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Businessman claims homeless responsible for thefts, environmental damage at river campsite

Portable toilets, dumpster and wash station added to encmapment as city and county officials disagree over who is responsible for cleaning the site
Mayor visits homeless camp.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez talks to two men from the homeless camp about services for them.

At the July 20 Hollister City Council meeting, Chuck Mullaney, CEO of Advantage Truss, a design and manufacturing company located along the San Benito River near Brigantino Park, made several claims about the nearby homeless encampment that he wanted the city and county to address.

Mullaney said people living in the homeless camp on the opposite bank were crossing the dry river at night and coming into his facility to steal tools and scrap metal. He also claimed that work vehicles had been purposely sabotaged.

Because of the alleged nightly intrusions, Mullaney said he was forced to hire a night watchman to protect the property. He said the watchman was being confronted by trespassers almost every night.

“If we run them off, they come back the next night,” Mullaney said. “We’re not getting any help from the city or county and I’m getting frustrated. I want them to address my losses and what they’re going to do about it. I told them I would like to have a sheriff’s officer out here from sundown to sunrise, and they said that’s not going to happen. They don’t seem to care.”

Some of his frustration, he said, is due to the fact that the county forced him to disconnect the sewage line from a trailer—used by the night watchman—to a septic tank because the property is not zoned for housing.

“I knew it wasn’t legal, but figured they’d let it slide,” he admitted, “because the river isn’t zoned for people to live in, either, and they’re urinating and defecating in there. I hook up to my own septic system and they (county) come out and say I’m going to be fined $250 a day if I don’t disconnect it. I’m putting up with the homeless defecating in the river and the stealing. It’s getting out of control and I’m not going to put up with it for another two or three years.”

In answer to Mullaney’s concern with the homeless fouling the dry river and damaging the environment with trash, City Manager William Avera said during the council meeting that portable toilets and a dumpster were going to be placed on the east side of the river.

After hearing Mullaney’s concerns, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez went down to the homeless camp on July 21 to verify that the portable toilets and dumpster had been brought to the area. A dumpster had been placed alongside San Juan Road, near the bridge over the river, and two portable toilets and a wash station were set up on the north side of the bridge alongside the river.

“County Health and Human Services ordered the portable toilets and the city brought in the dumpster,” Velazquez said. “They will remain there until we find a permanent solution, which, at this time, is the new homeless shelter that will be built on Southside Road next to the old hospital.”

Velazquez walked through the homeless encampment, which is, in fact, two camps: one made up of English-speakers, and the other Spanish-speakers. Mullaney estimated there are as many as 80 to 100 people in the camps, but when Velazquez walked through there were no more than 10 or 15 people. Those who would talk to Velazquez--sometimes staying out of sight behind structures--denied trespassing onto the Advantage Truss site. He warned them to stay clear of the property and also told them that the portable toilets and dumpster had been dropped off nearby.

An additional concern of both the county and city is a growing pile of trash below the bridge near the homeless camp. Mullaney believes the homeless are responsible for the illegal dumpsite.

“There’s always a tendency to blame the homeless, but there are a lot of other people out there dumping trash,” Velazquez said.

The city and the county are at odds as to which entity is responsible for the cleaning up the dumpsite.

“I understand what he’s (Mullaney) upset about, but he’s yelling at the wrong people,” said Raymond Friend, District 1 Councilman, and mayor pro tempore. “We pushed them (the homeless) out of downtown and they moved out there (the river), so now they’re a county problem.”

As for the ever-growing pile of trash, Friend said that is also the county’s problem.

“We’ve been bugging the county and Fish and Game every meeting because that’s the first thing people see when they drive into the city,” he said. “But they won’t do anything about it.”

Darryl Wong, environmental health manager for San Benito County Environmental Health Division, disagrees with Friend. He said the responsibility of cleaning up the trash below the bridge is the responsibility of the landowner, which he said is the City of Hollister.

Velazquez said it has been difficult to clean up the area because it’s along a river.

“We have requested a few times at our council meetings that it be cleaned up, but have been told that the Department of Fish and Game has to give permission before anything can be removed,” he said. “Everybody has a different interpretation, but I’ve said many times let’s just get the trash pulled out of there. We never get a clear answer why we can’t do it. We’ve talked about it for two years now, and in the meantime it just sits there. I’m trying to get a better answer about why we can’t do it, rather than hearsay on why we can’t.”

“I have no idea what is holding up the cleanup,” Wong said. “Fish and Game won’t do anything unless there’s water in there and at this point they won’t remove it, either.”


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John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to:


Submitted by (Tod) on

I'm also out thousands from legally skilled drunks on social security who like to call themselves "homeless" because that helps then get out of jail free and get 90 days to move their tents. People who need help, need help - those who choose to camp, drink and steal and are quite skilled at avoiding any manner of collection since you can't tap a SS check know how to avoid the law.

