This commentary was contributed by Mia Casey, Mayor of Hollister. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

I have heard clearly from the community that over the years Hollister has not planned well for our future and must take better care to maintain infrastructure. The sewer is part of that infrastructure. And it needs work. Four of the five members of the Hollister City Council understood this, and opted to approve needed repairs and upgrades at a recent council meeting, choosing to replace two older sewer membranes near the end of their lifespan. For once, Hollister is on the right side of planning ahead for our sewer infrastructure: a sewer fund was created when the plant was built in 2008, and the City collected sewer impact fees from developers in the amount of $27 million which are only to be used for maintaining and upgrading sewer infrastructure. So, if repairs are needed, and we have more than enough funding, then what is the problem?

Unfortunately, there are those who seek to politicize and criticize at every turn without
bothering with facts or worse, twisting information in order to create controversy. One way to keep from being taken in and manipulated by political rhetoric is to inform yourself. Here are some key facts that will help you understand more about our sewer, and why upgrades were critical to maintaining and keeping this infrastructure in good order:

  • There are four sewer membranes in the plant that process waste. In 2016, two of those membranes were replaced. Unfortunately, the new membrane technology does not work alongside the older membranes, so all four can no longer operate at the same time. This has reduced our ability to process waste from 4.0 Million Gallons per Day (4MGD) down to 3.4MGD.
  • Sewer membranes have a 15-year lifespan, and this year marks the 15 th year and it is time to replace those last two older membranes. Staff recommended this, and the City Council approved it in a 4-1 vote.
  • A County Supervisor wrongly claimed in his public criticism of the City Council that the sewer was only at 50% capacity. With the reduction of processing down to 3.4MGD, the sewer is actually at 76% of capacity.
  • This same Supervisor also complained about San Juan Bautista’s connection request for a maximum flow level of 1.2MGD (7.5x their current rate) but failed to mention a couple of important facts: 1) the maximum flow rate has to do with planning for the future–out to the year 2060 to be exact–not for now; and 2) although a request for 7.5x was made, the Hollister City Council negotiated that maximum flow rate down to 2x (.32MGD) and that was what was approved for San Juan Bautista’s contract.
  • Contrary to what many were led to believe, the sewer plant was not being upgraded in order to make way for new housing developments to be approved. The plant required upgrading to ensure adequate sewer capacity for developments approved years ago that are now ready to connect.
  • With the connections for the San Juan Oaks development (approved in 2016), and the city of San Juan Bautista emergency connection (approved in 2021) the sewer plant usage will increase to 86% of capacity–it is important to understand that when we reach 90% a threshold is triggered which can cause issues with the state and also increases the probability of sewage backups.
  • With the two new membrane upgrades, our capacity will remain adequate and stay below the 90% threshold. The four membranes will be able to work simultaneously, and each membrane can operate at up to 1.7MGD. This provides ample capacity to deal with storm surges, peak flow rates, as well as other projects that have already been approved and are in the pipeline that will require connection to the sewer in the future.

About that Moratorium

  • One Council Member used the sewer agenda item as an opportunity to bring forward the idea to enact a moratorium on housing growth, and even asked for a legal review of his proposal. There are some facts here that need consideration as well.
  • While the attorney described the mechanisms of a moratorium, she also talked about a number of risks associated with it. Our City Attorney also made it quite clear during the meeting that a moratorium would require approval by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The fact is, the state has been very clear on moratoriums and has begun sanctioning cities/counties that attempt to enact them.
  • Incorrect information continues to be spread about state housing requirements, and whether we are considered an ‘affected jurisdiction’ or are exempt. While our county is considered agricultural and has not yet had a determination putting them on the affected counties list, the city of Hollister is an urban center that has been put on the affected cities list. Because of this, Hollister is prohibited from certain zoning activities, including enacting a moratorium. The California Department of Housing and Community Development has a Jurisdictional Determinations web page that includes a link to affected cities and you can confirm for yourself that Hollister is on this list. The page also outlines specifically what is prohibited and one of the top bullet points is affected cities like Hollister are prohibited from imposing a moratorium. (See website image.)
Image provided by Mia Casey.
Image provided by Mia Casey.
  • The City Council has already attempted to thwart these restrictions back in 2019 by enacting a Growth Control ordinance. The state refused to approve it, and the City had to rescind that ordinance.

Trying to use the sewer as a political weapon or attempting to impose a moratorium does not resolve anything–it only creates more problems. While a moratorium might sound appealing, the state prohibits it and an attempt to enact it against state laws could lead to fines, loss of grant funding, lawsuits or losing local control over our housing development. None of this would be good for our community. And as far as the sewer goes, this is an important piece of our infrastructure and deserves to be kept up to date and in good working order. I hope this information has been helpful and please feel free to contact me with questions.