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COMMENTARY: Stuck In the Middle of the 400 Block

The right answer cannot find a perch between the edges

On May 2, the Hollister City Council accepted a commercial project proposal for a mixed-use retail building and philanthropic office center for 400 Block, which is the southwest corner of the intersection of San Benito and Fourth streets. The vote was 4-0; Mayor Ignacio Velazquez recused himself because he owns the property next door.

The project will work within its footprint, it should not end up as a half-empty building, but its economic impact on the struggling downtown is highly questionable. That last part is a vital as any other attribute, but is was essentially ignored in the discussion.

The defunct Hollister Redevelopment Agency (RDA) poured millions of public dollars into the downtown area in a futile attempt at elusive "revitalization," all to no avail. The area is generously spattered with empty or under-utilized commercial spaces occupied by the renters of last resort.

Unfortunately, there seemed to be little or no room between the development proposal and the open space supporters for what I consider the right answer – a better project.

Have we learned nothing from all those millions and all that effort? Failure serves a purpose if, and only if, you learn from it, but we seem to be determined not to learn anything from our previous over-optimistic attempts to rebuild the downtown. The lesson is clear, merely building or rebuilding is not sufficient to generate economic activity, it’s what the building does (its use) that counts the most.

On that account, the condos or apartments mixed-use portion, which is undoubtedly the developer’s financial backbone, is a plus. There is a general consensus that people living in an urbanized area spend money there. I have no problem with the concept of mixed use. 

The next question is, can the mixed use component, by itself, provide the economic shot-in-the-arm the downtown desperately needs? The answer is no and except for the café/bakery/restaurant, the proposed rabbit-warren retail can’t do it either.   All that will do is move retail from other, less desirable, buildings.  

Even the developer's list of potential retail and office tenants has no zip; saved by a real estate office and expensive ice cream parlor? I don’t think so.

What the downtown needs is people who come there to do things, especially on nights and weekends. The city and county residents with the largest disposable incomes live nowhere near the 400 Block, but they will go there is they have a reason. I just do not think that me-too retail will do it.

We live in an event-driven society, the most successful people movers are events of every size and kind and therein lies the project’s opportunity to be both a commercial success and make a positive impact on the entire downtown area.

The detailed design needs to be changed to provide adequate indoor-outdoor event space, call it an event center; an event center is a business that brings economic foot traffic to the area and many are commercially successful. 

Event Center is a neutral designation because it could be used for many types of events both public and private. This could be for the performing arts, art shows, and weddings, coming out parties, awards ceremonies, mini-conventions, product shows, and anything you can think of. It could serve as an adjunct to events that already take place; an example would be premium vendor space for the motorcycle rally, registration services, a photo gallery for the car show, etc.

The project was approved, we now need to work to convince the developer that this concept is in their interests, it will make whatever other space is there, such as a café or retail, much more valuable and it will serve the area better which increases the value of the real estate. What’s good for the neighborhood is good for their business.

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Marty Richman (Marty Richman)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer.Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects. You can follow Marty Richman on twitter @Marty_Richman. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.


What stood out most prominent, offensive, and noticed by ALL (on either side of the public debate) at the city council meeting over the 400 Block development, were the public comments of Mr. Phil Fortino, vice president, branch manager, Hollister Robobank, N.A. Corporation.

The well-dressed “gentleman”, in his expensive bank business suite and colorful tie, commented that the project is for the purpose of attracting "those kinds of people" who would spend money. The comment was clearly directed at a “certain sector of the Hollister community”, and struck a cord with the Latinos in attendance, and in the overall community.

Coupled, with the proposed 16 condos that make up the greater share of the development, the project is rooted in the sentiment of the comment  - for those who can afford such expensive property. Without accounting for the inconvenient parking arrangement (access), the estimated cost range anywhere from $2,000 - $3,000 a month. This project is clearly for “those” who can afford them and not for “those… people” who can’t afford prime downtown real estate. The proposal, in its introduction letter to the city addresses the issue of the condos – euphemistically - as “affordable housing” NOT!  