This story just shows what happens when all common sense goes out the window in slavish favor of rules that too often have no relation to reality.

No one can explain WHY the city is not allowed to clean up the mess or who can give them permission, but everyone says, "I'm just doing my job."  In California government's job is to say no to everything.

Meanwhile the Mayor is frustrated and a local business is taking it in the chin while everyone tries to figure out how many agencies have a finger in the pie based on the water flow in a dried up river bed.

California reminds me of the muscle-bound giant who is so powerful he can't do anything due to inflexibility.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Erendira Guerrero) on

Although I can see how providing the bathrooms and wash stations may help one issue I think It also brings up many more. The area where this station has been places is near residential area and given that there has already been problems of trash and homeless hanging out (living) in that area, how is that going to be patrolled or monitored. Safety is an issue and for those of us who are new to the neighborhood and would like it to look a little nicer this those not help. Not sure how the city wants to attract home buyers when they can't solve these type of issues. Dumping is a city issue all around.

Submitted by (Sharlene Van Rooy) on

If high school kids can go out an clean up the river bed each year, why can't we put the homeless to work and have them clean up the trash, regardless of who dumped it in the first place. Seems like they would be willing to do this for a free toilet.

Submitted by (Jim Ostdick) on

City of Hollister and San Benito County leaders should act quickly to resolve their differences, clean up the dump site, and remove the people from the riverbed permanently. If the strong El Nino predictions prove to be true, an even bigger mess will be on our hands when the rains come.

The February 12, 1998 edition of The Pinnacle featured a picture of a flooded San Benito River spanning the banks beneath the San Juan Road/4th Street Bridge. The current encampments, the port-a-cans, and the dumpster would be washed downstream if there is a re-occurrence of 1998 conditions. Don Pidd posted my slide show with pictures from the 1998 El Nino, including the photos from The Pinnacle, on the San Benito Historical Society web site.

I vote for negotiating a site on San Felipe Road.

Jim Ostdick
San Juan Bautista

Submitted by (Will McGuire) on

It's fairly obvious that the homeless camp is a small part of the overall situation, Can San Benito County be hit again with a storm similar to the 1998 El Nino storms - seeing the recent devastation in other parts of the nation, only a fool would close his eyes to the possibility, in fact the changing climatic conditions could make the next storms much worse - Is San Benito County prepared for the next El Nino? Has there been an assessment of the vulnerable areas and how to prepare for worst if it happens - Is there a plan? and where is it?

Submitted by (Tod) on

Yes, can see the headline now - City Council & SIEU Engineers announce new city program: "Save the Homeless - Engineer the El Nino" - then go on to detail how millions will be spent to study the impact of the El Nino on the homeless, then a grand vision for a floating homeless camp where tents will be safe from El Nino. Then another floating Tiny House concept. In the end the study will cost millions and the homeless will still be where they are. City Council will be visionaries and SIEU Engineers will have fat pensions, it will be great!

Submitted by (Kim Williams) on

Raymond Friend, District 1 Councilman says he's been "bugging the county and Fish and Game every meeting” but "they won’t do anything about it.”

That might be because Councilman Friend's statement is false. I've just read through the minutes for the past 7 Hollister City Council meetings and not once was anything mentioned about the unauthorized garbage dump on the San Benito River. Nor was there anything mentioned about the homeless encampment. Nor were any statements made to the County Board of Supervisors or Fish & Wildlife regarding these issues. Nor were any representatives of F & W in attendance at the meetings.

Note: There is no Fish & Game in California anymore. On the state level we have the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife. On the federal level we have the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

The homeless encampment is in the Hollister Sphere of Influence. Legally, the emcampment is Hollister's problem to deal with. It's ludicrous that any City Council members or the Mayor would express confusion on their area of responsibility or feign ignorance about possible solutions.

One place this issue should have been addressed is in the General Plan for the City of Hollister, (which includes the Sphere of Influence for the city). However, Hollister's General Plan fails to address homeless encampments or illegal garbage dumping in the Health & Safety Element or Housing Element.

fyi, Councilman Friend was the Chair of the General Plan Steering Committee.

The Center for Problem-oriented Policing offers advice the Mayor and City Council should find useful:

Finally, we're left wondering why John Chadwell didn't contact CA Fish & Wildlife to find out whether the City of Hollister actually requires input or permitting from that agency before cleaning up garbage along the San Benito River.

In fact, no investigative reporting seems to have taken place in preparation for writing this article. It's just a lot of hearsay and finger pointing.

Kim, just to fill in the information I have received today, the city has contacted Fish & Wildlife and recently received this reply -

"I wish that we had an abbreviated program to authorize small clean-up activities such as this but unfortunately we do not. The City needs to send in a complete Notification with a detailed description of the proposed activities. If this is an on-going problem, I would suggest requesting the permit for 5 years to be used as needed or annually. The Agreement process takes 3-4 months." 

