Just as happened at its Oct. 24 meeting, the Hollister City Council was divided yet again on what to do or how fast to move on the city’s Growth Management Program (GMP). Last time, after an impasse, they chose to wait until City Manager Bill Avera could come back with a proposed draft for a GMP the council could possibly adopt.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, in particular, wasn’t satisfied with what Abraham Prado, associate planner in the Development Services Department, presented to the council concerning GMP. The GMP would be adopted as a temporary placeholder until the city’s updated General Plan could be implemented. It would be similar to Measure U, which the voters approved Nov. 2002.
Measure U capped the development of market rate single-family residences per year at 244 units, from 2008 to 2012, of which 40 were designated as affordable housing. There would be exemptions for secondary units, affordable/low income, special needs and downtown-area developments, as well as establishes development rating criterion that city staff presented to the Business Council at a recent meeting.
Prado told the council that once a project is allocated, a performance agreement would be required to come before the council, which, if approved, would have a set timeline to secure a tentative map approval, then final approval, and finally building permits. He said if a developer fails to meet the performance agreement they would lose their allocation, after which they would be required to reapply and compete for future allocations.
He told the council that the state does not look favorably on cities that impose building limits. He said the staff recommends that the GMP is sufficient to meet the numbers allocated to the city. He said if the council approved the GMP for 2015 through 2023, it would mean 1,316 units or 165 units a year. By the year 2030, he said estimates of housing units for Hollister would increase by 1,922, which would average about 166 per year, still well below the 244 cap.
After going through a litany of points a developer could earn by meeting various building or landscaping specifications, Prado asked the council to approve amending the city municipal code regarding growth management under Measure U to be brought back to them as a new GMP.
Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked if the exempt units would help the city qualify for more state affordable housing grants. He told her it would. She also wanted to know where the city stood regarding extremely-low affordable housing. He said he was not aware of any projects currently in development for extremely-low income families, which for Hollister would be approximately $30,000 for a family of four. He did say, though, that the city is working with CHISPA to move in that direction.
Councilman Karson Klauer said he looks at the program as a tool to get more affordable housing built and he would like to see the city do even more by giving incentives to builders of single-family houses to also build apartments or townhomes.
“We’re doing a pretty good job at building single-family houses for people who can afford them, but we’re not building for the 80 percent who can’t afford a house here,” he said. “If we could get more weight to those projects that want to do multiple things at once it not only gives people with lower incomes a place to live, but the communities are going to be better as they move in at the same time with different levels of income.”
Councilman Jim Gillio commented that the overall growth rate from 2008 to 2016 ranged from 0.15 percent up to about 1.22 percent, with 145 homes built in 2016. He said the overall growth rate could be described as stagnant and that he would like to see more attention paid to infrastructure, particularly Highway 25.
Velazquez said there were a lot of good ideas being presented to the council, but more time is needed to go through the information. He said the solution to getting more apartments or townhouses built is simple.
“It’s required,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. You want to build 100 homes, so many of them have to be townhomes and affordable homes mixed in. You’re building a community that way and we stop this idea of the old way where we put the poor people on this side of town and we’ll live over here, and as long as you don’t cross the road we’re all okay.”
Velazquez said it is time to stop having developers tell the city what they want to do, but it’s time for the city to tell the developers what it wants. He also said he wants to see more homeowner associations so the neighborhoods are maintained in order to get the city out of that business. He said he wants to take more time going through the plan.
Prado asked if the council could make a decision on three pending projects: Roberts Ranch, a 227-unit development on Fairview Road and Airline Highway; the Thorning/Stewart Fahmy property of 79-units on Fourth Street; and the Borelli property, a 167-unit development. He wanted to know if the projects could continue moving forward or hold them up.
“I want to see these held until we know what we’re going after,” the mayor said. “Until we have a good plan we shouldn’t be approving any projects. These should wait.”
Gillio said the council should not put the projects on hold.
“That’s called a moratorium,” he said. “We can’t stop growth because we need to get our job done. We need to keep these projects moving.”
Bob Tiffany, president of the San Benito County Business Council, voiced support for the GMP and said the point system makes sense because several developers want to build in the area and they should be made to compete so the city gets the best project possible. He said something similar to Measure U makes sense, but it should be temporary until the General Plan is implemented.
“The residential growth management system allows for a reasonable level of growth that gets away from the wild swings of excessive growth and no growth that negatively impacted the city in the past,” Tiffany said. “What we absolutely can’t have here is any kind of growth moratorium that has previously shown to be devastating to the economic vitality of the community.”
He said simply by the council raising the possibility of a moratorium sends a terrible signal to businesses that may be considering coming to Hollister.
“The council needs to demonstrate a reasonable growth plan in place, something along the lines of what is being discussed tonight, which is exactly what the businesses are looking for when considering coming to San Benito County,” he said.
