with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez opposed, to appoint Ray Friend’s successor and not allow District 1 voters to pick his replacement.

Friend said he was told by Black that the first meeting where he could announce his resignation would be Aug. 7, because the Hollister City Council was out of session for the month of July.

The council voted during the first week of October to appoint Planning Commissioner Carol Lenoir to the seat. Velazquez voted against her appointment.


First steps for ‘the 400 Block’

A Hollister Planning Commission vote Sept. 27 set stalled revised plans for the “400 Block” back in motion.

The commission unanimously approved the site and architectural application for a “philanthropic building” and mixed-use space at the site.

The City Council may finally be voting on these plans for the space as early as January 2019.

The Community Foundation for San Benito County and the Del Curto Brothers Group were approved for a joint development of the site in 2017. The community foundation intends to build a philanthropic building for a new headquarters and for offices of county non-profit organizations. The Del Curto Brothers Group is set to build a three-story commercial and mixed-use structure next door.

Following the Planning Commission vote, the developers say they are set to bring back a tentative map for approval by the commission. After the tentative map is approved, the developers have two years to produce a final map that will be reviewed by the city’s engineering department prior to City Council consideration.

With the two-year time limit, this could take place any time from 2019 to 2021.


New council members win

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez won re-election on Nov. 6,  while newcomer Rolan Resendiz unseated in District 2 incumbent Mickie Solorio Luna.

The campaign was contentious, with personal attacks on Resendiz by Luna’s supporters. Despite endorsements from prominent political figures in the community, Luna, a staunch member of the pro-development council majority, lost to Resendiz’s grassroots campaign.

County measures G and H both passed.

Measure G’s passage enacts a one-cent sales tax, raising approximately $16 million annually over 30 years, according to the ballot question.

The tax will aid with plans to widen Highway 25 into a four-lane expressway, with less access to residential streets.

Measure H is a business license tax ordinance for unincorporated parts of the county. Its passage means an increase in government services like law enforcement, fire service and road maintenance.

The ballot question asked voters, “Shall the proposed business license tax ordinance be adopted and enacted to impose a business license tax at a rate of $30 to $118 per business, 66 cents to $7.80 per employee, and 10 cents per ton of minerals depleted.”


Romaine probe rattles farmers

Lettuce growers along the Central Coast, including San Benito County, were in the crosshairs of federal investigators Nov. 26, less than a week after the government warned consumers, grocers and restaurants nationwide to destroy all romaine lettuce.

In a statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday, “Based on further discussions with the leafy greens industry and with agricultural authorities, we have begun to narrow the location in which we believe the contaminated romaine in the current outbreak was grown.

The FDA on Nov. 26 announced new steps to help consumers better identify where their romaine is grown through voluntary labeling.

“Romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date,” the FDA announced.

In San Benito County, romaine lettuce is the second biggest crop, yielding nearly 50,000 tons per year, and in terms of crop value, approximately $33 million, according to the most recent county crop report.

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