Plans for a long awaited regional park took a huge step forward after the San Benito High School District (SBHSD) and county on Tuesday agreed to a 99-year lease for the property that will be used for the park.
The agreement will finally allow the county to move forward on the project, including applying for a coveted $3 million state park grant via Proposition 68. There was plenty of urgency involved because the county needed a minimum of a 30-year lease on the property to make the upcoming grant application deadline. The county believes it “checks off all the boxes” to earn the state park grant funds, which would go a long way in funding the regional park project.
“It’s a big deal because plans for the regional park go back a good decade or so,” said County Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki, who is on a regional park ad-hoc committee along with fellow Supervisor Peter Hernandez. “There was a lot of work, a lot of frustration, and for a while there it didn’t look like it would get past the finish line. But I’m thankful for the cooperation from the district and all the parties involved in getting this done. Supervisor Hernandez, along with county staff, deserve immense credit for seeing this through.”
SBHSD Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum used the word “monumental” a couple of times in describing the years-long process to get to this point. No less than a dozen local agencies and key stakeholders had to be involved as part of a county and district interagency agreement that was established in 2016 to start discussions regarding traffic mitigation measures, gate systems surrounding the streets of the high school and the river parkway—all necessary components in the buildup to the regional park.
But in mid-March, plans for the regional park hit a snag when the Hollister City Council reached a consensus that Nash Road could not be closed permanently because it serves as a key access road and thoroughfare for emergency services. The district had made it clear it wanted Nash Road closed permanently.
SBHSD was asking the county and city to vacate each of the small portions they own on Nash Road so the district could close it permanently. In exchange, the district would gift the county the land behind the high school. That property accounts for 47.6 acres and would adjoin the 23.4 acres of land the county already owns to make up the proposed site of the regional park.
It seemed for the regional park plans to move forward, everything hung on the three entities coming to a resolution on Nash Road. However, the city was unwilling to vacate its portion of Nash Road, leaving the county and district to reach a compromise in negotiations.
“We’re extremely proud to work with the county for this lease,” Tennenbaum said. “One of our visions is to support the effort to enhance and provide amenities for the citizens and constituents of San Benito County. From the district’s perspective, we’re making sure the regional park is supported from our end, and we’re pleased the constituents within the county and around the county will have a first-class park for decades to come.”
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez credited the county and district for working together to make this happen.
“Somehow, the county and school district worked out an agreement, and it’s great because everyone wins,” he said. “We all want to have a regional park that we can use and bring our families out to, so at the end of the day it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Tennenbaum credited County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa, Resource Management Agency Director Benny Young, Assistant Director Mike Chambless and San Benito High School Project Manager Rob Zimmerman for doing their part to inform and collaborate with all the key stakeholders to help bring the regional park to fruition.
The regional park would include sports facilities along with several other elements which will be decided upon after the county conducts public outreach with the community. The adjoining River Parkway will consist of a 20-mile corridor of the San Benito River and Tres Pinos Creek and provide multi-use (walking, bicycling and equestrian) trails.
Kosmicki said the county’s short-term plan is to get the regional park facility open as soon as possible and do proper maintenance and cleanup on the property. Long-term, the county will go through a process to receive input from the community which will go a long way in shaping the development of the park.
As for a resolution on Nash Road? That’s still a work in progress. Currently, Nash Road is closed on weekdays from 7am to 7pm during the school year. Since 2016, the city, county and SBHSD have tried to come to an agreement to close the part of Nash Road that intersects with the campus, install safety improvements on River Parkway and plan for the development of the regional park.
In recent discussions between the district and the county, the district asked for an extension of the Nash Road closure to go to 10pm on school days. Alternatively, the road would be closed at different times depending on a variety of factors, including when the high school had evening events. In that case, the district would provide the community with a master events calendar.
Those talks are still ongoing. Tennenbaum did hint that the interagency agreement calls for the permanent closure of Nash Road at some point. But this issue features many layers and involves several different agencies, which makes an agreement that would satisfy everyone extremely difficult.
Kosmicki said the Sheriff’s Office is in favor of closing Nash Road permanently, but the two city public safety agencies—Hollister’s Police and Fire departments—are hesitant.
“I told the high school district I would support a 10pm closure on school days because it’s a good compromise,” Kosmicki said. “As I said in Tuesday’s (April 27) board meeting, we’re definitely listening to residents in that neighborhood because justifiably they have safety and convenience concerns. On the flip side, there are justifiable safety concerns from the high school allowing all that traffic to come through there when all these students and families in the area are crossing the street. So I gave my word and followed through and pushed hard in the meeting for the county board to support a 10pm extension time closure. It didn’t get support immediately, and the conversation veered to closing it just on nights when the school had activities.”