Council approves Cerrato project 4-1, mayor says no

Despite Velazquez's vote, city council approves 241-home development agreement
Cerrato Map 3_0001.jpg

During the Oct. 17 meeting, the city council passed a resolution, 4-1, with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez voting against it, to approve Phase 1 of the subdivision improvement agreement associated with infrastructure requirements for the Cerrato development. The plan calls for 241 homes to be built on the lot, which is surrounded on three sides by Hillside Road, Pinnacles National Park Highway and Meridian Road.

City Engineer David Rubcic said the subdivision was reviewed and approved at a public hearing by the planning division, March 27, 2014. He said the project is a private subdivision that will have a homeowners’ association and will be annexed into Community Facilities District (CFD) No. 2 for fire and police service and CFD No. 4 for public infrastructure that the city will maintain. He said the agreement is similar to all the other agreements that the city has approved and that it requires the subdivider to complete improvements outlined in the tentative map that have been approved by the planning commission.

As previously reported by BenitoLink, Rubcic said the subdividers have already posted bonds and have begun remediation work to remove toxins in the soil, and will begin construction soon.

According to the agenda packet, submitted to council members to study before voting, the subdividers (Cerrito Hollister L.P and UCP Hillcrest Hollister, LLC) were required to pay numerous fees and reimbursements prior to the city engineer’s approval of the final map.

These include: $768,102.19 engineering and inspection fee, of which $295,500.00 was paid Aug. 22, 2014, with the remaining $472,602.19 still due; a map checking fee of $5115.00; east area storm drain fee of $414,520.00; $2420.00 annexation to CFD No. 2, for fire suppression and police services; $5,500.00 annexation to CFD No. 4, for maintenance and operation of public infrastructure.

Other costs to the subdividers for onsite and offsite improvements, such as storm drains, paving, grading landscaping, and irrigation amounted to $10,199,964.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez commented that he was concerned that a lot of work on the development has already been done, yet the council had not approved it. Rubcic said the planning commission had approved the subdivision.

“There were no appeals. There were no reasons or requests to bring this to the city council for approval,” he said. “The tentative map actually approved the subdivision. In order for the tentative map conditions to move on so the subdivider can do a good business practice, they enter into this agreement. Had the subdivider wanted to, they could have completed all of the improvements. After that, the map could be approved administratively, which is what we normally do on a regular basis.”

The mayor, who has long been a proponent of slow growth, challenged the business-as-usual response with, “If the council had decided not to approve the project, there’d be no project.”

Rubcic maintained that the project would still exist.

“Not approving at this point, if that is their (council) desire, would be not approving the agreement that protects the city and guarantees the improvements for the subdivision are completed,” he said.

Velazquez said he remained concerned about the city’s growth rate.

“I think this is one of those projects that’s put us past the tipping point,” he said. “This is one of those projects that’s a little more favorable, but I’m still concerned that we don’t have an overall plan for the city growth, and I’ve made that very clear in the past. I’d rather see us step back, take time and put a new plan together.”

Councilman Raymond Friend wanted to know if, in addition to roads and drains within the subdivision, the homeowners’ association would be maintaining the bio-retention pond. Rubcic said there is a pond at the northwest part of the project that is public waters and will include a pocket park, in addition to any storm waters that may flow into it. He said there are also a number of smaller ponds in the subdivision, which the subdivider and HOA will be responsible for maintaining. Friend said he wanted to be sure that if the ponds should become a hazardous waste issue the city would not be responsible for cleaning them up. Rubcic said his department didn’t foresee that happening.

Councilman Victor Gomez said that when he was elected in 2008, the first meeting he attended involved the Cerrato property.

“It’s been eight years that I’ve been waiting to see a tractor on that property and get something done,” he said. “This project was approved before my time. It’s part of the General Plan on how to grow. I know we continue to hear about this anti-growth sentiment, and that’s fine. But as a former business owner, I can tell you that everybody wants the amenities of a large city, but nobody wants the growth. I’m not going to invest in a community if I can’t count enough rooftops to open up a business.”

He told those in the room if they were OK with the businesses they currently have, and happy with not having an Applebee’s or Chili’s, then gap growth.

“Don’t complain you don’t have those amenities if you’re not willing to accept the growth,” he said.

James Fletcher, division president for Benchmark Communities Bay Area, said he is responsible for the project. He said Benchmark originally became involved in the project in 2013, and filed a revised map that was approved by the planning commission March 27, 2014, which he said was subject to a long list of conditions.

