Government / Politics

Five candidates seek three seats in San Juan Bautista council race

UPDATED: Three of the five candidates for SJB city council answered a Q&A with BenitoLink.

Editors' note: This is our third in a series of candidate Q&A's for local races in the November election.

NOTE: This article has been updated with responses from Councilmember Tony Boch who replied to our request after our initial deadline.

In San Juan Bautista, five candidates are vying for one contested seat and two open seats on the city council. Chris Martorana, a salesman, Jim West, who has served on commissions and advisory boards in San Benito County, and Maggie Bilich, a former San Juan City Council member, responded to questions about emergency preparedness, hydraulic fracturing and more. Councilmember Tony Boch and candidate Ray Sanchez did not respond to requests to answer questions before BenitoLink’s deadline.

Name: Maggie Bilich

Age: Candidate did not answer.

Political Experience: Candidate did not answer.

1.)    Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office.

I was elected City Clerk when I first moved here. I was City Clerk during the Loma Prieta earthquake. I had to move people from their River Oaks trailers to the community hall while Leonard Caetano and John Alnas went to Oakland to get a pump for the reservoir. I have been helping a coalition of merchants organize to advertise themselves, the Mission and El Teatro Campesino.

2.)    What would you say are the top three issues facing San Juan Bautista over the next five years?

Candidate did not answer.

3.)    Water is a pressing issue as drought continues in California. What measures would you support for conserving water in San Benito County for municipalities, business owners and residents?

Candidate did not answer.

4.)    A 6.0 earthquake hit near Napa recently. What ideas do you have to support emergency preparedness in San Benito County for potential disasters?

Candidate did not answer.

5.)    Do you support hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in San Benito County? Why or why not?

I am very much against fracturing – we do not need any more underground mess.

6.)    Do you support the proposed River Parkway and Regional Park in San Benito County that would connect San Juan to Tres Pinos with trails? If so, how would you provide support to move the project forward during your term in office? If not, explain why?

I support the River Parkway and Regional Park in San Benito County. I might even ask Sam Farr to make it national.

7.)     What is your stance on allowing franchise businesses in San Juan Bautista?

I am against franchise businesses in San Juan Bautista. We have a lovely clean air and an historical town that we can promote without them.

8.)    How do you plan to balance the historical character of San Juan Bautista while promoting economic development?

I plan to balance the historical ambiance of San Juan with its economic needs by supporting the coalition of merchants downtown and addressing their needs.

9.)    Last spring, San Juan was reported to have high levels of nitrates in the drinking water. As a councilmember, how would you work to resolve this issue and prevent future incidents?

Candidate did not answer.

Name: Tony Boch

Age: 77

Political Experience:

10 years SJB Planing Commission
15 years SJB Cemetery District Director
4 years SJB City Council
4 years San Benito County Council of Government Director

1.)    Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office.

I have lived in San Juan and Hollister for almost 55 years, most of it in San Juan. Over the years I watched as San Juan went up and down. I decided to run for Council to try and get San Juan back on track. As a Council member I have focused on having a balanced Budget and trying to upgrade our aging infrastructure.

2.)    What would you say are the top three issues facing San Juan Bautista over the next five years?

The top issue for San Juan is improving our water supply and sewer system. Next is Law Enforcement. Third is maintaining a balanced budget and finding new sources of income for the city.

3.)    Water is a pressing issue as drought continues in California. What measures would you support for conserving water in San Benito County for municipalities, business owners and residents?

San Juan has installed Recycled Water Systems for our parks and the cemetery. The Regional Water Quality Board has not given us permission to use it at this time. We are still working on it with them. Everyone has to be made aware of the dire situation we are in and do their part to save water.

4.)    A 6.0 earthquake hit near Napa recently. What ideas do you have to support emergency preparedness in San Benito County for potential disasters?

I really don't know what more the city can do given our limited funds. We can try to keep everyone aware of the dangers. I am sure the merged Fire Department will go a long way in keeping our citizens safe.

5.)    Do you support hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in San Benito County? Why or why not?

I do not support fracking – normal oil and gas wells are acceptable. To me the possible damage to our water supply is just too risky.

6.)    Do you support the proposed River Parkway and Regional Park in San Benito County that would connect San Juan to Tres Pinos with trails? If so, how would you provide support to move the project forward during your term in office? If not, explain why?

I think it is a wonderful vision but I cannot support something we can't afford. The costs that I have seen are way beyond our means.

7.)     What is your stance on allowing franchise businesses in San Juan Bautista?

I support the idea of franchises that fill a need in San Juan. Of course not in the Historic Downtown Core. It would be nice to have a small hardware store or a drug store for instance, or a second Service Station would provide more income to the city in the form of sales and gas taxes.

8.)    How do you plan to balance the historical character of San Juan Bautista while promoting economic development?

Our Downtown Historic District, the Mission and the State Park must be protected to preserve their character. New business such as service stations, motels, industrial and manufacturing sites should be located on the southeast or southwest sides of the city. We must rely on our Planning Commission and City Council to maintain site and architectural control over any new businesses.

