By Ignacio Velazquez
If there is one thing most of us can agree on, it is that we need to slow our growth.
As mayor, it has been frustrating to be continually outvoted by those in favor of more badly planned growth. Understanding and learning from mistakes of the past is crucial for better planning our future.
Many of us agree that the amount of new single-family homes being built is creating major, costly infrastructure issues for our community. Unfortunately, there has been reluctance by a majority of the council to make sure all new developments cover 100 percent of their costs for the life of any new development. The City of Hollister receives a very small portion of property tax—about $186 on a home that is valued at $500,000. These low numbers will continue to strain city resources and create more issues with our existing infrastructure.
Too much growth is not something new to our community. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, excessive building of new homes stretched our infrastructure to a point of failure, which led to a state-issued moratorium on all construction.
There is a famous quote that seems to fit our current situation perfectly: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
In 2015, I warned my fellow elected officials that if we did not put together a better plan for growth, we would soon experience major negative impacts on our community such as increased traffic; overcrowding in our schools; and failure of our roads and other infrastructure, which inevitably leads to more taxes.
Today, we are experiencing all of these issues; if we continue down this path, our problems will become much worse. Currently, there are several thousand more homes that have been approved to be built and several more thousand new homes in the process of being approved.
How and why do these bad decisions continue to be made? The simple answer is money—lots and lots of money from developers.
Developers funnel tens of thousands of dollars to get their candidates elected by bundling money for their campaigns or by creating fake community groups to send out misleading information.
They use social media to create numerous fake accounts to attack those who oppose more developments. Recently, one fake social media account was exposed after the profile picture being used was discovered to be that of a man that was murdered in San Antonio, Texas.
The newest tactic from developers to get more developments approved is insisting that the city and county have to follow state laws requiring more housing to be built or else face lawsuits. As always, the truth is something much different. San Benito County is actually exempt from these rules and, in reality, the state laws encourage rural communities to stay rural and protect prime farmland.
On the positive side, the consistent 4-1 vote supporting more growth over the last six years has now changed to a 2-2 tie vote, which means that there are not enough votes to approve new developments in the City of Hollister. I will continue to insist that an updated General Plan be approved by the entire community before any new major developments are allowed.
This is the year that will decide our future for decades to come. We can make the same mistakes as in the past by getting fooled by developers once again, or we can finally vote for a majority that will insist on better planning for our entire community. The right answers to move us forward in a positive way and slow growth are all there. All we need now are the three votes to make it happen.
Ignacio Velazquez is Mayor of Hollister.