This column was contributed by San Benito Live founder and San Benito County Supervisor District 2 candidate Kollin Kosmicki. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
It’s unfortunate the state is bullying the City of Hollister to continue on a path of unsustainable housing growth, but let’s make it clear that unincorporated San Benito County is not affected by a recent ruling detailed in Benitolink last week.
The state’s Department of Housing & Community Development ruled that Hollister’s wholly reasonable annual growth cap of 159 new single-family, market rate homes is unlawful. In reality, though, the state law spurring this decision—Senate Bill 330—blatantly oversteps traditional legal boundaries and reflects a power-hungry mentality among state leaders from the governor on down. Above all, it’s a slap in the face to voters who elect local officials who historically make these decisions.
After all, local voters elect mayors, city council members and county supervisors to represent them when deciding how specific communities should grow. Tying their hands on development policies sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent, and who’s to say the state won’t continue on this path and gradually make other types of traditionally local decisions on their own?
The bottom line is that housing is not a one-size-fits-all problem and shouldn’t necessitate a blanket solution. Certainly, California has a shortage of affordable housing. At the same time, though, forcing unimpeded housing growth down the throats of every community in California doesn’t make sense, especially in an area like San Benito County where infrastructure—namely highway capacity—is severely lacking.
This policy also reflects sheer hypocrisy on the part of state leadership. This is the same state that refuses to pay for the long-overdue expansion of Highway 25, a state highway and a project that is arguably the biggest infrastructure need in San Benito County. This is also the same state that implemented a six-year moratorium against all housing construction due to—wait for it—too much housing growth without adequate infrastructure. Fast forward 12 years since that moratorium ended, and now California has completely reversed course in this regard.
The law is inherently flawed, and I commend leaders like Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez for his long-standing lead in the fight to protect our community’s future against self-serving developers and their self-serving friends. Against political headwinds, Velazquez was the first locally elected official to push for a cap and insisted such mechanisms should be allowed here. I wholeheartedly agree.
With election time around the corner, it’s crucial that local voters elect more representatives with courage to stand up to development interests and the state’s power grab—while avoiding candidates who accept large donations from development interests and refuse to discuss the rapid pace of housing growth.
That said, it’s vitally important to note the fact that unincorporated San Benito County is exempt from these draconian state rules due to its rural setting, which I’ve argued all along when questioned about this state law while I’ve pushed for a cap in the county. Considering that thousands of homes are already in the pipeline locally—and that developers continually pressure pro-growth politicians to build even more—I will push for San Benito County to implement the following if elected in November:
- Put in place a 1% annual cap on single-family, market-rate housing in unincorporated San Benito County—which amounts to about 75 homes per year—with exemptions for affordable categories such as low-income, senior and farmworker units.
- Increase the minimum requirement for affordable units in local housing projects to 25% of each development’s homes.
- Eliminate the county’s system of allowing developers to pay “in-lieu” fees—which amount to cheap payoffs and a mechanism for developers to avoid building sorely needed affordable housing units.
The bottom line is that counties, particularly rural places like San Benito County, are not traditionally intended for typical subdivision housing development like we’ve seen in recent decades. Unfortunately, this expectation hasn’t applied here due to overwhelming influences of developers, real estate interests and landowners looking to profit at the expense of our community.
Instead, local jurisdictions should work together and focus on real “smart growth”—infill development in Hollister at a sustainable pace that creates pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with amenities like bicycle lanes, plentiful parks and shopping centers within walking distance.
San Benito County, with its beautiful open spaces and agricultural character, has great potential. We as a community, and local leaders, must do everything we can to save it.