“We’ve been finalizing the engineering and dealing with all the conditions that we could resolve pre-start,” he said. “In California it is possible, under the Subdivision Map Act, that once you have the map approved, or nearing approval, to go do all the work absent this agreement, we’ve asked the city enter into with us.”

He said that once the improvements are in the ground and completed, and then approved by the city engineer, the map would be recorded.

“A lot of smaller developers do that because they are able to avoid posting the bond,” Fletcher said. “This agreement comes with a $10.2 million subdivision bond, which we’ve already posted. That assures the city that we will live up to all of the commitments that we made. If we don’t, then you have recourse against the bond.”

He said he realizes there is concern in the community regarding the remediation work being done. He said one of the conditions of approval of the project required a deep assessment of the quality of the soil. The former orchard site, he said, had been cultivated since 1939, if not longer, and certain pesticides and chemicals were applied.

“This was standard practice, and, fortunately, as a society we have gotten more aware of some of the long-term impacts of those chemicals,” he said. “The residual effect of those chemicals in the ground have to be dealt with. We have worked with the California Department of Toxic Substance Control that oversees the remediation of cleanups of sites like this.”

Fletcher said the state issued a permit to do the work of burying the contaminated soil onsite, under private roads. He described the chemicals as inert and claimed they do not run with water. He said the state determined burying the chemicals was the best method of dealing with them, as long as they don’t affect ground water. Sewers and other utilities will be buried a minimum of 10 feet above the buried toxins and back-filled uncontaminated soil.

“We think we’re doing a positive thing and the site will be considered clean, completely habitable, and by the way, will be completely disclosed to all of our future homebuyers,” he said. “I think we’re doing the most responsible thing, and I think you will see more of that as ag lands continue to developed.”

Michael Henson said he is for growth in Hollister, but the issue is getting people into the city on congested roads. He said all roads coming into the city are already seriously impacted, and once the Santana Ranch project is completed, Fairview Road will be a mess. He asked that all developments be postponed until more roads and infrastructures are addressed.

City Council candidate Tim Burns commented that the new development will increase fire and police calls by 20 percent, and that he has not heard of any plan, other than developmental fees, to move forward in addressing the situation. He said he was pleased to learn there would be disclosures to new home buyers.

Cassondra Sanchez asked the council to delay its vote on the project. She said there are already too many houses being built. She said the community, instead, should invest in schools, public safety, and recreation. She said if the city tax extension Measure W does not pass, it will affect police and fire safety. She said that because of the potential loss in personnel, the city should wait until after the November elections before making a decision.

“I don’t believe just because permits were issued decades ago, we have to continue to move forward with this so fast,” she said. “I’m not opposed to more houses. I’m opposed to how you’re moving so quickly. Let’s get our community straightened out, our roads taken care of, our fire and police safety, our parks, and our education for our youth, and then invite more housing. And I don’t care about Appleby’s or Chili’s because I don’t mind driving 20 miles. I care about the resources in our community. That’s why I moved here. I don’t want to live in San Jose or Gilroy.”

After she sat down, Gomez appeared to have heard enough, and was eager to address her comments.

“Number one, we (council) have nothing to do with schools. Can’t help you there,” he said. “We’ve had less than 1 percent growth over the past two decades, which is essentially a no-growth community. That’s a little shocking to me that you would not believe a fact.”

He said Highway 25 was supposed to be widened and paid for with funds from Measure P, a tax measure that failed to garner enough votes in June.

“The voters of San Benito County said no, we’re not interested in widening Highway 25,” he said emphatically. “The opportunity was there and it was declined. We raised traffic impact fees to address these traffic impacts that are happening because of residential development. The statement that we’re not doing anything. We’re not forecasting is just not a right statement.”

Gomez said Highway 156 is not a widening project, but an entirely new four-lane highway between Hollister and San Juan Bautista.

“I understand that they’re all coming together at the same time,” he said. “We would have liked to have had all this growth consistently over the past 16 years, but because of the (building) moratorium, we couldn’t do that.

Gomez went on to say water was another issue, then asked City Manager Bill Avera if the wastewater treatment facility could sustain the growth going on in the city. Avera told him and the audience that the system could support a doubling of the population, and even more.

Having grown up in Hollister, Gomez said he understood how people were feeling, but reiterated the city has only grown less than 2 percent in two decades.

“That is a cap we put on ourselves,” he said. “I appreciate the comments, but I’m going to support this resolution today.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]