Congressional District 18 candidates at the BenitoLink 2022 general election forum. Photo by Leila Sadeghian.
Congressional District 18 candidates at the BenitoLink 2022 general election forum. Photo by Leila Sadeghian.

Over 200 people attended the BenitoLink general election candidate forum Oct. 11 at the Granada Theater in Hollister. The two-hour event featured seven races, along with Measures Q and R, and covered topics such as transportation, housing, mental health, agriculture and economic development. 

Among the most heated parts of the forum was the discussion about Measure R, which seeks to create a 3.5-mile buffer around TriCal Inc., located in the northern part of the county along Hwy 25 and similar businesses which handle agricultural chemicals in bulk quantities. Measure Q, which seeks to remove 13 designated commercial areas from the San Benito County General Plan known as nodes and changes the process to rezone properties from agricultural, rangeland and rural to commercial or residential, also generated passionate debate. 

Frank Barragan, proponent and spokesperson for Yes on R, said the measure is an attempt to protect families from TriCal, which he called a “hazardous chemical plant” and cited the Strada Verde hazard study to explain why a buffer was needed. 

“TriCal also agreed that you cannot have people out there near the hazardous chemicals.”

However, TriCal President Paul Niday, said in response to the studies during a 2020 Board of Supervisors meeting, “Our property is and always has been safe, secure and beneficial to the community.”

Barragan also said at the forum the buffer would prevent any housing development within the buffer. 

San Juan Bautista City Councilmember John Freeman, speaking for No on R, said there are facilities such as TriCal all over the Bay area that don’t have buffers.

“Let’s face it, this is not serious,” Freeman said. “This is an ordinance aimed at one business, Strada Verde, because he has a competitor that wants to do a similar thing somewhere else.”

Yes on Measure Q spokesperson Julio Rodriguez, an urban planning student, said in his introduction that county supervisors “cannot be trusted to make land use decisions.” 

Asked about the financial impact of the measure to the county, he said developers lie about project revenues and used the Strada Verde fiscal analysis as an example saying the numbers were exaggerated.

“The whole point of the measure is to stop out of control development and protect prime agricultural land. The reality is developers want to develop prime agricultural land.”

No on Measure Q spokesperson and county Supervisor Bob Tiffany said the measure is not about housing but commercial development and that it would “have significant impact.”

“This is going to greatly impact revenue, the county is a relatively poor county,” Tiffany said. “We only get 11 cents on the dollar on property taxes and get very little sales tax. The only way we can get more revenue is to bring in commercial development, new businesses for our community in the unincorporated areas of the county.”

He added that businesses would be discouraged from coming into the county because they won’t want to go through the planning process and then still require voter approval.

Also making some audience members boisterous was the Hollister City Council District 2 race, in which candidates Celeste Toledo-Bocanegra, Hani Mayzouni and Councilman Rolan Resendiz spoke about law enforcement, staff turnover and housing. A fourth candidate, Sergio Montanez, did not participate in the forum. 

The candidates spoke in favor of supporting higher salaries for law enforcement and staff to remain competitive with surrounding agencies. The public showed their discontent with Resendiz when he said leaders need to be factual with information regarding the city needing to adhere to state housing requirements because the county is considered rural agricultural. His statement was partially interrupted as some in the audience laughed and booed when he said people should not be spreading lies and mistruths. 

Regarding Resendiz’s claim, the state sent a letter to Hollister in 2020 to void or suspend its growth management program, an ordinance aimed at setting limits on housing development within the city.

When Resendiz said developers and special interests fund candidates that will favor their projects, some members of the audience again booed him and called out “you’re a liar, you’re such a liar.”

All the candidates spoke in support of affordable housing in Hollister. 

Among the other races covered in the forum were Congressional District 18, Assembly District 29, Board of Supervisors District 1, Hollister Mayor, City Council District 3 and San Juan Bautista City Council. 

A video is scheduled to be made available by Oct. 21 on BenitoLink’s Youtube channel. The forum was streamed through Facebook live and can be viewed here

 

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Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School graduate with a bachelor’s in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts...