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September 22, 2023

As sewer plant approaches capacity, Hollister OKs more housing hookups

San Juan Bautista and San Juan Oaks to link to city’s wastewater plant

The Hollister City Council meeting went on until almost midnight June 20 as council members engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding potential expansion of services for the city’s Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant. Two resolutions to have the city of San Juan Bautista and the San Juan Oaks development link up to the treatment plant inspired detailed discussion about the future of housing growth in and around Hollister. 

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to have San Juan Bautista use Hollister’s wastewater facility. The resolution to provide service to the San Juan Oaks project also passed in a 4-1 vote, with council member Rolan Resendiz being the sole “no” vote.

Hollister residents protesting the proposed expansion of the plant’s services made their presence felt as they held signs reading “Hollister Won’t Take Crap” and “Crappy Deals Made Behind Closed Doors.” Others lined up during public comment to voice their frustration with the city council.

William Via, Community Services Director for the City of Hollister, was on hand to guide the city council through a presentation outlining the logistics of increasing capacity for the wastewater treatment plant and the costs it would incur. The options proposed were to upgrade one or two of the membrane bioreactors (MBR) to increase capacity, retain the current capacity or enact a building moratorium on future development.

Currently, the city of Hollister pumps 2.6 million gallons per day (MGD) of the estimated 3.4 MGD capacity for the facility. This leaves 0.80 MGD, or 800,000 gallons per day free (GPD) for potential growth in service capacity. The money for upgrades is available through the city’s Sewer Expansion Fund, which retains the impact fees paid by developments and municipalities as a hookup fee for their use of the system. Currently, there is $43 million available for expansion. This growth could accommodate for an additional 5,000 single-family residential homes, according to Via.

The Fairview Corner development, which will include a Gavilan College site, adds 189 homes to the sewer system and an estimated additional 20,000 GPD. Cielo Vista’s failing wastewater treatment plant needs a $5.7 million upgrade, but it would only cost $1 million for the enclave to connect to the city’s treatment plant, which is the likely scenario.

The addition of San Juan Bautista and the San Juan Oaks would increase the flow by 1.20 MGD and 0.50 MGD, respectively. Although the current max capacity of the plant is 3.4 MGD, if one or more of the MBR’s are upgraded it could reach the target capacity goal of 4.0 MGD. The cost for upgrades could be up to $2.5 million.

According to Via, any impact fees would be paid to the city by the developers, not residents. San Juan Bautista would pay $2.5 million, but San Juan Oaks would not pay an impact fee as they would collect their own sewage and only pay to treat it at the Hollister facility. Cielo Vista would have to pay an impact fee, coming in at $660,000. The proposed Lee Subdivision was also listed as a service area, although the project had been shot down by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors earlier this year.

San Juan Bautista has been trying to resolve their wastewater issues since 2019 when they were found in violation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State Water Board standards. In 2021, the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista agreed to an easement for the Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant and for a sewer force main project to go forward.

During public comment, residents voiced their concerns, including the potential for future development the plant’s capacity increase may invite.

“This opens the door for more development. San Benito County is overdeveloped right now, we have a horrible traffic crisis,” said Fallon Greg. “Allowing more sewage capacity tells developers ‘we can come and build more houses’ and that causes a lot of problems.”

A number of residents expressed their support for a building moratorium, which would not solve the wastewater treatment plant’s existing capacity issues, but would halt further developments that would diminish the capacity further.

Some also argued that Hollister city residents would foot the bill for the expansion. However, county residents outside the city limits also pay wastewater rates, a fact which was clarified during the meeting.

Former council member Karson Klauer supported the expansion and saw it as a good sign. “This is what good planning looks like,” said Klauer.

Resendiz claimed that his constituents in District 2, some of which live near the wastewater facility, would be disproportionately affected by the increase in sewage flow.

“I feel like this is not only an environmental, but a social injustice issue,” said Resendiz.

When asked by Resendiz, City Attorney Mary Lerner confirmed that the current council was not legally obligated to abide by a previous council’s decisions. Resendiz used this determination to propose that the council renege on the agreement to provide service for San Juan Oaks. 

When the time came to vote on the two resolutions, Resendiz warned the council members of the consequences of their vote in favor of San Juan Oaks.

“You will own this. You’re going to have to face the public and you will be held accountable for your actions tonight,” said Resendiz.

Casey pushed back and told Resendiz that the developer had already spent $100 million on the project and that if the city did not hold up their end it could end up in a lawsuit.

“San Juan Oaks operated in good faith. That’s the bottom line for me. They followed all of the steps. They went to the City Council and the City Council made commitments to San Juan Oaks,” said Casey.

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