About two dozen or so San Benito County Business Council members and guests met at San Juan Oaks Golf Club March 1 and one topic of concern to the business leaders was growth. Specifically, they wanted to talk about Hollister’s Residential Growth Management Program (GMP) ordinance that is coming up for a second reading at the Hollister city council. (See BenitoLink story Council moves forward with growth management plan)
There were two failed attempts to make a decision on the Growth Management Plan last year and the city planning department was supposed to bring it back to the council in January for a vote. In December, Abraham Prado, associate planner, had asked the council to be careful in considering any growth caps and the effect they may have on the city. He told them the state does not look favorably on cities that impose limits that might not comply with their own Housing Elements. He said the state has mandated a Housing Element in every General Plan since 1969, which determines the legal requirements of the Housing Element.
The issue that ended discussion at the December council meeting was how many single-family housing units any one development would be allowed to build in a year. Numbers bounced back and forth and finally settled on raising the 165-unit cap to 244 units, suggested by Councilman Jim Gillio and opposed by Mayor Ignacio Velazquez.
Councilman Jim Gillio, who is a member of the business council, said the Growth Management Ordinance has been discussed by the city council repeatedly during 2017. He (mistakenly) said it would be coming before the council March 5. He said the GMP was temporary while waiting for the General Plan update, which he estimated would take about 24 months.
“We have two people from the council, two people from the Planning Commission and we have an application out for a community member at large,” he said. “I really encourage anybody who wants to be involved in the future of our community to get involved now because once the General Plan is updated that’s a document that the City of Hollister will follow for the next 10 to 15 years. It’s a living document that can change, but it will shape the future.”
The Business Council’s Executive Director Kristina Chavez Wyatt told the group of recent meetings to discuss the ordinance language.
“It’s very important that we maintain our certification for the Housing Element for the city and not diminish our growth that we risk losing state funding grants,” she said. “The state is looking to get communities to maintain at least 1.5 percent growth.”
Wyatt asked the group if any of them wanted to comment about its support of the ordinance. She pointed out Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’ recent use of Facebook to garner community support for a possible moratorium or stop of building. She said the business council supported the GMP, although it wasn’t really necessary because of the low growth rate in the city, but, politically, it was a good step for the city while waiting for the General Plan to be approved.
Victor Gomez, who served as Hollister mayor and councilman and now heads his own consulting company, thanked Gillio for his leadership on the issue and said he disagreed with the community’s perception that too many units were being built.
“Councilman Gillio did a really good job in getting this to the point where we’re at 244 units, and I support that because it’s better than what the mayor is illegally trying to do, which is push a moratorium,” Gomez said. “Where things get dicey is this cap block, which is being proposed by the city council. In addition to a unit cap, the council is also proposing, above and beyond the fees associated with building a project, they’re saying ‘okay, developers, how much more can we squeeze out of you? What are you willing to do above and beyond the traditional impacts?’”
He said if someone were to look at the last page of the ordinance that tells developers how they can get their projects to score high in order to be approved, it was apparent that a high score amounted to an increased unit cost of $80,000.
“Each house that is built in the City of Hollister that falls within the Growth Management Ordinance is now going to cost each new home buyer $80,000 [more],” he asserted.
He further explained that if a developer only achieves a minimum score on the GMP, each of their units would still increase by $45,000.
“I understand this ordinance would only be in place until the General Plan update, which will probably be 18 months to two years to get through the process, but every home in those 24 months is going to cost each resident $80,000 [more],” he maintained. He added that he believed the ordinance would come back before the council for a second reading during the first week of April.
“If that is the case, I urge the Business Council membership, especially those that are in real estate, [that] you look at that last page of the ordinance because the builders are going to get hit really hard, but it’s really the consumer that will swallow a big portion of that,” he said.
Gillio stood and said the meeting was not the place to argue with Gomez’ figures, but he thought they were not accurate. He said he recollected that the lowest figure for a developer would be $20,000 to $30,000 per unit. Business council member Scott Fuller commented if that were the case then every developer would go for the least expensive option, which would adversely affect the purpose of the ordinance, which is to guarantee a mix of housing types.
Another member addressed Gillio: “My expectation is that everything government does regarding taxation and fees always goes beyond that, so if you’re thinking this is just an interim period, I’m here to tell you that it will be written into the General Plan and you will be pricing your own community out of buying a home.”
He compared Hollister to Gilroy’s and Morgan Hill’s increased housing prices and cost of living.
“You don’t have people with those kinds of jobs here,” he said. “You might be shooting yourself in the foot again.”
When Gillio was asked how much it costs to build a house in the city, he responded it was about $74,000. Wyatt commented that Hollister’s impact fees have been updated twice in two years. She said the county and San Juan Bautista are also raising their fees.
In a related topic, the council also discussed the recent approval of the Roberts Ranch development. Wyatt recounted how the six separate resolutions regarding the development were approved despite Gillio’s no votes on most and the mayor’s absence.
“We did submit a comment letter in support of the project for several reasons, including $15 million in impact fees, doubling the size of the Whale Park, providing some affordable housing, and some density,” Wyatt said.
Gomez, who represents the project, said the developer hopes to take it before LAFCO for final annexation into the city approval by April.
“On behalf of Peter Hellman, the managing partner, I want to thank the business council for taking that position of support,” he said. “Even Jim (Gillio), who didn’t support the project, would still agree, I think, that Roberts Ranch is probably going to be one of those projects a lot of developers are probably going to have to face and look at because we did include multi-housing components and added the signal lights at the intersection of [State Highway] 25 and Enterprise. We did do quarter-acre lots backing into Cielo Vista. Unfortunately, there was some engineering done from the dais [by Gillio for the most part], which was problematic, but I think, overall, we’re very happy that the council (Karson Klauer, Ray Friend and Mickie Luna) supported the project.”
Wyatt added the comment that she watched the meeting online and found it interesting that only four people from the audience, including Hellman, got up to speak.
“It’s odd that there’s been so much discussion on social media in the community about growth, but people don’t show up at the meetings and they don’t make their voices heard,” Wyatt said. “Councilman Gillio and the others put out their cell phone numbers, their emails, they have public meetings and discussions, but people aren’t showing up for meetings.”