Dignitaries participate in the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Dignitaries participate in the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Civic leaders gathered at the Community Foundation for San Benito’s Epicenter to participate in a Community Vision San Benito County listening session where they discussed topics such as crime, homelessness, behavioral health, substance abuse and county employee retention. 

Participants included law enforcement, elected officials, former elected officials, Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital staff and community leaders. 

Hollister Police Chief Carlos Reynoso said he was concerned about not being able to incarcerate offenders for crimes as many former felony violations in the state are now just citations. He added that the jail has substance abuse programs that offenders are not getting now because they are not being held in custody. 

Commander Tom Corral of the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office said the behavioral health and substance abuse issues that lead to criminal offenses need to be addressed. 

Corral also noted that county employee retention is difficult. Mayra Zendejas, Central Coast YMCA vice president, agreed with this, adding that affordable housing and childcare are also a problem and that people cannot afford to work and live in the community. 

Former county supervisor and BenitoLink board member Mike Graves said there is not enough revenue coming into the county because the county only gets 13 cents on the dollar back from the state.

District Attorney Joel Buckingham added that homelessness is a problem and that the community cannot allow Hollister to “spiral down” like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“This place is worth fighting for,” he said. 

Two issues which have repeatedly surfaced during the listening sessions are the condition of roads in the county and heavy traffic. Former county supervisor Anthony Botelho said he recently had two people drive though his property because both Highways 25 and 156 were too congested. He said one person was driving home from Menlo Park and told Botelho, “I just want to get home.” 

Graves added we need better discourse, adding “people have retreated to corners.” Mary Casillas, Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital CEO, said “there is a lot of misinformation out there.” Graves added that outlets such as BenitoLink need to be a source of true information.

San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum said Hollister High School is overcrowded and that is the 10th largest high school in California.

Asked what the worst possible outcomes would be if these issues were not resolved, participants said there would be a mass exodus from the county, that public services would be lost and that the county would continue to lose revenue from residents shopping, dining and recreating elsewhere.

However, participants said they were hopeful and noted that the best possible outcomes would be sustainable growth, better paying jobs, sustainable discretionary revenues, and multigenerational families residing in the county to support a greater sense of belonging. 

Not everyone felt so optimistic though. Former supervisor Pat Loe said these problems existed 30 years ago. San Juan Bautista Mayor Leslie Jordan said as the second-highest growing county in California we have the third-lowest tax revenue.  

Participants were asked what could be done to get to the best possible outcomes and there were many ideas. Buckingham emphasized focusing on the long-term, and said that leaders need to be honest with people and “prioritize San Benito County.” Tennenbaum added that leaders need to be positive role models for youth. Youth mentoring was also identified as a solution. 

Sheriff Eric Taylor said the main problem was financial.

“The root problem is the revenue,” he said.

He added that, when done correctly, bonds play an important role and that the community is not tapping into the transient occupancy tax. 

Community Foundation for San Benito County CEO Gary Byrne said that to make things happen we need to pay more in taxes, have more communication and call out misinformation.

BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Several notable results followed the foundation’s 2011-12 listening sessions. 

  • The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
  • The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
  • The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
  • Local nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions

RSVPs to attend the listening sessions are required.

To RSVP, please fill out this form, or email corinnekappeler@benitolink.com.

The 2023 Vision San Benito County listening sessions are supported by the Calhoun/Christiano Family Fund and the Community Foundation for San Benito County. There are approximately 20 listening sessions scheduled throughout September on issues and solutions from many small segments of the community. BenitoLink is reporting back the results in articles about each session. 

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College and she reports on science and the environment....