Agriculture

COMMENTARY: A fresh alternative to Hollister’s police-surveillance-state farmers’ market and community events

A surveillance camera-free and truly family-friendly shopping environment at Gavilan College

Fresh Approach, a Gavilan College offering, will bring a fresh, alternative farmers’ market experience with fresh fruits, vegetables, seasonal and locally- grown produce to its Gilroy campus from noon-1:30 p.m. every Thursday, from now through through July 16.

More importantly, the event is surveillance/spy camera-free. If you are but one of the growing number of residents concerned about Hollister’s on the rise police-surveillance-state, then Fresh Approach is a real option for you! Isn’t it a sad state of affairs how family-friendly events have been hijacked and commandeered for spying purposes – on the innocent?

The Fresh Approach gathering is an alternative to the current local law enforcement’s paranoia-fed, so-called "community policing" strategy for Hollister. Keeping a constant watch on residents, visitors and tourists who are seen by local politicians as the enemy and potential terrorists. They clearly forget that these residents are their constituents – the same ones that voted them into office. The tourists are potential visitors who may contribute monetarily to our local economy, but now may not see Hollister as a viable tourist destination. Why come to "Hometown Hollister" when you’re constantly under police surveillance – just like when you are followed and queried by store sales personnel? Why go there?

So the city council, in its infinite wisdom, approved a newly “enhanced camera” project (phase II surveillance) unanimously on April 20. Phase II will cost the city an additional $53,298 on top of the $400,000 already spent on the existing spy cameras (see City of Hollister Agenda.)

This amount does not include the $30,000 annual license and maintenance fees paid out. These enhanced cameras will be placed in and around “select” Hollister neighborhoods, which raises the following question: if the city and police are so concerned about crime city-wide, why is the city discriminating against the Ridgemark, Enterprise, Sunnyslope, and Cerra Vista communities? Don’t these communities deserve the same level of surveillance camera protection, safety, security, and intrusion into privacy as the rest of us?

Another issue that requires our serious consideration that was initially included in the new contract was the proposal to install surveillance/spy cameras in Hollister’s firehouses. However, opposition and concerns of the firemen to having their interior space and activities video recorded, stored, shared, and reviewed by police was obviously heard by city council. As a result, they were exempted from having their privacy invaded. Why? Aren’t they part of our community and also deserve the same level of protection, safety, security and incursion into their privacy?

The new, sole source/no bid contract was signed by the city on April 6, though it was not formally approved by the city council until April 20. The no-bid contract was awarded to the same out-of-county company as the initial surveillance/spy camera contract of a year ago; Surveillance Grid Integration, Inc. of Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County. So much for local economic development policies by our selfless elected officials. Since when do our tax dollars need to support the affluent economy of Morgan Hill?

All this without any public hearings or input, independent review, evaluation or analysis on the existing cameras’ effectiveness on the "crime wave" we are suffering through. The action by these politicians’ undoubtedly has a chilling effect on our willingness and desire as residents to peaceably gather without being spied on at downtown events by our local police. What purpose does it serve to spy on residents, if the Hollister Police Department’s own figures indicate a 24 percent decline in all crime categories, except DUI for the past five years locally?

If you oppose the existing and enhanced police-surveillance-state path that our city “leaders” in collusion with police have placed us on, then Fresh Approach Farmers’ Market is an opportunity to point out your disapproval against such excessiveness.

Fresh Approach Farmers’ Market offers an opportunity to shop, interact with family, friends and neighbors with the peace of mind that your purchases, image, interactions and conversation will not be recorded, stored, shared and peered-over by police.

Instead, our city should be investing in our city streets that are in dire need of major repair, after-school programs, assuring that the San Benito High School pool remains open over the summer, that the county library is funded for full service, and that the needs of the homeless and hungry are properly addressed.

Registering your displeasure against unwarranted, highly questionable police practices, wasteful and miss-directed spending by our city “leaders” is your civic responsibility. If you believe our local politicians are squandering our hard-to-come-by tax dollars on unnecessary, alarmist spy camera programs and fear-mongering tactics, while ignoring our most pressing needs, then take action and let your voice be heard!

Remember that at the Hollister Surveillance "Family Friendly" Farmers’ Market records everything: your physical image, voice, biometrics and car license plate, and will store and share it with local, state and national law enforcement and intelligence agencies such as the NSA, FBI, DEA, DOJ, TSA, and Homeland Security. All this when you committed no crime, and when crime is at an all time low – both nationally and in Hollister.

It is comforting to know that institutions of higher learning, like Gavilan College (not city councils and police), respect students' and staffs' privacy and civil liberties. This is exemplified in the administration’s no surveillance/spy camera policy at the Gilroy campus. Building that bond of trust between the administration and the students, staff and visitors is vital for fostering an atmosphere of academic freedom and open free discussions. This policy enhances the trust essential for forward-thinking ideas and arenas. Its adherence for a standard of academic freedom, personal privacy and civil liberties above all, and where meeting the constitutional needs of its constituents (school community) – is the rule and not the exception.

Luis Burguillo

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.