Government / Politics

Election 2020: Hollister Mayor

Sal Mora challenges longtime incumbent Ignacio Velazquez.

Watch candidates for Hollister Mayor answer questions from the BenitoLink 2020 Virtual Election Forum.

Ignacio Velazquez has been the mayor of Hollister for eight years. This year he is being challenged by Sal Mora.

Campaign signs for mayor and other offices line the fence near Marguerite Maze Middle School. Photo by John Chadwell.
Campaign signs for mayor and other offices line the fence near Marguerite Maze Middle School. Photo by John Chadwell.

 

SAL MORA has lived in Hollister since early 2012. He is married with four children, and his wife, Tracee, grew up in Hollister. He said he feels invested in the well-being of the city, as he wants to retire here.

Mora ran for City Council District 4 in 2018 and has been an active participant at council meetings. He has worked as a mortgage loan officer, youth sports coach, special education teacher’s aide, juvenile hall group counselor and union representative.

Photo courtesy Sal Mora.
Photo courtesy Sal Mora.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for mayor? 

MORA: I want to thank our current mayor for his eight years of service to our community, but I feel it is time for change. I feel that our community is craving new leadership, and I believe I am the person to fulfill their wants and needs. I’m running to bring civility, honor, and respect back to the mayor’s office. City staff should have confidence that their mayor supports them, and will provide positive leadership for them. I want to boost the morale of all city employees so it helps them perform their duties to their fullest. As mayor, I will work on building relationships with key business organizations and business leaders, not only from San Benito County but outside of our county, so we can recruit them to come to Hollister.

What issues are most important to Hollister? 

Expansion of Highway 25, job creation, improved infrastructure is what I hear the most when speaking with constituents. We must work with our stakeholders to ensure that the 25 is expanded as quickly as possible. Constituents want our elected officials to work on recruiting high tech companies to open up shop in Hollister, as well as other industries. Constituents constantly remind me that besides having drivable roads, they want to see properly maintained sidewalks, safe crosswalks, increased bike lanes, and trails to enjoy with their families. 

Are there issues you feel are important to the city that the public may not know about? 

This is a great question. We have a staff retention issue with our fire department. We have lost five to seven firefighters within the last two to three years. That number may seem insignificant, but when the community sees the amount of time and money the city has spent in their training, only to lose them after three years to other departments, they would be deeply concerned. Our city officials should be working on finding solutions to this issue. Retaining and recruiting public safety employees will be one of my top priorities. 

Although spending money in paying overtime is cost-efficient as the city will not be covering healthcare and pension costs for additional staffing, what is the quality of service our public safety employees provide when they are constantly overworked? Most importantly, how are they able to spend quality time with their family, friends, and loved ones when they are constantly working overtime? It’s easy to say for them to simply not work the overtime, but many of them feel a sense of duty and responsibility to their peers to help provide the necessary public safety services to our city and county. 

What obstacles and challenges does the city face? 

Like all local, state, and federal government agencies during this time, budget constraints will be a big challenge facing our city. Elected officials have the difficult task of ensuring that city services are adequately provided to the community while needing to trim the budget due to a decrease in sales tax and other sources of revenue. 

How do you plan to address those issues? 

I plan on addressing our decrease in revenues by working together with our City Council, city manager and other city officials to focus on job creation. We can do this by recruiting large retailers to open up in Hollister who will in turn provide sales tax revenue for the city. A big benefit with focusing on job creation is that those individuals who stay in town could possibly spend their earnings locally instead of in other cities where they may have been working. Another benefit will be reducing the number of commuters on 156 and 25. I’d rather have our young folks work locally instead of commuting. 

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent? 

Social media, if used properly, can be a good way to communicate with constituents. A couple ideas I have is to publish a recap of the previous month’s City Council meeting outcomes so those constituents that were not able to attend or watch the City Council meetings are kept abreast of what has been transpiring with their local government. I would use my monthly stipend to ensure this gets accomplished.

What is the role of city government?   

The role of city government is to provide services to the community. Those services cover, in no particular order of importance, safe drinking water, adequate public safety staffing levels, safe and clean parks, proper sewage service, and infrastructure which includes safe and drivable roads, proper cross walks, etc.

What kind of city infrastructure needs the most improvement, and how can the city pay for the improvements, state money aside?

