Seeing the signs around town saying “Don’t dump on San Benito,” I thought I would share our experience from about 10 years ago.
Years ago I moved my family to Hollister from Gilroy. I had a new job in the area and my wife and I had a dream of buying some property where we could own horses.
We found an amazing house on a five-acre lot along John Smith Road. We were told at the time there was a landfill about a mile up the road but our real estate agents told us that it would be closing in 10 to 15 years. It was a local dump only for the use of Hollister residents. We were OK with that. We settled in, got some horses, built a barn and were really enjoying the country life in Hollister!
Then one day, a neighbor, who we were not acquainted with, came down the driveway and asked us if we were aware that they were going to expand the John Smith Landfill and rezone it as a heavy industrial zone so that they could put in a resource recovery park. This neighbor was one of very few people who had been notified about the rezoning plans because they lived within 300 feet of the boundary of the landfill.
We had not been notified about it.
This neighbor told us that we could read an environmental impact report (EIR) that detailed the potential negative impacts of the resource recovery park. She said one of the things that was a problem for her was that the EIR said it would bring, by a conservative estimate, at least 433 more round trips per day of vehicles.
Since we lived right along John Smith Road we knew that this would affect us a lot. We loved living out in the Hollister country, a quiet place of rolling hills leading up to the mountain range behind. The thought of the extra traffic and the prospect of this beautiful countryside being re-zoned as heavy industrial was a shock to us.
As we looked further into it the impression that we had was that the San Benito County Board of Supervisors was trying to do something sneaky, giving as little notice as possible to people like us who might object. They seemed to be trying to slip this one by the people of Hollister. This would impact not only our family but also all of Hollister because of the increased traffic.
We immediately went and downloaded the environmental impact report that was posted for only 10 days on the county site. It was shocking to read of all the noise, dust, traffic, environmental and visual impacts that the resource recovery park would bring in. But what was more shocking was that each problem that was mentioned had a little note following it saying that no mitigation was necessary. (Later I was told that the person who wrote the Environmental impact report actually worked for the landfill.).
Very few people knew anything about these major plans and those that did said that it was no use fighting it because it was a “done deal.” Apparently when the Board of Supervisors wants to do something they just go ahead and do it.
In my way of thinking we elect the Board of Supervisors and they should be accountable to us. So we decided to get involved.
I copied parts of the EIR, put them on a one page info sheet and delivered them to all the people in our neighborhood. On that flier we set a date for a neighborhood meeting where we could all talk about this.
We had a meeting and everyone else was shocked as well. One of the people who developed our neighborhood also told us about a toxic plume that had existed at the landfill. He seem to feel that that could still be an issue.
Within an hour of the meeting we got a call from Supervisor Muenzer asking us what we were trying to do. He said we were distributing mis-information. We told him that we had only copied paragraphs out of the environmental impact report. This was the supervisor that was supposed to represent us. So now we were involved.
I found out when they were going to discuss this issue at the Board of Supervisors meetings. I went to each of these meetings and when the opportunity came went up and expressed the concerns that I had. The supervisors all listened as many, many people got up and expressed similar concerns. I went to quite a few meetings. At all of those meetings there was never anyone that got up expressing anything positive regarding the proposed rezoning for a resource recovery park.
I also made an appointment to talk directly with our representative, Jerry Muenzer about the plans to rezone. We talked for over one and a half hour but he could not agree with me. He didn’t allay any of my concerns. (Later he voted against the rezoning).
As the anti-RRP momentum grew the county held a community meeting at the Veterans Memorial Building. Over 100 people were there and again nobody spoke up from the community who actually wanted the RRP re-zoning . Everyone was opposed to it. Yet I still kept hearing that “done deal” thing.
The last meeting that I went to was at the Catholic Church in Tres Piños. Supervisors came to two meetings to hear from the public. Again, everyone was opposed to the resource recovery park at this site. Many good ideas of alternatives were presented and some general ideas about what Hollister should be known for rather than as a destination for garbage.
At the end of the meeting one of the supervisors looked at us and said I hope none of you want to get a building permit in the near future. This was the same supervisor who also said that Hollister would never be anything more than a blue-collar town and that we should not try to bring high tech industry to Hollister. I never thought I would hear these kinds of things from a member of the supervisors.
In the end, all of these meetings accomplished some things. The supervisors decided that they would not rezone the countryside into a heavy industrial zone. They decided not to allow a composting facility. But, while we were doing all this they opened the landfill up to anyone in the Bay Area. Our landfill is no longer a place where you have to show that you are a resident of Hollister. They also expanded the capacity of the dump so it may never close.
For us, this all was very discouraging because of the increased traffic and water concerns we sold our five acres and moved across Highway 25. Water quality in local wells are always concerns near landfills. (At least 6 people in our subdivision got cancer including our son.)
I am sad to say that now they are trying to expand the landfill by hundreds of acres so Hollister will be the Bay Area Landfill destination.
Maybe it’s already a “Done Deal.”
My advice to the people of Hollister is to let your voice be heard.
Look into the ramifications of having such a large landfill near homes.
Look at the original Environmental Impact Report that mitigated all the concerns that the people had. (And look closely at the current EIR.)
Research the time about 20 years ago that there was a toxic plume.
Know whom you elect!
Get involved and go to meetings!