Faced with a threat of litigation and pushback from surrounding business owners, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors on July 27 rejected a homeless camping site proposed for Flynn Road.
The supervisors voted 3-0 to direct county staff to focus on longer-term proposals for its current San Felipe Road shelter, after determining there were no other viable locations that could be quickly converted to an encampment. Supervisor Peter Hernandez was absent, with one seat currently vacant, leaving only a trio of board members present.
On June 8, the supervisors directed staff to review the plausibility of forming a temporary encampment at 710 Flynn Road, adjacent to the county jail facility and surrounded by agricultural fields, the Hollister Municipal Airport and vacant industrial land.
The proposal would have added up to 26 spaces for tents on a 4.25-acre portion of the county-owned property, according to interim Resource Management Agency Director Mike Chambless, with porta-potties and vehicle parking spots.
Chambless presented a list of more than five alternative properties owned by the county for a homeless encampment, but each had various issues that would make them infeasible, such as proximity to residential areas or lack of urban services.
The Flynn Road site, he said, has access to water and sewer, and is not adjacent to homes.
Supervisor Bob Tiffany said the addition of a homeless encampment would deter potential businesses looking to move to the area.
“Once the word gets out there’s a homeless encampment just south of a business park and airport area where we’re trying to attract new businesses, that is enough to screw up any deal,” he said.
He cited a time in 2015, when the board was considering a homeless encampment in the same area. While the county eventually scrapped the plan, the idea of the camp was “enough to kill at least one deal I am aware of,” Tiffany said.
In a July 16 letter to County Counsel Barbara Thompson, Tiffany wrote that Ken Lindsay of Sierra Pacific Associates, who owns the surrounding property, would likely be pursuing “legal action” if the county moved forward with the proposal.
Speaking to the supervisors on July 27, Lindsay said his company would have lost the deal with Amazon, which is currently constructing a facility at the corner of Flynn and San Felipe roads, if the encampment was there.
“A temporary shelter will derail our efforts to bring in more companies,” he said. “We are talking with Amazon and other companies now about expansions in the area. This will be very detrimental to those efforts. If you decide to go forward with this, there will be substantial pushback from landowners and our tenants. I hope we don’t have to go that route.”
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki said the county needs to clean up the San Benito River, not only from a public health standpoint, but to help those living there get back on their feet.
He added that the temporary Flynn Road location made the most sense when compared to the alternative sites, and would allow the county to begin focusing on long-term efforts to curb homelessness.
“I think there’s been an overreaction of sorts from the business community,” he said. “I don’t expect there will be a large number of people taking advantage of this site. We need something in the short term and medium term.”
Supervisor Bea Gonzales said she was “torn and frustrated with the process,” but noted that she was “not willing to upset the business community.”
The supervisors decided to direct staff to work on “medium- and long-term solutions” for homelessness, after County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa said staff is already working on plans to purchase property and expand the current shelter, possibly with “tiny homes.”