9.)    Last spring, San Juan was reported to have high levels of nitrates in the drinking water. As a councilmember, how would you work to resolve this issue and prevent future incidents?

At the present time we have located two new well sites near wells 2 & 3. Hopefully if these sites work out it will solve the present problems. The good part of these sites is that the infrastructure, I.E. water lines are already in place. A new well north of town is also a good solution, but we will have to find the funds to accomplish this.

Completion of the Pellet Plant will provide better quality water, softer, so less salt will be used in water softeners and discharged into the sewer system.

Name:  Chris Martorana

Age: 45

Political experience: I'm a salesman.

1.) Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office.

My wife and I moved to San Juan from the Monterey area. We bought a house and jumped in with both feet volunteering for community events like Halloween downtown and the Easter Parade. Along with Jolene Cosio I’ve been leading the Neighborhood Watch meetings in town. Until last month, I was the chair of the Strategic Plan Committee in San Juan and have been on the advisory committee for the General Plan update. 

Being a part of the City Council would allow me to continue working these projects from the ‘inside.’ I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people in town and discuss the issues facing our community. I’ve reached a point in my life and career where I can devote the time to the position. I also believe my experience in account management, balancing between customer and supplier, will help me bridge the gap between the City and her residents.

2.) What would you say are the top three issues facing San Juan Bautista over the next five years?

Water quality is the most serious issue today. First addressing the nitrate levels and then the extreme hardness. 

The current plan to upgrade and extend a portion of the sewer system and drill deeper wells adjacent to two of the current wells makes sense to me to address the nitrate contamination. Nearby wells at deeper depths have significantly lower nitrates consistently.

Longer term we need to get the long planned ‘Pellet Plant’ built and online. The city manager has revised the plan to reduce costs. There is a potential danger in dipping into the City’s reserves to finance the plant, but I think it’s necessary. Water quality and the supply infrastructure project legacy have held us back for too long already.

Bolstering the local business community is another major issue facing San Juan Bautista. Many of our businesses struggle. I think the city has to take a more active part in pulling visitors into our largely tourist economy. We need to drive collaboration between the businesses, the Mission, the State Park and the City to improve the visitor experience.

Businesses are the largest opportunity for revenue growth in San Juan Bautista. Success for them translates to repaved streets, improved water and sewer infrastructure, better parks, etc. 

As the economy and the real estate market improve we are going to see more and more interest in development here and around us. I don’t believe we can halt it, but we can manage and direct it. 

We need additions to the community to be just that. Additions to the community. Not commuter enclaves or self-contained adjacent sprawl. We need to pull the new people into the heart of town and create new in-fill development opportunities.

3.) Water is a pressing issue as drought continues in California. What measures would you support for conserving water in San Benito County for municipalities, business owners and residents?

I think people have been doing a good job conserving around town. Our water rates in San Juan are already very high. I’d be very resistant to raising minimum rates. Penalties for excessive usage, incentives for month over month or year over year reductions and continuing efforts to replace old and inefficient fixtures all make sense to me.

4.) A 6.0 earthquake hit near Napa recently. What ideas do you have to support emergency preparedness in San Benito County for potential disasters?

The County Office of Emergency Services is the lead agency during an emergency. I would defer to their expertise. I do think there may be an opportunity to bolster our very small City staff with a Community Emergency Response Team as outlined by FEMA. A CERT could be trained to aid City staff in keeping the water and sewer systems functional, handling communications, staffing information and supply points, etc.

5.) Do you support hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in San Benito County? Why or why not?

I do not. I don’t think the state or federal governments have sufficiently studied the effects of fracking and other extraction techniques. There is enough evidence to suggest that the long-term effects can be catastrophic to the water supply. 

Oil industry sources say about 6 percent of all well seals fail. Fracking operations are not subject to the Federal Clean Air and Clean Water standards. These are not disputed reports about earthquakes or burning tap water. These are simple facts. 

Gambling with our water makes no sense to me.

6.) Do you support the proposed River Parkway and Regional Park in San Benito County that would connect San Juan to Tres Pinos with trails? If so, how would you provide support to move the project forward during your term in office? If not, explain why?

I do support the River Parkway. Unfortunately the proposal doesn’t connect to San Juan Bautista directly.  It, along with a number of other points of interest in the county, will be of benefit to our residents and visitors. 

There are a number of park additions and improvements within the city called out in the newly-created Draft General Plan. I would very much like to see those pushed forward sooner rather than later. In particular, what’s been called the ‘Linear Parkway’ connecting the north and south sides of 156 via an undercrossing 100 yards or so east of The Alameda.

7.) What is your stance on allowing franchise businesses in San Juan Bautista?

I think that lumping all franchise businesses together and labeling them as evil is a mistake. I think each business should be judged individually. 

Any bank interested in opening in San Juan would be turned down. How does that serve the community? Pizza Factory, a franchise, shouldn’t be allowed in town. I’d definitely oppose that change. I have a weakness for their Submarine Sandwich (hot, no pickle). How about the Valero station?

Many of the concerns I’ve heard center around how a franchise would fit with the historic character of San Juan. That highlights the importance of a strong and capable Planning Commission and Historic Resources Board. Demanding any new business comply with the standards set forth. My expectation as a Council member would be that no exceptions to those standards would be permitted.

