Community Opinions

COMMENTARY: An open letter to downtown

Hollister Councilwoman Carol Lenoir writes about downtown revitalization and efforts to continue ad hoc committee work.

This commentary was contributed by Hollister Councilwoman Carol Lenoir. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.

Since all ad hoc committees are suspended, I wanted to give comment directly to the downtown community. As you may or may not know, Marty Richman and I were appointed to the ad hoc committee for downtown revitalization in January of this year.

On Feb. 20, Marty and I met to discuss strategy for meetings and we agreed that we would solicit ideas from all agencies and the public about what was important to them. On Feb. 26 we met with staff to discuss ideas. Next we met with the Hollister Downtown Association and subsequently we met with Mike Chambless, director of management services.

At the meeting with staff, we discussed:

  1. Downtown parking reconfiguration to enable more parking stalls and future ability to provide outdoor seating in the public right of way
  2. The thru-traffic problem
  3. The lack of foot traffic partially due to unsafe vehicular speeding
  4. Old underground infrastructure
  5. Not enough mixed use and too expensive to convert existing buildings, i.e. earthquake retrofitting
  6. Spotty business hours
  7. Lack of synergism due to empty buildings
  8. Misused locations
  9. Empty undeveloped lots and closed businesses
  10. Pop/startups in vacant buildings

That was just the first meeting. We then met with HDA and had frank discussions about these items. They were very supportive but frustrated because the wheels move too slowly. They had concerns about the speeding and empty buildings. We spoke about reasons there are so many empty buildings. Marty commented that he spoke to some downtown property owners regarding empty buildings and some stated they had income from rentals on the second story to sustain their empty floor on the street level.

We next spoke with Mike Chambless regarding the aging cast iron water lines in the older part of Hollister and realized that we do not have the funding available, so we discussed what it would take to fix just downtown along the San Benito Street corridor. The figure is approximately $8 million and studies need to be completed regarding water fee rate structure. So as you can see, for this issue there is no quick or affordable answer. We left knowing we would have to come up with ideas that would work with our aging infrastructure. We knew that it would not be smart planning to place permanent improvement, such as bulb outs at the intersections, above ground when underneath was in such bad shape. So we shifted to minor improvements that could be done quickly and cost effectively.

We met one last time with staff prior to Marty’s passing where we discussed:

  1. The 400 block and downtown could use a neighborhood small grocer
  2. Vending machines with access codes
  3. Flags placed at mid-block crossings that pedestrians could utilize for more visibility
  4. We had planned on sending out letters to vacant lot property owners to see if they had any plans for their long time empty lots
  5. We were going to make contact with vacant building owner’s downtown to see if any building owners would be interested in short term leases to help business owners that maybe don’t have all the start up capital to sign on the dotted line for a long term lease. It’s a win-win for the downtown and new business owners.

My friend and fellow council member Marty Richman passed away shortly after that last meeting and these issues were a passion for him, and I would like to continue moving forward in his memory. Recently I proposed to the full council that we continue on with conducting business for downtown revitalization. They, at that time, did not object to agendizing a couple of items that we could decide as a group. Hence I placed on the agenda for last Monday’s meeting an item regarding controlled stops for safety at the intersections of Sixth/Seventh Streets at San Benito Street. What I thought should have been a slam dunk for downtown was met with surprising nonsupport from Mayor Velazquez and Councilman Resendiz. Councilman Resendiz stated that while he may support the idea, that now was not the time, and the Mayor requested a report from engineering on the ten most accident-prone intersections of the city,and that we should concentrate our efforts on those before downtown. The issue of studying accident-prone intersections are always a good idea, but not at the expense of the downtown corridor.

I have recently had the pleasure of speaking with Supervisor Hernandez regarding downtown issues. He is working with HDA as chairman of their Promotions Committee. You have support from him and he is a vested downtown business owner. I will work with him on future endeavors since it appears any ideas I have about downtown will be ignored by the Mayor and Mr. Resendiz. I was surprised another time with downtown voting when it came time to approve the downtown tree lighting. Thanks to Marty, posthumously, and Vice Mayor Honor Spencer for their support for my agendized item for downtown tree lighting; the other two members voted no and now because it was such a success Mr. Resendiz is on board for side street lighting. His reason for voting no on the first round of lights was because he just could not get over the cost; he must have gotten over it now.

So now at the recommendation of Councilman Resendiz, all items for downtown revitalization that the council could discuss (like the old days) are now suspended with the Mayor’s concurrence. I cannot serve the downtown, my district, with these restraints. I will continue to try and bring improvement but I need the third vote I had before Marty passed. I will at the next meeting ask the council to lift the ad hoc discontinuance so that we may get back to business with downtown revitalization. There is absolutely no reason those meetings cannot continue with Zoom capabilities and social distancing. I believe I have the ability to be a party of one for this ad hoc. It’s my district and I have the reputation of working well with HDA, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation and the San Benito County Business Council, and most notably your city staff.

I hope you have taken the time to read this. Yes I know it’s long, but it’s sincere. I still am committed to seeing this through, but I grow weary and look to my community for support on these important economic issues for downtown.

Please anyone wanting to reach out to me regarding downtown revitalization don’t hesitate.

God bless you all,

Carol Lenoir, District 1

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Carol Lenoir

I was born and raised in Hollister. I spent my career serving the people in County and City government retiring in 2010. I have a husband Brian and two sons, Brian Jr. and Ricky. I frequented south county working and laughing on the George Melendy Ranch as a youth; but lived most of my life on San Benito Street. I was one of the first girls in FFA and the first girl to show beef at our County Fair back in 1973. I love this County and it's people.