Two candidates are running for the San Benito County Board of Supervisors District 4 seat on Nov. 6. They are Jim Gillio, who is currently on the Hollister City Council, and District 4 incumbent Jerry Muenzer.
Jim Gillio is a local business owner who has lived in San Benito County for 35 years. He has also served as a peace officer for most of his adult life. Gillio credits these roles as giving him municipal experience, as well as providing him with an understanding of issues facing small businesses and residents in the county.
Outside of work, Gillio takes pride in being involved in the community through organizations such as Hollister Rotary and the San Benito Business Council.
BENITOLINK: Why are you running for San Benito County District Supervisor, District 4?
GILLIO: First and foremost I enjoy and want to serve District 4 and our entire community. Starting out at the City Council level has given me a deep understanding of the local administrative and legislative processes. I have sincerely enjoyed my experience on the City Council. I like go out in the community and talk to community members, leaders and organizations to see what the issues are and their thoughts on upcoming issues. I take my service on the city council very seriously.
Many of the voters in my district appreciated my representation and thoroughness at the city level and have encouraged me to take the next step and run at the county level.
I was raised in this county and I am very passionate about helping our county thrive. I will work hard to bring in new businesses and jobs. Our county roadways are crumbling and sooner than later we need to come up with a sound plan to repair and replace these roadways and other infrastructure for future generations.
What issues are most important to your district?
If elected my job will be to represent the members of District 4. We are a representative government, so our role is to represent our constituents. In the past year I have attended over 200 meetings and have talked to hundreds if not thousands of residents in our county.
When I am at community functions as well as walking and talking to constituents, a concern that is frequently discussed is public safety, especially in our rural areas. South County currently has a South County Deputy Sheriff assigned to the region and they don’t want this position eliminated.
Next would be infrastructure, specifically our roads are severely damaged, dilapidated and unsafe. The residents, visitors and businesses that transport goods in, out and through our region are rightfully very concerned. We have a study that has been done in the last few years that says countywide the cost is over $400 million (in today’s dollars) to bring our roadways up-to date/moderately functional. This is a significant issue we have allowed to fall into a state of disrepair for too long. We need to prioritize investment in our infrastructure to make it safe and functional.
Another issue I hear about is employment. We have currently at least 11,000 residents commuting out of our community daily to work in the Silicon and Salinas Valleys. About 70 percent travel to Silicon Valley and 30 percent travel to the Monterey Bay area. This causes a huge stress on our roadways, as well as strains for our residents, local businesses, service providers and families. When we are able to bring more livable wages into our county, it will help with traffic, it will help with people’s quality of life—our community members won’t have to be stuck on the road for several hours a day. They can be more involved with their children, volunteering and getting involved in the community.
Local job growth will also help with revenue through sales tax and improving the availability and quality of services like healthcare and education. If people are traveling out of town, they are buying their fuel, meals, going to medical appointments and shopping out of our community. Once we can create more living wage jobs inside the county, it will help to ease these problems.
Are there issues you feel are important to your district that the public may not know about?
In our district, there are several Community Service Areas (CSAs). A CSA is essentially an organization of homeowners that pays the county a percentage of their home value every year in their property tax statement. It can be 1 percent of your home value or a flat amount depending upon if you are in an AB8 or a Proposition 218 CSA. The county collects this money annually and manages the funds. Each of the 31 active CSAs have different agreements with the county for what is to be maintained. Some examples of common items to be maintained across most CSAs are; cleaning storm drains, weed abatement, power for lighting, removal of trash and litter, road maintenance, trimming and removal trees and brush, and more. There are 31 active CSAs in our county.
What I have learned from several CSA groups is that the county has been collecting these funds for some time and much maintenance in their neighborhoods has been deferred for reasons unknown (I am continuing to learn about it at this time). Communications, transparency, record keeping and accountability are all imperative, and if elected I will ensure to keep an open line of communication with all community members and CSA groups.
