The effort to permanently close a section of Nash Road that intersects San Benito High School is at a stalemate. San Benito County and the city of Hollister each own half of the road but have not vacated it. While San Benito High School continues to push for permanent closure, the county has opted to wait for Hollister, and the city has left the issue unresolved.
San Benito High School argues that the closure will keep students and staff safe from through traffic. It’s the final step of an agreement between the three agencies which included the installation of gates in 2018 that closed Nash Road to traffic during school hours.
The San Benito High School District in a statement provided by Adam Breen, public information/community relations officer, told BenitoLink it has no plans for the closed portion, but would like to eventually develop a student pathway to connect the two parts of campus on opposite sides of Nash Road.
In the agreement, the county agrees to consider vacating its portion of the road and is required to construct River Parkway, a road south of the high school campus that connects San Benito Street and Nash road, in exchange for about 50 acres of land owned by the high school. The city of Hollister, which owns the northern half of the road, asked for the construction of a bypass around the high school and other improvements in exchange for vacating Nash Road.
The Hollister City Council left the dais on March 15 without taking action or providing direction to staff, even as concerns were raised about the closure impacting emergency services response times.
While Hollister City Manager Brett Miller told BenitoLink he did not know what were the next steps, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said City Council had a consensus that they supported keeping the road partially closed. Council members Rick Perez and Rolan Resendiz told BenitoLink they did not support the permanent closure.
While Perez said he was willing to continue the conversations with the high school, Resendiz said he would like to see the county and the school district work together on the regional park. Both council members and Councilwoman Honor Spencer said they didn’t recall if staff had been given direction as to what to do next. Councilman Tim Burns did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment. Spencer resigned from the City Council on April 19 because she is moving out of the state.
On March 23, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors continued the question of vacating the southern portion of the road to April 27, as members voiced concerns over a lack of commitment from the city to move forward.
In preparing to acquire the land, the county in February amended its General Plan zoning of the property proposed to be the future site of a regional park.
San Benito County Resource Management Agency Director Benny Young presented to both the City Council and Board of Supervisors on vacating the road, but failed to stimulate action from either side. Young tried to use the regional park as a bargaining chip, saying the application for a $3 million grant for the park would be stronger if the county owned the property.
He noted that vacating Nash Road is the county’s last obligation in the 2016 agreement between the three parties.
Young said he was optimistic that the safety concerns regarding emergency vehicle response times would be solved.
His view was not shared by supervisors, however. Supervisor Mark Medina said he would not vote to vacate until Hollister took action. Supervisor Bea Gonzales also said she could not vote to vacate. She instead asked San Benito High School to act in good faith and lease the property to the county now.
A frustrated Gonzales said the school district and Hollister have held the project hostage and pushed for a lease commitment from San Benito High School. Supervisor Peter Hernandez clarified that a 99-year lease is an option included in the 2016 agreement.
Assistant County Counsel Joel Ellinwood confirmed that the school district was obligated to provide a 99-year lease when the county went to bid for the construction of River Parkway.
“What happens when this permanent vacation of that one-block section of Nash Road occurs is that the title would be transferred,” Ellinwood said. “The county would initially have a lease but then they would take full title once the closure occurs. So there are two steps in that process contemplated in that interagency agreement.”
Hollister fire, police oppose project
At the March 23 Board of Supervisors meeting, Hollister Fire Department Battalion Chief Charlie Bedolla said he was unaware of the push to permanently close Nash Road until Young’s March 15 presentation to the Hollister City Council. He added that he believed the agreement only covered closing the gates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and the construction of River Parkway.
Bedolla said HFD does not support the permanent closure because the traffic-calming measures included in the agreement, such as speed bumps and speed tables, are not allowed on public roads that fire engines use under the international fire code.
“If all this stuff would’ve come to me in the beginning, I would’ve said traffic-calming devices aren’t allowed,” Bedolla said.
However, that section of Nash Road would not be considered a public road if the county and city vacate it.
Bedolla also questioned the Opticom traffic preemption technology the gates use to allow immediate access to emergency vehicles equipped with the system. He said that during a response to a fire on Homestead Avenue, the Opticom sensor failed and the fire engine had to reroute. He said only four or five of its 19 vehicles have an Opticom sensor, and that Hollister Police Department and ambulance vehicles aren’t equipped with it.
“We have to remember fire doubles in size every minute and the brain starts losing oxygen after two minutes,” Bedolla said.
While he didn’t discuss how response times would be affected by the closure of Nash Road, he did provide distance differences from Station #1 on Fifth Street and Station #2 on Valley View Road.
|Station||To 1220 Monterey St.||To the corner of Powell St and Nash Rd.||To 1000 Nash Rd.|
|#1||0.9 miles||1.3 miles||1.7 miles|
|#2||2.2 miles||2.4 miles||2.6 miles|
Bedolla said using side streets to go around the high school was not an option.
“We have major routes that we take, Nash is one of them, Seventh Street is one of them. We are not going to zigzag through town because we are not going to put the community in danger of accidents happening from there,” Bedolla said.
In addition, he said he knew “100%” that the Hollister Police Department did not support the permanent closure either.
HPD interim chief Carlos Reynoso told BenitoLink the agency does not support the permanent and “unnecessary” closure of Nash Road.
High school says there was wide buy-in
At the meeting, SBHS Project Manager Rob Zimmerman countered that HFD was aware of the intent to permanently close Nash Road. He said meetings with stakeholders, including the fire department, began in 2017. Discussions included design and impact to the neighborhood and community.
