Government / Politics

COMMENTARY: Downtown Hollister’s 400 Block: Dissent is Not Disrespect, Delay is Not Denial

Community Foundation and its donors support support all aspects of our community

Gary Byrne, his staff and the board of directors for the Community Foundation for San Benito County have accomplished great things in the last 14 years. From its web site: "In 2002, the Foundation hired its first full-time executive director and funded the start of the Permanent Endowment. The board has increased in size to 16 members and over 25 local community leaders sit on five committees (grants, finance, challenge grant, public relations, special events) supporting the board and local interests." 

The organization funds – and continues to seek applicants to fund worthy projects – all aspects of nonprofit organizations that benefit our community. And it tirelessly works to attract both private donors and funding from other philanthropic entities that grant funds to the Foundation in order to feed and house the poor, help the sick and dying, assist the elderly, provide recreational, sporting and artistic programs for youth and resources for abused or underprivileged women, minorities, veterans…the list is comprehensive and exhaustive. The Community Foundation for San Benito County is willing to lend a hand to almost anyone who needs help or who wants to help others in our community.

For these reasons, I encourage everyone in the community to support and appreciate Byrne, his staff, the board of directors and the generous donors who provide the funding and resources to make our community a better place to live.

The Community Foundation, because of its hard work and the generous contributions from its donors and benefactors, needs to expand its operations and move into a bigger office. It is understood that a generous, anonymous donor has offered to help purchase land to build a new office so the Foundation can own its facilities thereby limiting the expense of future lease or rent increases which will lower future overhead costs and maximize future funds available to worthy nonprofit organizations and causes in our community. 

The 400 Block on Fourth and San Benito streets is a prime piece of property that is owned by the City of Hollister. The Community Foundation wants to build its new office and three other mixed use commercial/residential buildings at that location. The proposal to deliberate upon that transaction, with the express support of city staff on the agenda, will be considered the Hollister City Council on Monday night in council chambers. 

There is some opposition in the community to resist this proposal for sensible altruistic reasons, but there is no clear, organized or monolithic movement that articulates why the city should maintain the status quo. Currently, the space is utilized during the annual biker rally, but that event is still a tenuous prospect at best. The space is utilized by the annual Hollister Downtown Association-sponsored Farmers' Market on San Benito Street between Fourth and Seventh streets each Wednesday, from May 4 through Sept.28, but with some creative thinking a different suitable location could be discovered and transformed accordingly. 

My personal preference would be the construction of a new performing arts center with retail, restaurants and a hotel that would have the potential to draw community members and tourists to downtown Hollister and increase future transient occupancy taxes and sales tax revenues to the City of Hollister. Almost every other community I can think of supports such a keystone cultural community space for concerts and other special events. With the parking garage located next door and numerous vacant retail spaces in downtown Hollister, it is easy to envision other new retail stores and restaurants that would be interested in complementing and accommodating future customers and patrons prior to or after special events at a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center at the main intersection of downtown Hollister, the seat of San Benito County. 

For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the Community Foundation's proposal to acquire and develop the property as submitted to the City of Hollister, even while I respect and 100 percent support the meritorious efforts and positive accomplishments Gary Byrne, et. al contributes to the well-being of our community. I believe there is still room for continued civil dialog and mutual compromise so that everyone will realize the best possible outcome and development of the 400 Block in Hollister. In this case, I feel it would be pragmatic to delay, rather than deny, the development of this project in the hopes of negotiating the best use of the property for maximum public benefit. 

Finally, I suggest others who oppose the proposal to develop the 400 Block by the Community Foundation to express their individual or collective opinion in a reasoned and respectful way befitting of the public process in recognition of the efforts of the city council, its staff and the Foundation who will continue to partner together and with other nonprofit organizations to provide funding and resources that benefit our community as a whole regardless of the outcome of this public matter. 

Michael Smith

Pro-economic growth, pro-music, pro-science, pro-retirement.