8.) How do you plan to balance the historical character of San Juan Bautista while promoting economic development?

Our economy is very dependent on tourism. That means the historic character is central to our success. The actions I discuss in answering question 2 above don’t endanger that character. Other development that takes place will need to be sensitive to it as I discuss in my answer to question 7. 

9.) Last spring, San Juan was reported to have high levels of nitrates in the drinking water. As a councilmember, how would you work to resolve this issue and prevent future incidents?

I think I adequately answered this above with question 2. Water quality is the most pressing issue facing the town. 

 

Name: Jim West

Age:  71

Political Experience:       

Elected to San Benito County Health Car District

Serve on San Benito County Parks and Recreation Commission

Serve on San Benito County General Plan Advisory Board

Serve on San Benito County Business Council

Served on United Way Board

Served on Measure “L” Oversight Committee

Served on the Pinnacle & Freelance Newspaper Editorial Boards

Served on San Benito Leadership Board

Served on San Benito County Chamber of Commerce

Served on Nan Pipestem Wildlife Center Board

1.) Tell us about yourself and why you are running for office:

Born in Evanston Illinois in 1943; served four years in United States Marine Corps 1960-1964; Divorced; one daughter and one granddaughter; employed in the construction materials industry since 1964; lived in San Benito County since 1999. 

I’m running for City Council to ensure that:  1.) we retain the integrity of our Historical District (I live in a restored home inside the Historic District while 2.) increasing the economic vitality and tax base of the city outside the Historical District. We can’t isolate our City of History from the economic world we live in. We need to maintain the viability of our municipal infrastructure – water, sewer, roads, etc. and we can’t do that without supporting our existing businesses and brining in complimentary businesses.  

2.) What would you say are the top three issues facing San Juan Bautista over the next five years?

1) Economic vitality – increasing our tax base.

2) Historic preservation – protecting what makes San Juan Bautista unique.

3) Water – both the quality and the quantity of our municipal supply.

3.) Water is a pressing issue as drought continues in California. What measures would you support for conserving water in San Benito County for municipalities, business owners and residents?

50 percent of San Juan Bautista’s municipal water is regularly used to irrigate grass lawns, yet there is a world of attractive landscapes treatments that don’t use the amounts of water required for these traditional lawns. The era of expansive grass lawns ought to come to an end.

4.) A 6.0 earthquake hit near Napa recently. What ideas do you have to support emergency preparedness in San Benito County for potential disasters?

The popular media is bursting with ideas and procedures for dealing with all kinds of potential disasters – earthquakes, fires, etc. Check with your fire department and other emergency agencies for guidelines on how to protect your family from these natural disasters – they will happen.

5.) Do you support hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in San Benito County? Why or why not?

If the question is my support for Measure J two things must be remembered: 1.) I support the controls called for in Measure J, 2.) but I oppose the idea of every individual town and/or county having its own individual ordinances controlling any legal activity. That makes it impossible for any industry to operate state-wide when every town and/or every county has a different set of laws. You want to kill industry, make a separate set of laws for every municipality.

6.) Do you support the proposed River Parkway and Regional Park in San Benito County that would connect San Juan to Tres Pinos with trails? If so, how would you provide support to move the project forward during your term in office? If not, explain why?

I have been a member of the County’s Parks Commission for over eight years and I have been personally involved in establishing the initial concept, developing the Master Plan and securing its adoption by the county Board of Supervisors. 

These facilities will not be built with public funds or funds from the General Fund.  A nonprofit 501c (3) has been established to apply for state and federal grants – they are out there – and raise monies for the establishment of the River Parkway. Additionally, new construction will be contributing to the County’s Parks Impact Fees designated for developing the River Parkway. But because this will not be done with moneys from the county’s General Fund, it will take many years to complete.

7.) What is your stance on allowing franchise businesses in San Juan Bautista?

Not in San Juan Bautista’s Historical District, but yes south of Hwy 156, absolutely. Remember, True Value Hardware is technically a “franchise” business but in reality it is a mom & pop business. We’re not talking Home Depot or Lowes; we’re talking about the kind of True Value or Ace Hardware stores that are in Hollister now.

8.) How do you plan to balance the historical character of San Juan Bautista while promoting economic development?

Protect the Historical District while developing a strong tax base in city lands outside the District – south of Hwy. 156 is a prime example. But most importantly, maintain design controls over all new businesses – franchise and independent – to insure the historical character of San Juan Bautista.

9.) Last spring, San Juan was reported to have high levels of nitrates in the drinking water. As a councilmember, how would you work to resolve this issue and prevent future incidents?

Deepen the city wells south of town, look for new water sources north of town and finish the less-salt plant. Praying for rain isn’t a bad idea!

Melissa Anderson

Melissa (Flores) Anderson is the former city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle and Hollister Free Lance, where she covered education, county government and more. She currently works for the College of Applied Sciences and Arts at San Jose State University, where she manages the College blog, newsletter and website updates. She has a master's in print journalism from the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.