“I believe as the construction manager we did our due diligence by talking to all the different stakeholders in the community, the community itself,” Zimmerman said.
He named some of the stakeholders who participated, including the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, former police chief and current county Public Information Officer David Westrick, Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo, American Medical Response, Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and other city council members, former city manager Bill Avera, the Board of Supervisors, neighborhood residents and a homeowners association attorney.
“With all the different agencies we created a plan,” Zimmerman said. “And that plan was what everybody is talking about—the gates and the traffic mitigations in the agreement.”
County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa concurred with Zimmerman that the county had been in a “tremendous amount of meetings” over the last five years. He also cited a 2019 resolution that directs Hollister city staff to begin the process of vacating its portion of Nash Road.
In the resolution, “the city stated that the public safety officials concur with the closure of Nash Road, provided a few additional safety measures are explored in the areas surrounding the San Benito High School and the regional park,” Espinosa said. “The City Council did approve moving forward with the permanent closure, at least the foresight of having that.”
According to the meeting minutes, the resolution passed in a 3-0 vote with the support from councilmembers Carol Lenoir, Marty Richman and Velazquez. Councilmembers Honor Spencer and Rolan Resendiz recused themselves from the item.
Velazquez told BenitoLink he did not remember the resolution that the city adopted directing staff to begin the process to permanently close Nash Road.
Zimmerman said Bedolla signed off on the gate system and traffic mitigations in 2018. Among the changes that were made at Bedolla’s request, he said, were adding the Opticom sensor system, which opens the gates from about a block and a half away. He said the gates then need to be manually shut and have yet to fail.
“I’m not saying it won’t fail, it can fail, it’s mechanical. It’s subject to fail,” Zimmerman said. He committed to addressing any failures immediately and to work with the HFD multiple times a year to ensure the system is working.
He added that ambulance service American Medical Response, the Sheriff’s Office and police departments said they had no issue going around the high school.
Sheriff’s Office supports closure
Sheriff’s Office Capt. Eric Taylor said he has been part of every aspect of the Nash Road project in recent years and supports it because the Sheriff’s Department has small, maneuverable vehicles that can “easily” go around the high school.
“To be honest, I think that River Parkway is a smoother route to get to point A to point B anyway,” Taylor said.
He added that the Sheriff’s Office has been aware of the push to permanently close that part of Nash Road for several years.
“The intent always, from day one, from my understanding, was to make it a hard permanent closure,” Taylor said. “To even pave across the road and make it like a courtyard or whatever. It would all be one level. There wouldn’t even be a road there anymore.”
Some residents opposed
While SBHS has had several meetings with stakeholders and neighbors, not all are supportive of the permanent closure.
At the March 23 Board of Supervisors meeting, five people spoke against it, citing safety and concerns with emergency services response times, lack of traffic studies and traffic mitigations.
“I’ve lived here for 20 years and I have yet to hear of a student getting run down on Nash Road,” said Steve, president of a homeowners association in the area who did not provide his last name. He called the temporary closure reasonable as it protects the majority of students and staff.
Neighbor Jacqueline Thomas also spoke against the permanent closure and questioned how much safer it would be compared to the current weekday closure. She also said she did not know the results of a traffic study that was conducted.
“Are you or is the high school ready to take the responsibility if something should take longer for them to get to a person in need?” Thomas asked the supervisors.
San Benito High School’s Public Information Officer Adam Breen provided the district’s comments to BenitoLink by email, reiterating that closing Nash Road is a safety issue.
“Unfortunately, students and staff, as well as members of the public, have had numerous encounters with oncoming motorists over the years when the traffic was allowed to freely flow at all times of the day and evening,” the district statement said.
According to police records, since 2015 there have been three accidents involving a pedestrian or bicyclist on that block of Nash Road and an accident in the staff parking lot near Monterey Street resulting in minor injuries. Two of the accidents involved cars entering or exiting a parking lot.
BenitoLink requested a copy of the traffic study from the county and San Benito High School but both agencies said they have not conducted a traffic study on Nash road. Breen said the district was only involved on traffic studies with Hollister regarding the four-way stop at B and West streets. Additionally, he said the school commissioned a traffic study to add a stop sign at the intersection of San Benito Street and River Parkway.
In the statement to BenitoLink, San Benito High School said it had explored constructing a tunnel or bridge for pedestrian access. However, utilities under Nash Road and the Calaveras Fault line make both options cost prohibitive.
Utilities under Nash Road include water, sewer, PG&E and fiber optic lines.
In a separate statement, SBHS District Board of Trustees President John Corrigan told BenitoLink that any construction the school district undertakes needs approval from the Department of the State Architect, adding significant cost to the project.
Also, if the school district were to construct a pedestrian bridge, it must meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Corrigan said architects determined that because of the required slope of the bridge, it would have to start at the beginning of the administration building on Monterey Street and turn west along Nash Road crossing the street.
“This would have been a monolithic eyesore and would have been prohibitively expensive,” Corrigan said.
Hollister City Manager Brett Miller told BenitoLink that with no direction given to staff during the meeting, the City Council needed to decide what to do next.
San Benito County is scheduled to again consider vacating Nash Road on April 27. The supervisors also agreed, at the staff’s request, to meet with the stakeholders to come up with solutions to the concerns raised by the residents.
San Benito High School, through the statement provided by Breen, told BenitoLink it intends to work with all parties to fulfill the obligations under the agreement.
“If any party backs out of closing Nash Road, or any other obligation under the agreement, the district will have to consider options to enforce the terms of the agreement,” the statement said. “All three parties in good faith negotiated and approved the terms, conditions and timeline set forth in the agreement.”
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