400 block deserves better

The City of Hollister should go back to the drawing board on the 400 block. The proposed deal has way too many problems and is too polarizing because it wasn’t handled the right way.

An appraisal was hidden from the public, allowing the land to be sold too cheaply, at the expense of schools, fire districts and public agencies that benefit from a sale. Not only were they being cheated by the artificially low sales price, but a nonprofit-owned parcel will be exempt from paying property taxes on a piece prime of downtown real estate.

Then the City Council prohibited the public from voting on the development, despite a petition qualifying the question for the ballot. It should have let voters speak.

Voters chose Rolan Resendiz over incumbent Mickie Solorio Luna, who was instrumental in squashing the election—a clear sign that citizens were tired of insiderism. The city should have sat up and taken notice, but it continued on its divisive course rather than listen to the public.

The Community Foundation of San Benito County, instead of serving the people who need its help, has been spending too much time and money on politics, influence building, development and media. It poured cash that it raised into Benitolink, which shamelessly reported on council activities and the 400 block without disclosing that it will benefit from having cushy quarters there. That’s a conflict of interest.

The foundation should refocus on its core mission and look for less strategic land than the most important corner in town. The 400-block location is better suited to a public use that will generate more foot traffic, taxes and economic activity than offices for a small nonprofit.

The city should talk to revitalization consultants to find out what uses kickstart a downtown, and talk to the community to find out what it wants. A plaza? A marketplace with permanent food and vegetable stalls and a bandshell? A center for performing arts?  There should be a charrette to elicit creativity and ideas, craft a real downtown plan and most importantly, create consensus on a shared community vision.

Then Hollister should invite innovative architects, public space planners and developers from near and far to submit proposals. There should be a competitive process—not a backroom deal.  

Perhaps Hollister is ready for some exciting architecture or a destination draw. Communities such as Mountain View and Escondido have gone from backwaters to regional magnets by building arts centers in their downtowns. Hollister can do better than a handful of run-of-the-mill apartments or condos, and some vanilla office and retail space.

Let’s dare to do something better and make a difference. Whatever is built will be here for a long time and set the tone for the future. Create a crown jewel for downtown’s next century.

It’s time to go big or go home.

It’s time to lead, not settle.

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