Business / Economy

Hollister city council moves forward on growth management plan

In a surprising move Hollister council proposed 244-unit cap for single-family homes rather than 165 units, and no limits for affordable housing and other categories.

After two failed attempts on Aug. 28 and Nov. 6 to get a decision from the Hollister City Council regarding implementing a new Growth Management Plan (GMP), city planners will finally be able to move forward in drafting the plan and bringing it back for a vote in January.

The planning department had been recommending an allocation of 166 new housing units a year, even though city residents voted in 2002 to pass Measure U that permitted 244 units. In a surprise move, Councilman Jim Gillio made a motion to direct the staff to return in January with a draft of the new growth management improvement plan to include 244 new units. Since Councilman Karson Klauer had recused himself earlier, and Mayor Ignacio Velazquez had already said he would not support the higher number, Gillio, along with Council members Ray Friend and Mickie Luna, voted to pass the resolution.

In explaining for the third time that the city staff was recommending that the council consider approving the GMP, Abraham Prado, associate planner, asked them to carefully consider the implications that any growth caps might have on the city. He reminded them that the state does not look favorably on communities that impose limits that may not comply with the city' s own Housing Element. For example, he explained, State Housing and Community Development (HCD) may disqualify the city from applying for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for implementing what they may perceive as growth control limits.

Recognizing the importance of providing adequate housing in all communities, the state has mandated a Housing Element within every General Plan since 1969. The government code determines the legal requirements of the Housing Element and encourages the provision of affordable and decent housing, including special needs housing, in all communities to meet statewide goals.

Prado said the state certified the Hollister Housing Element for the period of 2014 to 2023 at 1,316 housing units annually. Of these, 156 are required to be for extremely low income households, 156 very low income households, 189 low income households, 258 moderate income households, and 557 for above moderate households.

Prado further stated that if the council were to determine that there be a growth cap it should be greater than the minimum determined by HCD, which would be at least 165 per year for the current housing element of 1,316 units. He said the staff determined this number by considering the minimum number of housing allocations under the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments’ (AMBAG) population forecast for Hollister of 43,551 by the year 2030. Since the city’s present population is 36,677 (according to the California Department of Finance), this would mean an increase of 6,874 people in 12 years. Figuring an average of 3.45 persons per household, this would equal 1,993.46 households over the 12-year period, which, in turn, averages out to 166 units per year.

Included in the GMP, Prado explained, is a project rating scale to allocate residential units for development. Builders would have to answer a set of questions with predetermined values in accordance with the General Plan that they must meet in order to receive allocations for their projects. All of these pertain to single-family units only that fall within the 166-unit cap. The staff was, however, also recommending exemptions for numerous other categories of structures that would not be included in the cap that could, theoretically, result in hundreds of affordable housing units being built.

Those categories would include:

  • Replacement residential units or the relocation of an existing dwelling unit to a legal lot of record
  • Single family residential units to be constructed on single legal lots of record in existence prior to January 1, 2018
  • Secondary residential units subject to the provisions of Section 17.22.040 of the Hollister Municipal Code consistent with State of California Senate Bill 1069
  • Housing designated for Extremely Low, Very Low, and Low income households
  • Special needs housing for the elderly, disabled, single parent household, farmworkers, and homeless
  • Senior housing, available only to seniors, in accordance with state and federal housing laws and guidelines
  • Rental residential units with restrictions that limit the ability to convert to owner occupied
  • Condominiums, townhomes, a single building, which contains two or more residential housing units that may be side by side or up and down
  • Existing awarded residential allocations under previous growth management programs in the City such as Measure U
  • Residential projects in process, which residential applications have been deemed complete by January 1, 2018
  • Residential units in the downtown area as identified geographically by Measure Y

Within 90 days of an applicant receiving approval of an allocation and a build-out schedule from the planning commission, the applicant will have to agree in writing to a performance agreement to a set of performance criteria and project standards.  If an applicant fails to meet a number of requirements they could forfeit the allocation. But if it’s determined the failure to perform was beyond their control they can appeal to the planning commission to have the allocation reinstated. If they do not qualify to be reinstated the allocation goes back into the pool for other developers to apply for.

Councilman Gillio asked Prado if he knew what percentage of the 143 single-family homes built in 2016 were considered affordable housing. Prado said there were no affordable homes built, but was quick to add that 43 affordable apartments were built by CHISPA in the county that were later annexed into the city. He said an additional 80 units were going to be built on Fourth Street. Gillio wondered about the reasoning behind the 165 unit cap, other than meeting the AMBAG quota. He questioned the lower growth rate, stating that most people agreed that 2.24 percent represented a more realistic growth rate. Prado said while 165 units was the minimum there was precedents for 244 units and the staff was prepared to deal with the higher number if that was the council’s directions.

Gillio said, more for the audience than Prado, that the GMP was a temporary stopgap that would expire once the General Plan was in place in two years and wondered why there was not a sunset provision in the GMP. Prado said a sunset provision could be added, but said because the minimum number of units could change over time he recommended leaving the GMP as is for the time being. Gillio also stated that he was pleased that the GMP also included a provision that 25 percent of labor and materials be sourced locally, though he wondered how that might be enforced.