Pavement maintenance and the conditions of our local roads within the city are critical. That’s why I’m grateful to the residents of San Benito County for passing Measure G, which I supported. But the most important need for Hollister residents is in the county, and that is the widening of both Highway 156 and Highway 25. We have the resources now for the widening of Highway 25, but now you need the leadership to get it past the finish line. 

What are your ideas on how to attract more businesses to the city? What types of business would you like to bring into the city, and how would you make it happen?

Investing in the Economic Development Corporation is very important, so we have someone focused 100% on attracting business interests to Hollister. My focus would be on industrial and research and development. Commercial development is also important, but higher paying jobs is what we need to keep residents in town and off Highway 25. 

What ideas do you have for meeting the state requirement on housing (SB 330) while still making sure there is affordable housing for seniors and low-income households?

Senior and low-income housing is very important. I believe that developing and approving an inclusionary housing ordinance that would require developers to build at minimum 15% of their projects is long overdue. This will help us keep the state off our back.   

How do you propose avoiding fines from the state or lawsuits from developers?

Complying with the state mandate is important. Residential development has put a strain on our local roads, so I think striking a balance between what the state wants and preserving our quality of life is the way to go. Unfortunately, we have not done a good job communicating this with the state and our local legislators. That needs to change.  

 

IGNACIO VELAZQUEZ came to Hollister in the early 1990s. He had been living in Orange County and Ventura, but said he saw something special about Hollister and decided to make it his home. He holds a master’s degree in business from CSU-Hayward and a global studies degree from CSU-Monterey Bay. He is married with two children and met his wife in Hollister.

Velazquez was first elected mayor in 2012, with previous positions as a county planning commissioner and as presidents of the Hollister Downtown Association and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He has owned businesses for over 30 years, including the Vault in Hollister.

Photo courtesy Ignacio Velazquez.
Photo courtesy Ignacio Velazquez.

BENITOLINK: Why are you running for mayor? 

VELAZQUEZ: I believe our city has so much potential and I want to make sure we implement plans that benefit our community and stop repeating the same mistakes as in the past. Before I became mayor, the city of Hollister was in bad financial shape because of the lack of planning and unwise financial decisions. I was able to turn our financial situation around by focusing our finances to pay off bad debt and being more conservative with how we were spending our tax dollars. Over the past few years, there has been an effort by a few to approve thousands of new homes, which would once again put the city in a bad financial position and stress our infrastructure. I believe that our focus needs to stay on improving our existing infrastructure, bringing jobs to our city with more retail, commercial and industrial facilities rather than just building more homes.

What issues are most important to Hollister? 

The absolute biggest issue is too many homes being approved and built in our community, which is leading to more traffic, infrastructure issues and impacted schools. I believe the majority of our community wants to preserve our farmland and rural heritage rather than becoming a suburb for San Jose. We should be proud of the beauty that surrounds us and use it to bring more tourism and companies that want their employees to have a better quality of life. Creating more local jobs will lead to more of our own residents having more time to spend with their family rather than commuting for several hours a day to the Bay area for work.

Are there issues you feel are important to the city that the public may not know about? 

I think the thing that most people don’t realize is how little money the city receives in property tax from a new home. For example, a $500,000 home only brings in about $185 a year in property tax, which clearly puts a strain on the city finances. 

On the positive side, I want everyone to know that plans are moving forward on the widening of Highway 25, which is a $300 million project. The new highway will have four lanes and an overpass at Highway 25/156. Rail service is also being reviewed for future service for those that work in the Bay area. Santa Clara County has also agreed to build a new $120 million off-ramp at southbound 101 to southbound 25, which will make traffic flow more efficiently and safely. 

We are also investing over $3 million a year to fix our local streets for the next several years, which will make our streets much smoother and safer. These are all examples of discussions and planning that took several years to find funding and get commitments to complete. 

What obstacles and challenges does the city face? 

Again, the No. 1 issue is too much growth much too quickly. I believe we need to slow down residential growth and focus on retail, commercial and industrial growth so our residents can live and work locally. 

How do you plan to address those issues? 

The answers are all there and all that is needed is the three votes to implement the strategies. Recently, the council approved another quality hotel that was the result of incentives we put in place a few years ago and has proven very successful. Also, plans were submitted to the city for a 4-million-square-foot industrial complex that would include a hotel and would create hundreds of jobs for our residents. One of the next important steps is to work with the county to focus on agriculture tourism, such as wineries, rather than just building more homes.