IMHO the problem is that 1) there is no program to authorize small clean-up activities and 2) the Agreement process takes 3-4 months (!!). Good news is we can get a 5-year permit.

I am always interested in solutions and I reviewed those from popcenter very carefully, unfortunately the majority of them are not feasible here nor would they be effective in my opinion.  The key one, getting a community response, has my full support, but as I wrote in my related story and my opinion piece in the Free Lance yesterday (see which), we have just the opposite issue, the county is at war with the city because the county wants things their way (Quote: We are the lead agency, don't forget we are the lead agency.)

Not a good sign.

Marty Richman

To expand my remarks, I was reminded that I have not even taken a guess at the cost of the environmental study that might be required to get an Agreement.

Marty Richman


Submitted by (Kim Williams) on

Marty, I left a message with Captain Don Kelly at the Los Banos Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. He got back to me today and said that as long as the clean up is done by hand, no permitting is required. If they want to use equipment in the stream channel, that's a whole different story.

So the bottom line is clean-up can happen as soon as the finger-pointing and shirking of responsibility stops.

One thing that is true is the disaster that will be created if the waters rise this winter and spread the whole mess downstream. It seems the City Council could be proactive and approach F & W about joining their efforts in order to avoid a greater environmental problem in the future.

That will take establishing a clear policy for addressing the homeless issue in this county. Even with new housing being built, many homeless choose not to stay in those facilities because they're dangerous, don't allow pets, they feel claustrophobic indoors, they have trouble following the rules for using homeless facilities, etc. There will always be homeless. Rather than thinking they can eliminate homelessness in San Benito, the City Council should be looking at ways to realistically accommodate it in a way that is safe for all. I'm not saying it's easy, because it most definitely isn't, but doing something would be better than doing nothing.

Kim, I agree that we should be able to do it, that's why I'm frustrated  I did not see the request that generated the answer that came in, perhaps it does involve equipment; I'll see if I can find out (probably Monday).

I posted a while back on similar story that allowing an encampment near any body of water or water channel (wet or dry, active or inactive) was the WORST possible place for the obvious reasons - water invites contamination from human waste and water moves things.

Santa Clara County and San Jose have lots of bad experience with this problem - encampments near water - no need for us to learn this lesson all over again.

Step 1 is stop the bleeding, move the encampment (the people) away from the river or a "better" temporary location. If we don't do that it would be very difficult for any cleanup to be effective.  Yes, the threat of el Nino is sobering, I remember the last one well.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (John Noble) on

In five months or so, depending on where you buy your crystal ball, it won't matter much. Every weather model out there is predicting a huge El Niño- on the order of a "100 year storm". If it comes, everything inside the riverbank boundaries will be swept away. We will have vastly larger problems on our hands- I sure hope THAT is Problem #1 that we are preparing for.

Submitted by (Tod) on

These assumption that there is a better place than the river is false. All land weather owed by the city or private people have greater value than the flood plain - that means higher costs. The waste the homeless camp creates is minor compared to farming up stream and a flood to clean up is the lowest possible cost mitigation. The people are not in danger from flooding only the garbage is at risk seriously - the only people that drown in San Benito River are people that are trying to innertube during a big storm.

So please stop the fear mongering - El Nino is more blessing than danger. If you want to help the homeless donate your land for the purpose of a camp. Those offering fear mongering - which piece of land do you own that you want to donate for the purpose?

Tod, my concern is with the state's rules on contaminating / impacting bodies of water.  I  do not own any land other than then my relatively small home lot, nor am I asking for anyone else to donate land they own, but both the city and county have a lot of land and it can't hurt to look around.

I'm not positive, but I doubt you would need as much (perhaps no) state permitting to clean up a piece on land not near the river or other body of water even is you are using machines.  IF this clean up requires a biologist because we want to use machines near the river that is going to be a significant expense.

Watersheds have special rules; therefore, they present special difficulties. I'm sure you know that, whether or not the rules make sense (or whether or not protecting the Delta Smelt makes sense) is another subject.

Marty Richman



Submitted by (Tod) on

Marty, ok to back pedal a little - why are you in the least concerned with "the state's rules on contaminating / impacting bodies of water" - the river is dry, there are no bodies of water except the waste treatment plant. The steal head run won't be impacted;) So why be concerned with something that is impossible?

What is real fear mongering is statements like "One thing that is true is the disaster that will be created if the waters rise this winter and spread the whole mess downstream". You mean a few tents and some garbage?

It would be a blessing to have El Nino wash all that stuff down stream. Of course it might also uncover the 50-100 cars dumped in the river in the 70''s by farmers trying to shore up the banks of the river.

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