After nearly three hours of comments from city council members, business people and residents on Hollister’s residential growth and the possibility of implementing a residential growth program, the council decided, instead, to wait until City Manager Bill Avera could come back with a proposed draft for a program so the council could comment on it and possibly adopt it.

Initially, after Avera recapped the city’s growth pattern going back 16 years that amounted to less than 2 percent, he proposed two possible options for growth to the council that ranged between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, or 165 units to 244 units in 2018. It was recommended that the council take into consideration what any growth cap could have on the city, with the caution that the state does not look favorably on a community that imposes building limits that might lead to it being disqualified from Community Development Block Grants.

Councilman Raymond Friend brought attention to the main concern of many in the audience, the daily logjam of commuters on Highways 25 and 156, and the effects on the quality of life for everyone. Friend theorized that it wasn’t just new homes being built that were attracting people to move to Hollister. He said many existing homes were also selling and the number of people moving to the community did not actually equal the number of homes built. As new people moved into existing homes, he said, those who sold their homes were most likely moving away. He said there may be more commuters, but there are not necessarily more people living in new homes.

“There’s got to be a balance,” he said. “Everybody complains we don’t have enough restaurants, playgrounds, swimming pools or library, but there’s a point where why would anybody want to develop a restaurant here if there’s not going to be any growth?”

Friend said businesses could not be convinced to come to Hollister if the population remains the same. He said while residents blamed the council for traffic conditions on 25 and 156, there is nothing the city can do because both are state roads. He said he did not think it was right for Hollister residents to pay for improving state roads and people are wrong in thinking a low growth rate would stop the commuter problem because existing homes will continue to sell to people coming from the San Jose area.

“I don’t know if growth management is necessarily something we should do,” he said. “We’re going to build a wall on the 25 and Silicon Valley is going to pay for it.”

Avera said Hollister has been asked a number of times to bear much of the financial burden of improving 25 and 156. He said in order to generate matching funds to prove to the state that Hollister wants to participate in the improvements is to revisit Measure P, a failed transportation tax measure. He added that each new home pays $17,500 in transportation mitigation fees and if all the monies from 100 homes were applied to road improvements it would only amount to $1.7 million, which wouldn’t come close to the estimated $30 million the city would have to come up with to match the $300 million price tag for Highway 25 widening.

“Not having growth in Hollister doesn’t help that,” Avera said. “We need a new measure. I don’t know how to package it to get the support we need, but that’s just something we’re going to have to do.”

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he is not anti-growth, but what he can’t stand is unplanned growth. He said the city has already allocated 2,304 new housing units and there is no stopping them from being built.

“Twenty-three hundred homes are coming at us and we need to have a better plan to make sure it doesn’t get worse,” he said. Then he said if the state is going to insist on growth in the city, it needs to pay for new schools and to maintain roads. He gave a few numbers to show the magnitude of what residents face in wanting roads repaired. To expand Airline Highway from Sunset Road to Fairview Road would cost an estimated $40 million; to widen Union Road from Airline Road to SR-156 would be about $60 million.

“The state is not coming to fix them. That’s on us,” he said. “If we don’t have a plan in place, we’re going to find ourselves backed up through this whole town.”

Velazquez told the audience that even though Highway 25 is a $300-million project, Santa Clara County was willing to work with San Benito County to build a flyover at 25 and 101 to the county line that would cost $75 million, but San Benito County and Hollister would have to pay a share. He said all he is asking is take a time out, come up with a plan, with public input, to show where Hollister wants to go.

Councilman Jim Gillio told the audience that there is funding for four new lanes of 156 between Union Road and The Alameda in San Juan Bautista. The only reason the state is funding it, he said, is because 156 is considered a commercial corridor that facilitates billions of dollars’ worth of agriculture products being transported from Salinas to the rest of the country. He also said he supports reintroducing a retail-specific tax measure that could pass if the public were better informed. He further explained that the state considers 25 a regional road and will not fix it. He said the best option for improving 25 is to partner with Santa Clara County, which passed the $75 million bond and begin putting away funds so when and if the state decides to repair 25 the city has matching funds.

“Right now, if the state came to us and said they have $75 million to widen 25, you need to have a 10 percent match, we’re going to have to say we don’t have the money,” Gillio said. “We need to go out and campaign at the grassroots (level) so all of our community members are comfortable and trust where that money is going. It’s not going into the General Fund. It’s going specifically to 25, if that’s what the community wants.”

Gillio said he did not think even if 25 were widened, it would solve the problem because traffic congestion is a regional and state problem. He said people need to remember the housing shortage is statewide, so people can’t be blamed for coming to Hollister to find a home they can afford. He said Hollister’s issues have evolved over a great number of years and questioned where his and other’s children will live if not in Hollister. He wondered whether they will all have to move out of the state. He reminded the audience that Congressman Jimmy Panetta said during his recent town hall in Hollister that of four counties, San Benito was the only one that did not pass a self-help tax measure, which is designed to fund transportation needs through local sales taxes.