How do you intend to communicate and stay in touch with the constituents you’d represent? 

I do everything I can to reach out to the public including social media and making my phone number public so that people can contact me directly. Many residents contact me regularly to inform me about issues, concerns and successes. I welcome everyone to please feel free to call me at (831) 905-3720.

What is the role of city government?

The ultimate role of government is to keep the community safe and provide a better quality of life that makes community members and their families proud to call Hollister home! We can do so many great things in our community without raising taxes by working together to provide services and opportunities for all residents. 

What kind of city infrastructure needs the most improvement, and how can the city pay for the improvements, state money aside?

The No. 1 infrastructure issue throughout the city and county are road repairs and the need for new roads to help accommodate the growth that has been happening over recent years. 

The reality is that the impact fees from new homes are not allowed to be used to repair existing issues. The money for road repairs has to come from existing revenues or from new taxes. In the case of the city, we have been putting more monies aside to help pay for these ongoing costs and to better reflect the ongoing reality of the cost to repair roads.

For the past several years, I have been trying to get support from the council to permanently dedicate over $3 million a year in our budget for road repairs, which reflects the true costs of keeping up our roads. Currently, we are receiving an additional $3.5 million from Measure G, which will help us catch up with road repairs.

The issue with new roads is that they are incredibly expensive to build and the amount we collect in impact fees doesn’t cover the costs. For an example, the widening of Highway 25 will cost our community over $300 million to build, which would be the equivalent of collecting impact fees from 20,000 new homes. This would mean that we would once again have to pay to widen the road to accommodate even more traffic.

Other major infrastructure issues that we have are the need for new schools. With little to no funding from the state, our local taxpayers will have to tax themselves hundreds of millions of dollars to build the new schools. As with roads, the impact fees from new homes come nowhere near covering the costs to build a new school. 

What are your ideas on how to attract more businesses to the city? What types of business would you like to bring into the city, and how would you make it happen?

Our focus has to absolutely shift from new homes to commercial and industrial developments. We also need to put more of a focus on bringing more tourism to our community by continuing to encourage hotel developers and other businesses that serve the tourism industry.

A few years ago, the city of Hollister was able to encourage a hotel developer to move forward with building the new Fairfield hotel by incentivizing the construction with the transient occupancy tax that the hotel would bring in. The end result was a successful hotel that will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city each year. As a matter of fact, they were so successful that they are now planning to build a new Holiday Inn Express hotel.

We also have a major commercial, industrial, hotel campus that is being processed through the city that will encompass over 4 million square feet of building space. This project will bring in hundreds of good paying local jobs for our residents and millions of dollars in tax revenue.

The airport commercial zone area has over 1,500 acres to work with for new commercial projects. The area already has existing infrastructure nearby, which makes it a win-win, for commercial developers and our community. We need to continue to push for commercial and industrial developments in this area rather than in locations that have no infrastructure.

What ideas do you have for meeting the state requirement on housing (SB 330) while still making sure there is affordable housing for seniors and low-income households? 

There has been so much misinformation being spread about SB 330 by developers that want to use it as a way to force more single-family homes to be built. 

My issue about growth is to make sure we pace it at a rate that we can absorb without having to deal with the negative impacts that just building single-family homes brings.

I would like to see all new developments have a better mix for our community, which would include multi-family, senior, and affordable units that local residents can afford to buy or rent. Without demanding a change in our policies, the same mistakes will continue to be made with no benefit to our community.

The other major component of housing that I have been insisting on is that every new project pays 100% of its costs. I don’t think that it is fair that residents have to keep taxing themselves for the profit of others. 

How do you propose avoiding fines from the state or lawsuits from developers?

The sad part is that developers are always threatening lawsuits if they don’t get their way and it’s why we should not allow them to get a foot in the door until they agree to do things right in our community.

For too many years developers have been able to do what they want in our city and county without regard to the consequences that their projects bring to our local schools, roads and other infrastructure. I have been very vocal in that I will not stand by and just let developers keep taking advantage of our community. 

My stance to developers has been the same for the past several years: do it right or go do it somewhere else!

 

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John Chadwell

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