This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez
At the Aug. 18 Council of San Benito County Governments (COG) meeting, nothing on the agenda had directors talking quite like Item 6: a presentation from Caltrans District 5 Transportation Art Coordinator Corby Kilmer.
In the presentation, Kilmer provided updates on several in-progress projects—one in Hollister and two in San Juan Bautista—that seek to beautify the towns through public art installations, nature and updated scenery.
All are part of the Clean California Initiative, a program introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March, which provides grants to communities throughout the state for litter removal, roadside upgrades.
“In Hollister, we are working on a landscaping plan that I know the community has wanted for a long time,” Kilmer said. “It’s going to extend from Sunset Drive to Santa Ana Road. There’s a lot of paving out there but not any landscaping, and a lot of sound wall; it’s a lot of hardscape.”
Pinnacles National Highway is a portion of Airline Highway that covers about two miles. The beautification project hopes to drastically change this section of the highway into something more visually pleasing and a source of connection for the community.
Design plans for the highway include drought-tolerant planting. “We’re going to put vines on the sound walls, add colorful shrubs, add shade trees and it will all be watered by a water conserving drip irrigation system,” Kilmer said. “That system will be powered by solar powered controllers so it’s also very energy efficient.”
Another addition to the route is public art.
At the intersection of the Hollister Pinnacles National Highway and Meridian Drive, a sculpture by artist Jamez Peterson will be installed. Peterson was one of about 30 applicants to design a sculpture for this space and made it to the final round where he presented three different concepts to a panel of community members and the San Benito Arts Council, Kilmer said.
Final plans for the sculpture are still in progress, as Peterson is waiting to receive community input.
“He will continue to do community engagement. He’s going to post a sign out there that will have a QR code out there to lead anybody who’s interested to a website he’s creating just for the sculpture commission,” Kilmer said.
That website, Kilmer said, will become a place where members of the community can share their ideas and input for what they want the sculpture to represent.
Hollister City Councilmember and COG director Rolan Resendiz said he’s “excited and honored to have somebody of that caliber working in our community.”
Hollister Mayor and COG Chair Ignacio Velasquez asked that accent lighting be installed along the corridor and expressed interest in a Hollister monument sign added at the Santa Ana intersection of the Pinnacles National Highway.
Kilmer said the project is already $100,000 over its $1.02 million budget—which could preclude approving new elements such as Velasquez’s requests. As for the monument sign, Kilmer said it would need to be in accordance with the Gateway Monument Program.
The two other beautification projects Kilmer presented are in San Juan Bautista. Plans for those include a mural with sculptural elements on the Washington Street underpass by artists Ryan “Yanoe” Sarfati and Eric “Zoueh” Skotnes of YANOE x ZOUEH. It will also improve the area with new pavement, nature and fencing.
“Yanoe and Zoueh’s concept is a mural that will be on the undercrossing walls and the girder above and will extend to that slope paving,” Kilmer said. “So something that right now is pretty dark and unappealing gray will become bright and colorful.”
Community outreach will also play a major role in this project, with workshops coordinated through the San Benito County Arts Council.
Both projects are expected to be completed by summer 2023, said Transportation Planning Manager Veronica Lezama, and construction is expected to begin early next year.
At the end of her presentation, Kilmer highlighted opportunities for beautification in the Hwy 156 improvement project at the Bixby roundabout and, unlike the Hollister Pinnacles Highway and Washington Street underpass projects, this one is in its early stages.
“Your possibilities are twofold,” Kilmer said. One route is more artistic, with a sculpture at the center of the roundabout. The other option is a gateway monument to communicate the name of the region drivers are entering.
District 2 Supervisor and COG Director Kollin Kosmicki urged promotion of Pinnacles National Park in the design. “Something that I support is something that’s Pinnacles National Monument-oriented in some way,” he said, “because this is a gateway to the Pinnacles.”
Resendiz suggested a design based on the direction people are driving. “If you’re leaving Hollister and entering San Juan Bautista,” he said, “it could say that you’re entering San Juan Bautista and identify the mission or whatnot on that side, and, if we can, on the other side, have something promoting either the Pinnacles or Hollister.”
No matter which option is selected, Kilmer said, it will be “subject to approval and scrutiny by our traffic safety people. So whatever it is, or becomes, we have to make sure that it does what it’s intended but is not distracting.”
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