The closure of Nash Road where it bisects San Benito High School moved closer to reality Monday as the Hollister City Council voted 3-2 to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the high school district and the county of San Benito to plan measures that would balance the needs of student safety with concerns of campus neighbors who worry about more traffic near their homes. A permanent closure of the road would not happen until a number of criteria were met, including the county’s planned construction of a bypass south of campus.
Councilmen Victor Gomez and Karson Klauer, along with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, voted in favor of the MOU, while council members Raymond Friend and Mickie Luna were opposed. The council previously voted 3-2 against the closure of Nash, with Gomez among the dissenters. He recently suggested bringing the matter back to the council, saying he would favor a plan only if five criteria were met:
1. Nash Road would not close permanently until or unless the county built and opened the bypass.
2. All mitigation measures noted in an environmental impact report were addressed.
3. Traffic calming measures would be implemented on streets near the high school, such as Monterey, B and West streets
4. A radar speed detector — either temporary or permanent — be installed on Powell Street
5. Temporary closure of Nash Road from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the school year.
City Hall was so packed with students, SBHS staff members and others Monday that Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo required that some people not there for the Nash Road issue wait in the lobby or outside during the discussion.
A number of high school staff members and students spoke in favor of the closure idea, with many urging the council not to wait until a fatality occurs before taking action. Residents also advocated for safety, though they expressed concerns about how a closure of Nash could force traffic into residential side streets near the school, potentially endangering students walking to and from R.O. Hardin and Rancho San Justo schools.
SBHS junior Lauren Klauer, the vice president of the school’s Associated Student Body, told the council that “it is your job to keep all citizens on and around your roads as safe as possible. Make a plan, stick to it, trust the county and close Nash Road,” she said.
Vincent Ramirez, a Napa native who is in his first year teaching at the high school, said, “when I heard there was a street that ran through a high school, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me. There’s got to be a moral attachment to your governance.”
Dr. Tom Rooth, who teaches Advanced Placement English and psychology classes at SBHS, said, “We have a solution before us not only to protect the students there now … but for decades to come.”
Chris Gross, who lives on Suiter Street, half a block off Nash, said he has lived there for 31 years and “I’ve never heard of anyone getting hit on Nash Road. Closing Nash Road is not the answer to the problem,” he said, adding that safety is more of a law enforcement issue.
Ray Rodriguez, president of the San Benito High School District Board of Trustees, said there are no funds to build a second high school, which some people have said would help alleviate the number of Nash Road crossing necessary. He said that decisions about having a road through a campus were made decades ago and traffic on Nash “is only going to get worse. Do we make a wrong right by ignoring it?”
Jeremy Dirks, an assistant principal at the high school, said, “every day, I see people ignoring our campus supervisors and blowing right through the stops” where students cross the road. “It’s not if, it’s when” a bad accident will occur.
Superintendent John Perales said that “everyone is benefiting from this move and we are beginning to work as one as a community. I’m very open to working with the county and the council. Not only are we looking to make (the Nash Road crossing area) the heart of our high school, but it is something that is endangering our students.” He added, “we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re reactive; we want to be proactive and have a win-win situation for everyone.”
SBHS Principal Todd Dearden said that safety is “an important part of our campus” and that seven to 10 campus supervisors work along Nash Road while students and staff are transitioning from one side of campus to the other.
Kelly Sepulveda, who has lived near the high school for 26 years, said the proposed bypass south of campus will still force cars onto neighborhood streets because people still have to drop students off near school. She called for a pedestrian overpass to allow students to cross Nash without traffic being impacted. Officials have previously noted that handicap accessibility requirements make that idea an unlikely solution.
Sara Fontanos, San Benito County’s management analyst, said a traffic study of the proposed bypass and park is under county review now and should be available for public review by mid-September. She said the county has already spent $500,000 and has pledged a total of $2.2 million for the bypass, which would take two years to build.
After the public comment, Gomez briefly switched topics and called out the high school district board and leadership for not considering a gang prevention coordinator as a priority. “You are contributing zero dollars” to that position…I’m putting you on the spot — it’s time to come through and fund that position.” He then moved on to the Nash Road issue, saying it’s closure is “inevitable” because it is “definitely a safety concern.” Gomez said Superintendent Perales “has done an excellent job” monitoring and enforcing parking around the campus and then he delineated the mitigation measures he’d like to see from any Nash Road closure solution. His motion was then approved 3-2.