Juli Vieira, CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, cautioned the council regarding using any words such as “growth management,” “slow down” or “pause” because they will have a far-reaching effect on the community. She said committees have been formed in recent months to work on bringing jobs to the county.
“Why would a company want to come to San Benito County or Hollister if they can’t find housing for the employees?” she said. “I want to make sure we’re very careful about not putting an image out there that we’re closed for business.”
She said Hollister is not unique among communities with infrastructure problems. She said during the last building moratorium the community lost business, jobs, and economic development opportunities. She said, in speaking for the businesses the chamber represents, she hopes the council is careful in moving forward.
Elia Salinas said her biggest complaint was about developers who dangle the affordable housing carrot and people believe they’re going to get affordable housing, when, in fact, it’s the last part of a development built.
“Why don’t we start with affordable housing first and get some people in there who can buy these houses who work in this community,” she suggested.
The mayor suggested the need for a special meeting in order to go through the plan more carefully. Luna wondered if there was a timeline the council had to meet and Prado said he wasn’t aware of one, but there were the three pending projects he mentioned earlier to consider. Luna was concerned if the city was meeting its deadlines and continually pushing projects further down the road.
Victor Gomez, former mayor and councilman, who as a consultant representing the Roberts Ranch project, said it went before the Planning Commission in October where it received unanimous support. He said he understood why the council might want to adopt a policy before moving forward with the three projects, but asked the council to remember a lot of time has gone into them and he believes Roberts Ranch, in particular, would qualify under the GMP.
“I’m seeing a consensus to move forward with the policy that is reasonable, but is probably something that can be done fairly simply,” he said. “The concern that I have is the hesitation that we may see. Are we going to come back to a special session in November, in December, and nail this thing down? As Councilwoman Luna said, we need some kind of timeline to be able to move forward and gain some kind of consensus. We’re okay with waiting for you to make a decision, but give us some idea of what that is.”
He reminded the council that when he was one of them in 2009 and 2010, they were begging developers to come to Hollister, and they waived impact fees to encourage developers to come and put people to work.
“There was a comment that a slowdown on growth or a moratorium would not have an economic impact,” he said, adding, “Lie. I was a business owner here at the time and I had to fire people because of the moratorium.”
Again, the mayor said more time was needed to make sure the council “gets things right.” He said the reality is they would not make a decision in 2017, and it could be done in January in order to get public input. He said plenty of homes were being built and there was no moratorium. Councilman Karson Klauer said if the city is not prepared to operate under a timeline, he did not understand how they could hold back projects.
“We can’t just tell people to wait while we figure things out because figuring out takes us a really long time on just about everything,” Klauer said. “If we come up with a timeline, sweet.”
“January is realistic,” the mayor interjected.
“Not to me,” Klauer shot back.
Gillio tried to calm the rhetoric by reminding everyone that the program was just a stopgap measure until the General Plan was approved—in 20 or 30 months.
“This can’t go on forever, it’s not fair to anybody,” he insisted. “It’s not fair to people who need to buy homes. It’s not fair to developers. It’s not fair to city staff, and it’s surely not fair to the people sitting in the audience as the people on the dais keep talking about the same thing over and over without taking any actions. We don’t need to wait until December or January to get things done.”
He cautioned that the building boom won’t last forever and they need to act sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, he said those projects in the pipeline should be allowed to move forward and any council person against them can just vote “no.”
When Gillio said they should choose a date in December, the mayor said he was completely against it and insisted on waiting until January. Klauer asked Prado if the three projects would continue through the process if the council waited until January. Klauer said he had no problem waiting to January, but he was not going to tell the developers to not do what they had the legal right to keep doing.
“It doesn’t make any sense and it’s not fair,” Klauer said.
“What you’re saying is that we put all this off until January and complete it in January,” Luna asked the mayor. “We’re not going to put it off until February, March or April. It needs to be done.”
When the mayor insisted again on waiting until January to approve the GMP and hold the three projects, Gillio said they would essentially be hitting the “pause button,” as Klauer seemed perplexed about why they couldn’t act sooner.
“We come to these meetings every two weeks,” he said, sounding dismayed. “We can put it on Facebook every day that we’re doing this and the people who come will come, and I don’t think we need to wait 60 to 75 days. We’re not doing anybody justice by kicking the can down the road, which we’ve done on so many things. And before you know it, your four years are up and you didn’t get anything done, and you’re gone. That’s what I’m afraid of and we don’t have to wait.”
As Klauer, Velazquez and Gillio talked over one another, the mayor finally challenged, “If you guys want to be a majority voting to move these projects forward, SAY IT.”
Klauer said all he wanted to do was have the meeting sooner. The mayor figuratively threw in the towel and the three other members (Ray Friend was absent) agreed on Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m.
“I think we should have a special meeting because it took 45 minutes for us to figure out what date to have a meeting on,” Klauer said only half-jokingly.