The Hollister City Council and San Benito High School Board of Trustees sought compromise on the potential closure of Nash Road during a special meeting at the Veterans' Memorial Building on Tuesday night. So many students and community members showed up that the meeting was moved from an upstairs meeting room to the main hall downstairs.
No action was taken, but some council members indicated they might be willing to reverse their previous opposition to the district's call for the temporary closure of the road that dissects the campus — particularly if county officials follow through on plans to build a bypass road south of campus.
San Benito High School Trustee Juan Robledo, one of the first to speak on the topic, said that having worked 38 years at SBHS, he knows that there could be someone either seriously hurt or killed at the crossing, near the campus' two gymnasiums. He also explained that with all the precautions taken such as crossing guards and lights that the “fact of the matter” is there are 3,000 students constantly crossing the road. “I hope some resolution comes up tonight,” he said.
Ray Rodriguez, the school board president, explained how one of the high schools in Watsonville closes the road that bisects the school during the day. “We need to catch up,” said Rodriguez. “Our number one priority has to be our precious cargo,” he said, referring to the students. He acknowledged how residents living near the school are worried about traffic, but said the proposed bypass could alleviate some of their concerns about traffic being diverted into residential areas.
Rodriguez also explained how students are crossing the road 1,100 times a day. “That’s 1,100 opportunities for a child to get hit.” he said. “If it was a grade school would we wait?”
City Councilwoman Mickie Solorio-Luna, who voted against the proposed closure at January’s council meeting, defended her decision by explaining that she voted no at that time based on what she heard at that meeting, when no representatives from the high school district addressed the council, while several residents against the proposal did. “We need to hear all parties before making a decision,” said Luna. “It’s not about us not caring, because I do. I’m hoping we can open this up for communication and dialogue,” she added referring to a potential compromise on the closure.
Councilman Victor Gomez suggested that the idea of a pedestrian bridge over Nash Road would be a good solution to the crossing issue and added that he would be willing to listen to other ideas “if someone comes up with a solution.” School trustee Bill Tiffany said the pedestrian bridge idea was looked into, but is too expensive of an option.
“They don’t have to deal with the repercussions; city council deals with the problems,” said Gomez, referring to county officials when describing the possible aftermath of the closing of Nash. Gomez made it clear that he doesn’t trust or believes the county regarding the construction of the bypass.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Superintendent John Perales spoke one last time before the public speaking portion of the meeting. Velazquez explained how he is confident that the county will build the bypass.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but I wouldn’t want to be the person who votes no for the small inconvenience of a few people,” he said, adding that he, too, was concerned about the possibility of students getting hurt while crossing Nash.
Velazquez also explained to the crowd that no decision would be made at the meeting, and that nothing would change unless of one three council members who voted against the Nash Road closure decides to put it back on the agenda. Gomez, Luna and Ray Friend all voted against the plan in January, with Velazquez and Karson Klauer in favor of the closure.
Perales thanked the council for reconsidering the issue and said he hoped the two elected boards could find a solution.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of SBHS students, including Ryan Medrano, Krystal Macias, Dominic Garcia, Kali Smiley, and Lauren Klauer, all voiced their support of the Nash Road closure.
Medrano explained the need for the road to be closed because of the sheer number of students at the county's largest school. Macias said that during the three years she has been at the high school, she has noticed the complications of cars on Nash.
Garcia, a freshman, said, “I would like to feel safe when I’m walking to my class.
Smiley said many drivers don’t want to wait at the Nash Road crosswalk, and from her experience cleaning up after dances, spending multiple hours on campus before and after school, she sees the dangers of Nash.
Klauer explained how the ratio of crossing guards to students is “difficult” for the campus supervisors, particularly when students are passing between classes.
Several SBHS teachers spoke at the meeting, including teachers' union president Katherine Foster, and teachers Tom Rooth, Melissa Peeters, Bill Johnson, Ed Schmidt, and Catalina Lemos.
Peeters addressed the tardy problem because of the Nash road crosswalk, which delays students when cars are allowed to pass through as students are between classes.
Rooth, an English teacher, said saw first-hand, during his first year teaching at SBHS, someone getting hit crossing Nash Road. “It’s time to stop talking about it and start doing it,” he said.
San Benito High School administration assistant principals Jeremy Dirks and Adrian Ramirez, Principal Todd Dearden, Human Resources Director Shawn Tennenbaum, and Security Supervisor Mercedes Berglund
“We have to think about ‘we’ and not ‘me,’” said Dirks.
Tennenbaum brought up the topic of SBHS’s handicapped students, and their safety as well, urging official: “Don’t push this off any further."
Residents and a few parents also voiced their opinions about the road closure, with a majority of residents from the school's neighboring advocating for Nash to remain open. to keep Nash open. One resident urged the council to put the issue back on its agenda for a revisting of the proposal.
During closing remarks, one trustee said, “Today is not about changing your vote, but hearing people out, and to reconsider the vote.”
Gomez, one of the original "no" votes, said he understands that the road eventually is going to be closed, but still questions how the traffic issues around the school would be handled.
Nash Road wasn't the only topic of discussion, as the council and trustees discussed the sharing of school facilities for recreational use and the potential installation of lights on planned tennis courts on campus. Officials said potential shared facilities could include the school library, aquatic facilities, the tennis courts and soccer fields.
The proposed tennis courts on campus were discussed by Joe Vela, from Aedis architects, who gave a PowerPoint presentation showing renderings of what the seven new courts would look like. The high school district is prepared to do all of the labor, but is asking the city and the county to help pay for the installation of lights, so the courts could get extended use.
While no vote was taken, city officials expressed some willingness to help pay for the lights, as the facility would benefit residents and not just students.