The Hollister City Council voted 4-0 on May 20 to delay the public hearing of Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’s appeal of development of the 400 block at Fourth and San Benito streets. Velazquez recused himself from the vote. The hearing is now set for June 3.
Attorney Lauren Layne of the law firm Baker Manock & Jensen told the council she received a letter from Velazquez’s attorney regarding confusion over the city’s municipal code for when the public hearing should be scheduled and when the staff report should be prepared. The council approved hiring Layne on May 13 to assist with the appeal process.
Layne recommended the council either reschedule the public hearing for June 3 or continue it that evening. Councilman Marty Richman started to ask if anyone wanted to make a motion when Councilman Rolan Resendiz interjected. He asked about another letter from the mayor’s attorney, dated May 16, accusing one council member of a conflict of interest. Layne said the attorney questioned a council member’s “ability to not be biased.”
“There is no actual legal conflict of interest,” Layne said. “As council members, it’s your job to represent your constituents and to voice your opinion.”
A motion was made and seconded to reschedule the hearing. Richman asked if there were any public comments and said the public could only speak on the issue of rescheduling and not on the public hearing itself.
“It’s awful that the mayor’s using another delay tactic,” Richard Ferreira called out from his seat. Richman used the gavel to silence him, called for order and told Ferreira if he wanted to speak to do it properly. He was then called up to the podium and objected to the continuation, calling it a planned tactic to prolong the process.
Real estate agent Carly Jo Brigantino also objected to the delay. She said there was a pattern of the mayor’s attorney submitting letters just prior to meetings to slow down or stop development of the 400 block.
“Speaking on behalf of the Del Curto Group, we believe that Mayor Ignacio is doing this for economic and personal reasons in postponing this,” she said.
Resident Courtney Evans also objected to the delay and said any time the mayor has posted his opinions about the 400 block on social media he was not using a personal account, but the mayor’s account. The mayor always claims it’s his right as a private citizen to voice his opinions.
In 2015, Velazquez was accused of a conflict of interest related to his ownership of The Vault (next to the 400 block) in connection to the motorcycle rally. A complaint was registered with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and in August 2015 the commission closed the file. The commission said Velazquez would not have a conflict of interest as long as his business did not realize either an increase or decrease of $20,000 or more in gross revenues for a year as a result of the rally.
However, in May 2016 (see PDF below) letter to Velazquez, FPPC stated, “Having two commercial properties in such close proximity to the vacant lot would cause a reasonably prudent person, using due care and consideration under the circumstances, to believe that the governmental decision was of such a nature that its reasonably foreseeable effect would influence the market value of your real property. Thus, the effect of the decision [to develop the 400 block] will have a foreseeable and material financial effect on your interests and you may not make, participate in making, or influence the decision.”
After public comment wrapped up, Richman thanked those in the audience and said he regretted that circumstances required the continuance. He noted that the mayor’s attorney was not even present. Velazquez told Benitolink prior to the May 20 hearing that his attorney would be there that night to argue the case for the appeal.
“This was a good faith effort to have the hearing,” Richman said. “It was not a one-sided effort. It was an agreement between the two sides. We will hopefully get to this on June 3.”
Richman told Benitolink he was in favor of the delay in order to “guarantee due diligence and to focus on the appeal and not scheduling.”
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