City told growth needs work

State sends Hollister back to drawing board to manage growth

Hollister residents demanded a plan for the city’s growth in November 2018 when they went to the ballot box, electing self-proclaimed “smart growth” candidates.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez won his re-election after promising a plan for growth, but state officials have put the brakes on a proposed “growth management” ordinance for the city.

In a Feb. 1 letter, the Housing and Community Development Department’s Division of Housing Policy Development sent a letter to the city saying it was in danger of being out of compliance with state housing laws.

The state warned that while the city was currently adhering to housing element compliance, offering enough different types of housing to residents, the proposed ordinance could change Hollister’s status.

In his Feb. 12 State of the State address, Gov. Gavin Newsom made a point of calling out cities that did not comply with the states affordable housing requirements. Hollister was on the governor’s short list as being in danger of noncompliance, but according to the housing department’s letter, it narrowly missed the classification.

The current draft of the ordinance did not comply with the department, so it was back to the drawing board for the City Council at its Feb. 25 meeting. The council’s direction from the meeting left many questions about the ordinance unanswered, with council members disagreeing on the fundamentals of the ordinance.

The idea of drastically reducing the number of units from the proposed 240 per year was floated by Velazquez and Richman asked that the staff look into drafting a separate inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require developers to allocate a certain percentage of projects to different housing income levels.

Staff recommended that in order to not violate state law the developers could make a pitch directly to the city staff and then to council, instead of installing the previously rating system. City staff also recommended that instead of the growth management ordinance being in place until the general plan update is completed, it is put in place for five year or until the update is completed.

The current ordinance would allow 244 units to be built per year, not including low-income, special needs or senior housing. This 244-unit limit had been the growth cap in Hollister when the city had previously implemented a growth management ordinance. The original and draft versions of the ordinance required developers to take several new steps to get projects approved.

Velazquez felt the 244 units was still too many and would only welcome single family homes to be developed. He called for staff to come up with ways that different types of housing, like townhomes, could be produced.

According to state law, a city cannot make it more difficult for developers’ projects to be approved or deny a project because the city government doesn’t want the building. If a city does not comply with state affordable housing policy, the city can have state funding revoked for infrastructure and other state funded projects.

Local lobbyist Victor Gomez, CEO of Pinnacle Strategies, said he agree with the mayor’s long-standing position that the city’s infrastructure had to catch up with the city’s building, but that ultimately the first draft of the ordinance did not comply with state law.

“I agree with the mayor that the state better do their part as well,” said Gomez, a former mayor. He added that a growth cap would be the most effective way to manage building in the city.

Gomez said the development community would be most the supportive of a growth cap, but is wary of anything that may seem like a growth moratorium. The city has a long history of trying to keep up with and maintain growth.

Following a series of building projects, the city’s sewer system couldn’t handle the development, resulting in an six-year moratorium on new housing that was lifted in 2008.

Bryan Swanson, director of the city’s development services department, said the draft ordinance came out of mostly public pressure.

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