LAFCO approves 49.5 acre annex

The Local Agency Formation Committee for San Benito County narrowly approved a request from the City of Hollister to annex 49.5 acres.

The committee voted to annex the property southwest of Highway 25 and extended the annexation along North Chappell Road so there were no pockets of city land outside city limits.

The annexation and “sphere of influence” change passed the commission by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Ignacio Velazquez and Jamie De La Cruz voted against the request. Commissioners Anthony Botelho, Richard Bettencourt and Dan De Vries voted to approve.

The San Benito County Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) is the government agency that approves or denies annexation requests from cities.

Commissioners include local politicians and community representatives. Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velasquez is the chair of the commission. Other commissioners who voted at the Jan. 10 meeting include county supervisors Jaime De La Cruz and Anthony Botelho and the committee’s public members, Richard Bettencourt and Dan De Vries.

The vote to annex the full 49.5 acres is contingent on the outcome of a public hearing for land owners in the two parcels annexed that were suggested by LAFCO staff, but not requested  by the city. The protest hearing is scheduled for March 21. Hollister’s request had initially included 34.2 acres of land, but the committee chose to adhere to LAFCO staff recommendations and annex the additional 15.3 acres to avoid creating pockets of land that would remain outside the city.

LAFCO staff said if the 15.3 acres was not annexed, it would have likely come before the committee at a later date to be brought into Hollister limits.

The land annexed is identified by the county as prime agricultural farmland. While the committee’s mission is to preserve farmland, it also works to create contiguous “smart growth.” The San Benito LAFCO website says the committee’s mission is to “encourage the orderly growth of local communities, preserve agricultural lands, discourage urban sprawl and assure efficient local government service.”

LAFCO staff said the city of Hollister had shown that the annexation would promote contiguous growth, discourage urban sprawl and be able to provide enough government services. However, LAFCO staff member Bill Nicholson did say the project did not provide a mitigation plan that would completely prevent the loss of prime farmland and or prevent traffic impacts on the neighborhood.

According to the LAFCO staff report, the 34.2-acre parcel requested by the city will have one to eight homes per acre, up to 259 new homes. The city of Hollister mandated that the property’s developer provide one-to-one mitigation or pay in lieu for prime farmland used in the project.

Many of the people who opposed to the project at the LAFCO meeting expressed concerns about the effects of new homes and developments on the city’s roads. Rolan Resendiz, newly elected council member for District 2, urged the commissioners to vote no on the annexation request. He told the members that during his campaign development and roads were among the biggest concerns he heard from constituents.

“If I’m not mistaken, there’s four elected officials up here that are up for re-election,” Resendiz said, “and you’re going to have to live with this decision.”

The Jan. 10 meeting also became fodder for past grievances. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and former mayor, Victor Gomez, head of Pinnacle Strategies consulting, exchanged barbs during the meeting.

The two have a history of disagreement when it comes to growth in the city. Velazquez has routinely voted against development projects beginning later in his first term in office. Gomez spoke at the meeting on behalf of the developers hoping to build homes on the newly annexed property.

Gomez had campaigned against Velazquez last fall, is a lobbyist for cannabis cultivators and has been a strong advocate the plan for the 400 block of San Benito Street approved by last year’s council.

He told the committee that Velazquez had voted in favor of the project when it came to the Hollister City Council in 2015. Velazquez later told the committee that his vote had been a mistake, but had accompanied a plea with city officials to implement “smart growth” tactics.

Velazquez has frequently advocated for an updated version of the city’s general plan and ran on a platform of curbing growth until Hollister was able to plan for expansion. “We cannot keep making decisions on the hope that somebody else is gonna do the right thing,” said Velazquez. “We have to make decisions according to a plan.”

He warned the commissioners that more growth in the city would lead to a “revolt” by the public.

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