To those who have who forget and have forsaken their roots, and believe that they have arrived at the American dream, and finally are accepted by the so-called majority – think again!

Mr. Fortino, I now know why I did not opened that account at the new Hollister Robobank branch – the feel was just not right!

I am certain that the newly appointed Robobank President and CEO, Mark Borrecco, would be very much interested in what his branch manager thinks and has publicly stated. More importantly, how its commitment to community in the tradition of “…rural Dutch communities…” is being implemented in Hollister. Forgetting or indifferent to the fastest economic growing population in the state of California and the nation, Latinos do not forget or forgive such Donald Trump thinking and reckless offensive remarks.

If you believe that Mr. Phil Fortino, Hollister Robobank vice president, branch manager was out of place with his very offensive comments does not have our support and does not represent Rabobank community philosophy “ “In California, … - focus on affordable housing, small business, rural and small farm lending, and investing in non-profit organizations that serve low- to moderate- income individuals and families.” than and express your disappointment. 

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As usual, Luis, there are small areas where we agree and big areas where we disagree.  I do not think Phil Fortino meant anything insulting by his statement, but he may have made a poor choice of words, he's not a politician.  I believe he was talking about those with more disposable income.  I have known him, albeit casually, for years and never heard him make a disparaging remark about any group in public or private.

I believe your comments about his dress - which indicate nothing about a person's character - shows that you are overly critical  of 'bankers.'  If you work in a bank in a business capacity you are supposed to dress like a business person, it's what your employer expects.  In fact I was teasing him heavily before the meeting started about how well he was dressed; I even asked him to deliver my comments for me because he looked so good.  I am a notorious slob, I sure hope that people do not discount my comments because I'm always poorly dressed, likewise it does not offend me when someone is well dressed (actually I'm envious).  I do not worry about how you look.

I'm tired of being accused of prejudice whenever I oppose something the Hispanic community wants - I oppose it because I think it's bad.  When I oppose something the non-Hispanic community wants no one cares or implies i'm a racist..  There is enough real prejudice and bias out there - you don't have to go around imagining them for effect.

Now to the project and the issue.  You are correct, I do not have the predicted sales prices or rents for the condos-apartments, but I doubt seriously that this would be  defined as "affordable housing."  I'm not sure it would pencil out if it were affordable housing.  No one else even bothered to submit a proposal; therefore, it cannot be that fantastic an opportunity.

I do not like the project as-is for the reasons I stated.  If we don't generate sufficient revenue we cannot supply the public services the population, especially the minority population, needs; it's that simple.  How do you think we pay for parks and sports programs or for public safety?  The facts are 74 percent of the city budget goes to personnel costs and many of those employees are minorities.

The people in the community with the most disposable income live on the other side of town - that's just a fact, it may be a hold over result from historic segregation, but it's still a fact. 

If we want then to spend money downtown or on the Westside we have to find a draw that gets them over here. The money they supply supports the WHOLE community.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Luis Burguillo) on

Then, Mr. Fortino's choice of words were a "Freudian Slip" - an unintentional error regarded as revealing a subconscious feelings - without the filter.

The question still remains, what does it mean for those who don't have the disposable income, are they welcomed?

Luis, based on the current design I don't think it is welcoming to anyone, and that's why I want to get it changed.  To me the building screams "GO AWAY" to everyone but the residents with the open space in the back (away from the public) and the little alley that only exists because there is an easement that demands it.  As you can see from my story I'm not supporting this design as is. 

