As the year comes to a close, it is fitting to reflect on what has been achieved in and around Hollister and at City Hall. The City Council has been very focused on strategic planning, getting the city staffed up and improving operations.
We had been operating with an employee vacancy rate of 20-30% for a number of years, which included several vacant key management positions. I am happy to report that we are closing the gap in this area. This year we hired a new City Manager, David Mirrione, and he has been busy bringing new department heads and staff on board.
We are currently at a 15-17% vacancy, and hiring will continue to fill vacancies in 2024.
One area of primary concern for residents is safety. We have made strides in improving public safety. Both the Hollister Police Department and Fire Department have had very successful recruiting efforts this year. In fact, the Police Department swore in four new officers just a month ago!
We have also brought on board five new firefighters. A new fire truck is on order, and an upgraded ladder apparatus was recently approved by the City Council, which will improve the ability to reach our taller buildings. The Police Department also implemented Flock cameras and gunshot detection systems to aid safety efforts in the city. These have been installed at our local parks, as well as various intersections.
Of the many requests City Council receives, improvement to roadways is the most frequent ask. There is confusion though, as frequently the requests are to fix county roads such as Fairview Road, Union Road and others. These county roads are not within the City Council’s jurisdiction, and are in the hands of our County Board of Supervisors.
It is my understanding the Board of Supervisors approved a major roads improvement package for many of the roads of concern to residents.
The City Council does have jurisdiction over roads within the city limits. This year, we approved a major Road & Alley Capital Improvements Project which includes pavement rehabilitation; slurry seal; Ladd Lane/Southside Road Restoration; Santa Ana Road Re-Striping; McCray Street Driveway Replacement; Memorial Drive Pedestrian Crosswalk; and Wentz, Brown and Swope Alleys Reconstruction.
In addition to the capital improvements, I advocated for a policy and budget around traffic calming/safety programs, and speed cushion installation and removal, since there have been some issues around traffic projects. The council approved these new policies and they provide guidance in this area to make sure any new project meets certain criteria before being implemented.
The City has also received a $1.08 million dollar grant to do a Safe Streets school study.
In addition to the road infrastructure work, we have made progress in a number of other areas of city infrastructure. Hollister is implementing ACCELA software which will increase department efficiency and also make it easier for residents to obtain online services. The City also received a $500,000 technical assistance grant to fund design of broadband infrastructure in Hollister.
We have secured $3.3 million in grants for the airport taxiway improvements. We also recently hired a new Airport Director who will lead the charge as we expand and improve the airport and the business park around it.
A building was purchased at 190 Maple Street near the post office and will be developed into a one-stop shop where residents and business owners will be able to get services (with ample parking!). The remodeling is anticipated to be completed in 2024.
We invested $2.5 million from our sewer impact funds to repair and upgrade outdated parts/equipment which will keep our plant operating efficiently. There are four sewer membranes that process waste, and have a lifespan of 10-15 years. In 2016, two of those membranes were replaced. The other two had been scheduled for replacement in 2020 but were not, so Council voted to replace them this year.
In addition, Councilmember Tim Burns (with full council support) asked for an investigation regarding the smell from the sewer in response to concerns voiced by residents who live near the plant. Our new public works director William Via has been leading that investigation. He has already taken some steps to reduce the odor, and has also identified some equipment upgrades that should definitely improve the situation.
The investigation is ongoing and once completed, a plan and timeline to make the improvements will be identified.
The Jr. Giants Softball field has been redone up at Vista Hill Park; we also approved the resurfacing of the Tennis and Pickleball courts at Dunne Park.
Another priority area for me has been to increase community engagement and communication. We have held numerous listening/input sessions with the community around Ladd Lane traffic calming; the downtown parklets; and our inclusionary housing, mobile food truck, and RV ordinances. I’ve also created a City Council Highlights report after each meeting which is posted on my social media page, which highlights some of the most important items from City Council meetings.
I have been thrilled this past year to be part of such a great team, and happy I have been able to lead some of the progress made this year. There has been quite a “changing of the guard” happening with new council members and staff coming on board—and while there have definitely been challenges to overcome, I believe we are heading in a positive direction. The work so far has been focused, strategic and proactive.
There has also been a much more collaborative working relationship established between the county and Hollister for the first time in a very long time. Councilmember Morales and myself, as well as several County Supervisors, have had a very productive year working and advocating with our state and federal elected leaders.
We have already begun to see some of the fruits of this effort in the way of additional grant funding for the airport and other programs, as well as the state’s distressed hospital loan program that is assisting Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in keeping its doors open.
I anticipate as we gear up for 2024 that we will see even better achievements. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and have a very Happy New Year!
Mia Casey is the Mayor of Hollister. To read a longer version of this guest view, visit the Hollister Free Lance website at sanbenito.com.