“We need to take Jimmy Panetta’s advice and get our self-help tax measure done,” Gillio said, adding that a smooth growth line is needed rather than swift spikes and dips that will endanger the local economy. He said he supports a growth management program with input from the community to figure out at what rate that growth should be. “I think it should be temporary, though, because we’re going to be updating the General Plan within the next 18 to 20 months, which is our guide to the future of our community.”

Friend added that if all building stopped immediately none of the city’s problems would be solved. He said residents blame the council for the city’s ills and that if they have some magical formula to solve them, then tell the council.

“We can’t just stop and expect everything to go away,” Friend said, “then we’re like the state. A monitored growth may be the answer, but that doesn’t solve the commute problem. We can have a five-year plan that does this, but what about the people tomorrow morning that have been in line for two hours? I don’t hear anything that solves the problem.”

Councilwoman Mickie Luna remembered that in 2001 someone recommended making 25 a one-way road during commute times as just one possible solution. She agreed with Friend that the council needs public input to come up with answers and that there is a need for a collective and consistent effort to lobby Sacramento for help.

When the mayor repeated a refrain that resident Marty Richman had offered at one meeting, “Build it or lose it,” referring to developers who hold on to land for years without building anything, Avera commented that development is a business. He said the city can’t take allocations away from one business to turn it over to another business that may not even be interested in building there. He said the statement is not a true function of development and that nobody wants an allocation if it’s not worth anything.

Avera spoke to Richman in the audience, stating that if someone were to take away Award Homes’ 677 allocations on land that it has held for 25 years, no one else would want them. Councilman Karson Klauer asked Avera if the number of permits could be averaged out at lower numbers each year to possibly avoid what he called a “glut of homes.” Avera used Award Homes again to make his point that it does have a build-out schedule of 250 units for two years, which includes an apartment complex of 100 units. He recommended that rather than having a development agreement for each project to instead have a performance agreement that would limit the number of building permits annually.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, more than 20 people shared their concerns on growth, pro and con. Gordon Machado said he has been in business in Hollister for 50 years and has lived through three building moratoriums. He said he does not want to see another one, which he said was what the mayor’s comments indicated, though later Velazquez said he never said the word, moratorium. Others, though, said what he was proposing did amount to a moratorium. Machado said 20 years ago, he went to a Manufacturers’ Association meeting and was told no manufacturer would want to locate in the county because, even then, it did not have a consistency of growth because of moratoriums.

Former Hollister mayor, councilman and business owner Victor Gomez said he understood the commuters’ frustration. He said the recently updated traffic mitigation fees on new homes include widening Highway 25, which they did not before. He also reminded everyone that he once owned a pizza franchise in Hollister, but was forced by the moratorium of 2002 to 2008 to sell his business and lay off all his employees. He advised the council to conduct an economic study and impact report on whatever option they ultimately chose.

Richman started his comments with a joke that hit home on more than one level: “We’re never going to have a problem with the sewer plant because you can’t flush a toilet when you’re sitting in your car.” Then he commented that he had spoken on the issue at least 40 times and claimed no one has done anything about it. He said the city allows developments to be built in lousy places, with no setbacks, huge sound walls and two-story homes right next to streets.

“This could be a great town even with 150,000 people if you don’t change the look and feel,” he said. “All these issues and the issues about the internal traffic problems, you can’t get to the highway. We don’t do anything about the roads that go around the school (San Benito High). At 2:20 p.m., there’s a massive traffic jam in the entire city. It has nothing to do with commuters. It’s people dropping their kids off at school and picking them up. This falls on the city’s planning and you should fix it.”

Richard Goozh, chief financial officer of Teknova, said that because of Hollister’s proximity to Silicon Valley, growth is inevitable. He said Santa Clara County is funding $6.5 billion in road projects partially because residents of Hollister drive there to work. He asked why businesses are not coming to Hollister and San Benito County where land prices are as little as 10 percent of the value of land in other counties. He said jobs will solve most of the problems.

“One of the reasons traffic is getting worse daily is because Hollister is not really open for business,” he said, alluding to the claim made by Velazquez that it was. “What is Hollister doing to make the city more appealing to outside businesses?”

Goozh added that he is trying to help by heading an independent interdepartmental committee with a mission to study the historical causes for the lack of business expansion in the county in order to develop a plan of action to jumpstart commercial development, and he invited the city to join him.

In contrast to the first few speakers, several of the following speakers agreed with the mayor about slowing down growth. One commented that growth has incentivized people who don’t even live in Hollister and that the growth that should occur needs to convince residents to stay in Hollister by helping local business owners to thrive and invest back into the city. Ruth Erickson told the council the reason Measure P failed to pass was because there was no thought to ask San Juan Bautista or Aromas what they wanted. She said that when people were working on Measure A, they asked San Juan Bautista what it wanted and when they got it, the county voted 82 percent in favor of the measure.

“If you want to make something happen, you have to ask other parts of the county what they want and not just consider Hollister; the county has to consider everybody,” she said.

Avera commented that some people are probably not comfortable speaking during a public forum and invited them to discuss the growth management issue with him by coming to City Hall on Sept. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...