I will not attempt to read anyone's mind, my take is we need a draw that will welcome the community and provide the economic foot traffic we have to have, we sink or swim together in that arena.  That's why I'm pushing for better setbacks, a flipping of the open space to the front or side that can be used as an event center either independently or as an adjunct to events we currently have (such as the motorcycle, it get a e rally and car show),

The location means that it will be easy access for many of the city's poorer population, including being at the bus hub, the real question is whether the folks on the north / east side (Fairview /North County and south side (Ridgemark Area) will come TOO.  Like every other event center there will some cross over depending on the event.  Yes, I want those with more disposable income to show up and spend, spend, spend. I admit it, but I'm more than willing to take anyone's dollars.

I do not think it will be a city economic success as a me-too retail attached to an apartment house, although it will survive on its own,  Not what we need for the last developable space downtown.

I think the Farmer's Market is a good example, it appears to the get a reasonably good mix from the entire community.becuase it offers a lot of choices; so it can be done.

Marty Richman

Submitted by Tod duBois on

So the city spent $6,000,000 building the parking structure and invested for the "people" - Latinos and Gringoes can all park there for free I think. Even bankers, though we all know we can trust the banks anymore at least with regard to mortgages. 

Anyway, the point being that if the people paid $6,000,000 for the parking structure how do they get that investment back to the people? I mean that was like 10-15 years ago and with the increase in real estate value that would mean the parking garage should be worth like $10,000,000 today - right? 

So the people are selling the lot next door for maybe something like $290,000 after spending $6,000,000 on the parking structure that was to be connected to the 400 block lot - see the bridge to no where on the third floor. 

Is there a track record here for the people to trust in their leaders with regard to investment of public funds? 

Am I making any sense? 


Tod, where did the $6 million come from, do you know?  One person told me it came. mostly from the Feds and the state, another said it came from the RDA.

That quake was 25 years ago it's really unfair to blame the Briggs Building on anyone in office right now.

Marty Richman




Submitted by Tod duBois on

Marty, this is not about blame it is about consistent and perpetual bad management as proven by investment decisions on a multi-decade time frame. The institution as an agency is simply incapable of making good investment decision regardless of who is in office. 

What is really funny now is the republicans and the communists are partnering to stop a development that is for the community! LOL - so the democrats and developers are confronted with this new outer space kinda political movement. 

The dysfunction is staggering to the point of absurdity 


Regarding, "What is really funny now is the republicans and the communists are partnering to stop a development that is for the community! LOL - so the democrats and developers are confronted with this new outer space kinda political movement."

All I can say is I have no idea what that means AND you did not answer my question about the origin of the money. 

Obviously, you have a personal axe to grind because the RDA would not fund YOUR project for that location a situation you mentioned.  After a while it becomes obvious that you do not have the best interests of the city and county in mind because you never offer a better answer or constructive criticism.  It's really petty. 

I do not support leaving the 400 block open space and I do not like the project as-is and I am not a Republican, Communist, Democrat, nor developer.  I'm just someone looking for a better answer - impinging the motives of everyone who disagrees with you is all too common around here and although you have moved I see you have taken that with you.

Marty Richman

Submitted by Tod duBois on

Marty, incorrect assumptions and conclusions: The project I worked on was specified by the RDA - I had no choice but to come up with a plan that fit their specifications which was a hotel. This was also the plan put together after the 89 Quake that went with the $6,000,000 parking structure already built with the third story bridge to the hotel. All I brought to the table was the ability to execute the plan. Even that was rejected because they refused to subsidize their own specific project after approving my proposal with the required subsidy in it! 

That was an agency failure of integrity. My axe is sharp I don't need to grind it - I just need to keep placing it in the agencies back until it changes. I can't change the direction of an elephant by waving an axe - I need to keep hitting it in the head till it changes direction. 

The RDA funded the parking structure. Probably with funds from FEMA or other RDA funding mechanisms - the $70,000,000 in RDA dept likely. 

Tod, I am unfamiliar with the details of your former project, I only have your side of the story; there are usually two or more sides. Perhaps it was an "agency failure of integrity", if it was it certainly wasn't the only one where the RDA was concerned, they had a number of those.