Mayor Velazquez had a number of issues with the GMP, including the scoring system. He said what was missing from the GMP was contributions to local schools to make up for shortfalls from mitigation fees. He also addressed bicycle pathways and reclaimed water within the homes, which he said should be standard requirements for new construction. He also brought up a point mentioned by resident Marty Richman at one of the earlier meetings that there should not be any two-story homes built along sound walls. He went on to cover other issues, including who would be responsible for trees, road maintenance and the differences in appearances of sound walls.

“This is a good start,” he said finally. “We all have issues that we need to address rather than just approving it and asking later. If we can get these things figured out early on, we can have a better community.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Richman said the standards that the council had just been discussing should be a normal way of doing business rather than bringing them up during a discussion about growth management. While he thought the current draft was an improvement over previous drafts, he maintained that the 165-unit cap made no sense. He brought up the fact that last year there were 835 high school graduates and wondered where they were going to live. He figure that the city needed 300 units just to house the graduates if they returned to Hollister.

“I guess we’re planning on never having any jobs for anybody because you can’t live here,” he said. “There was a post in BenitoLink from a marine who used to live in Gilroy who said, ‘I want to come to Hollister, but the people there told me they don’t want me.’ What’s wrong with you people? This has got to be a minimum of 200 or 300 units. One hundred sixty-six units means ‘do not come here.’”

Marlee Smith, of Pinnacle Strategy, commented that many projects take years to work their way through development and that changing the rules now is unfair and sets a bad precedent.

“We’re encouraged that staff recognizes this and has included this component in the ordinance, and I hope that the council recognizes it and includes it in the final version of the ordinance,” she said.

Victor Gomez commented as a resident and business owner, agreeing with Richman and stated that the city is not doing its fair share in housing development. He said that while he understood the underlying negative public sentiment regarding growth, the city needs to step up its efforts rather than hold back in order to help alleviate the statewide housing shortage. He said that even though the major complaint was congested roads it was fortunate that every new home contributed impact fees toward improving the roads.

“The question remains, though, what is happening with that funding and maybe the community should be brought up to speed on how those dollars will be used,” he recommended and recounted how he had owned a pizza businesses that he had to close because of the recession. “Please take that into consideration as you land on a unit count, whether it’s 200 or 300. You need to understand the ramifications of that number and what it means to folks who want to invest in our community.”

Juli Vieira, CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, repeated her appeal from the two previous meetings, asking the council to refrain from using words like “slow down,” “growth cap,” or “growth management” because any business thinking of coming to Hollister sees those words and reacts to them.

“Our downtown is gaining speed,” she said. “We have a new business that’s opening and two more opening in the next couple of months. If we start talking ‘slow down’ that is going to affect the businesses within our community. We’re trying to bring business here, but if rents are too high and there’s no housing for employees, why would a business want to come to San Benito County?”

Bob Tiffany, business owner and president of the Business Council, said the council supports a reasonable GMP and that it should have a sunset clause so it expires when the General Plan is adopted. He said 165 units is too low and thought a 2 to 2.5 percent growth rate was more appropriate. He said voters approved Measure U’s 244-unit plan and that sounded more reasonable to him. Don Ridenhour, manager of Sunnyslope County Water District, said revenues for the district are about $1 million below what was projected when the rate structure was adopted in 2013. He said impact fees have been helping the district to make improvements and making the debt payments. He asked the council to consider how the number of units affects the ability for the various water districts to continue to operate and expand.

Councilman Friend said he wasn’t sure what the right number of units was, but it is important to have more rooftops within city limits in order to attract new businesses.

“We’ve had some restaurants look at us and they say they need 35,000 people to go by their doors every day. That means every resident of the county needs to go by the restaurant every day. That’s not going to happen,” he said. “They’re looking at the numbers and rate of growth.”

The mayor came back with the comment on impact fees, saying that if people were hoping they would pay for improving Highway 25 it would take 20,000 new homes. He also said people were mistaken if they thought building more homes would bring prices down.

“We can do this right, but we need to be smart about what we’re doing so we don’t find ourselves in more trouble in the future,” he said. “As a community we can find the right balance.”

To try to clarify the difference between the 244 units in Measure U and 165 units now being proposed, City Manager Bill Avera explained that the 244 units included all categories of housing, essentially setting caps for them, whereas the 166 units only includes single-family homes, and all other categories are exempt from caps.

“If someone wanted to come in a build a 300-unit apartment complex- that wouldn’t count toward the growth cap,” he said. “That’s the major difference we’re talking about.”

Friend then suggested raising the count from 165 to around 230. Then Gillio stepped in to make a motion, only to be reminded by City Counsel Soren Diaz that he could not do that, but he could ask for a consensus from the other council members. Friend suggested again 230 as a consensus. Gillio came back with the comment that the people had originally voted for 244 units and he thought that number was fine. Velazquez commented that he did not agree with a consensus of 244 units, but he was in the minority when it came down to the vote.

John Chadwell

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