The biggest District 4 CSA is Ridgemark. There has been over $600,000 collected over the years for the maintenance of the community and much of the maintenance has not been completed in a timely manner. At this point I don’t know the reason, some of the reasons I have heard include; dwindling county staffing levels and shifting leadership priorities. I took it upon myself to investigate. I have had meetings with county administrative staff and CSAs such as Ridgemark, Quail Hollow, Oak Creek and Cielo Vista. I have met with the community-minded volunteers that represent those CSAs and they are understandably concerned about the CSA maintenance funds being collected and much of the agreed-upon maintenance not being done in a timely manner.
South County is an important area of District 4 that the community at-large may not know about. South County is a vast area of land that doesn’t have a high population. South County deserves equal and adequate representation. Because of that vast, rural nature and large quantity of public land, public safety is a real concern. Fire, medical and law enforcement response are major issues.
What obstacles and challenges does the district face?
Public Safety, CSA issues, roads as well as the other issues and opportunities that we face throughout our entire County. There are many high-priority needs; however, currently one immediate issue that needs to be resolved is access for residents of Southside Road south of Blossom Lane. I have met with many residents and county staff so that I have a thorough understanding of this huge infrastructure issue.
How do you plan to address them?
I have already have initiated the process of learning about the challenges and opportunities and tackling the issues head-on. The first steps are learning about the problems, educating yourself and building relationships.
Within the last four or five months, we have learned from the California Transportation Commission that Highway 156 from Union Road to the Alameda has been fully funded and is moving forward to start construction in April 2020. I was appointed to the City Council in May 2015 and I learned that the 156 project had been delayed a few years ago, and that the funding was re-allocated to other locations by the state. When I learned this, I thought it was important for us [locally elected officials] to lobby and represent our region. I met with Assemblywoman Caballero in Sacramento. We spoke about the importance of this project for our community and region. I talked to our City Council, the Board of Supervisors and San Benito County Council of Governments about writing a formal letter to the CTC/Caltrans to ensure they knew how important this was to our communities. All of these groups wrote letters supporting a high priority for this project. Mary Gilbert, the Council of Governments director, went to the California Transportation Commission on our behalf to prioritize this project and get it approved. Ultimately, it was approved.
If elected, I will continue to work hard to forge partnerships regionally and in Sacramento to ensure that San Benito County is not forgotten and that we receive the funding which is needed here.
How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent?
If you look back on my service with the City Council I think I have made myself very available. I can be reached by cellphone, email, text and social media. I attend community events where I can interact and people can talk with me directly to express their concerns. I would also like to set up regular office hours and I would like to do this at various locations so it makes it easier for people to get in and talk to me if they want.
Would you consider writing opinion articles for BenitoLink from your position as an elected representative?
Yes, I would appreciate the opportunity, where I am able, to provide facts and information on meeting agendas, issues and opportunities in our community for discussion and engagement.
What is the role of local government?
I feel that the role of local government is to represent all of our constituents, to serve, protect, support and improve our community and the exceptional quality of life we are so fortunate to have in San Benito County.
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer has held the District 4 seat since 2011. With a rich family history in San Benito County going back to 1910, Muenzer has served in multiple county roles and organizations. These include the Hollister Downtown Association, the Tres Pinos School Board of Trustees, the San Benito County Fish and Game Advisory Commission, the board of the United Way, as well as the San Benito County Workforce Investment Board and Community Action Board.
As Muenzer stated in an April 10 BenitoLink article, “We are going to need the help of our neighbors to solve the transportation problems that we are facing now. Also, future economic development for the county is very important. That is why, when the update of the General Plan was done, I fought for a commercial corridor along Highway 101. We now have developers looking at those sites. I believe that the county must continue to develop more agricultural manufacturing facilities, such as the expansion of Earthbound Farms and the relocation to San Benito County of GCF Frozen, Inc.”
Muenzer declined to speak with BenitoLink for this article.