No, I do not believe the RDA money was well spent for the most part and I personally said so many times, especially concerning the slush-fund 'administrative fees' and have examples a-plenty (I still remember when they used the facade fund to fix up the back of a building facing an alley - I called it the farcical fund).  Those problems are one reason they are gone.

You know I can't think of a local or state agency that has not had the same issues and they need to be fixed, but what has all that to do with going ahead from where we are?

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, only works if you're going to fix it - and I'm for fixing it.  Just how you are trying to relate this to the current project escapes me.  Are you for it or against it? Do you like it as-is or would you change it?  How would you change it?

Stop shadow boxing with your memories and take a position, then we can have a real clash of ideas.

Marty Richman


Submitted by Tod duBois on

The decision has been made; why would we debate the project merits? Do you want to help the Mayor stop the project and create more uncertainty - I sure hope not. 

What we need and must demand is that plans are done and EXECUTED; not approved then debated and then they collapse into incomprehensible crap like what has happened to downtown Hollister. Are you perpetuating the problems with discussions like "stuck in the middle"? 

Council is sure perpetuating the problem by promoting staff that has done poorly or even made it worse. The old excuse continues - we can't get any better. So I guess we get the same ol crap over and over. So I moved away but I still care. 

I think the question Marty is are you helping or making it worse?




Tod, as you know, this is a multi-layered process and in the words of the inimitable Yogi Berra, "It ain't over till it's over."  That concept drawing is just that, a concept drawing,  It needs to be checked against the a lot of things, in fact we already know that parts of the project do not meet the building codes fo the area.

Not sure what this has to do with the staff, the votes belong to the council members.  Are you saying the staff did a bad job, thus this is a bad project, but you don't care because it's better to do a bad project than improve it?  You seem to want to both ways, you want the project, but you object to the staff having recommended it.

Unlike so many others, I won't stall things just to kill them, but there is no harm in trying to make them better, no harm at all.  I take it from your comment that you support the project as-is.

How about a straight answer, if you were king for a day would you have voted for this project as-is or some other option?  It's a simple question, needs a simple answer. Personally, I would have made a motion to go into detailed negotiation with the developer.  If the developer said 'take it or leave it' I would vote to leave it.  These things do not live in a take it or leave it world.

My best guess is that as a standalone it will work for the developer / owner, but I just don't think it works very well for the area.  Yes, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Oh, I'm helping - just ask me.

Marty Richman

Submitted by Tod duBois on

My position is that the redevelopment plans from the 1989 Quake should be implemented fully. Those plans were developed by experts and the State and Feds funded them. If the $6,000,000 spent on the parking structure supports the current project and they use the third story bridge then I'm fine with it. 

If staff has reduced the value of the public investment so much as we have to give away millions just to get something done they should be held accountable for that. Some have been fired and I've worked hard to get that to happen - others have been promoted - they need to go. 

This is a 100 year building site - a 10 year recession is not an excuse. Think TransAmerica Building in San Francisco - icon to the future. 

Submitted by Mary Nydegger (Mary) on

"Fall in line and smile, or else!"


Nobody suspects a thing. Back to business.

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

Downtown Hollister just doesn't seem the same since Ladd's Hardware, Bob's video's, Enterprise Electric, etc. If you can't improve on that, why bother? Building for the sake of building in an uninteresting area is just silly. Those stores and several other big stores all left the area for a good reason. There was probably no money there. Just sayin.

Hollister's center of population has shifted, the primary employment locations have shifted, the household relationships have shifted, and consumer tastes have shifted even more.  As I pointed out before, downtown is where you bought everything from a greeting card to a TV, no more, everyone carries TVs not even counting Costco or Amazon and there are ump-teen models to pick from and they are basically throwaways (unrepairable).  What ever happened to TV repairmen?  Tube testers were the handwriting on the wall - it went from a specialist, to do it yourself, to throw it away.  No consumer electric repair companies anymore and one less draw for downtown.  We need entertainment, it's the big draw these days.

Marty Richman

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