Amid disruptive protest, Hollister City Council on Aug. 7 approved wastewater services to the Fairview Corners subdivision, Gavilan College and Cielo Vista in partnership with the Sunnyslope Water District. Councilmembers also agreed to support replacing the older membrane bioreactors at the city’s wastewater plant.
The Local Agency Formation Commission, which is made up of representatives from the county, Hollister and San Juan Bautista, will have final vote on the connection.
After a presentation by city staff on various options for bringing the three projects into the wastewater system, the council voted 4-1 in favor of a plan in which Sunnyslope would sell wastewater treatment capacity to Gavilan, Fairview Corners and Cielo Vista on a per-unit basis. The council also indicated it wanted to honor the “Will Serve” letter the city issued to Gavilan and Fairview Corners in 2019.
The plan will preclude Gavilan College from having to maintain a septic tank on campus.
Mayor Mia Casey and Councilmembers Tim Burns, Dolores Morales and Rick Perez voted in favor of the plan and Councilmember Rolan Resendiz was opposed, arguing that allowing Gavilan College, Fairview Corners and Cielo Vista to have access to the city’s wastewater system would mean higher sewage bills for residents and an increase in housing developments.
“I am a proud alumnus of Gavilan college,” Resendiz said. “I will gladly give you sewer, but not at the cost of our residents, and not by approving all of these homes.”
He added that he was concerned about the city’s downtown sewer system, which he said was 100 years old and narrow.
“This is foolish, absolutely foolish, this is not good infrastructure planning,” Resendiz said.
In the meeting, constituents from the west side of Hollister repeatedly complained about strong sewage smells in their neighborhood, and voiced concerns for public health and the environmental impact of adding Gavilan College and other developments to the city’s wastewater management.
The Cielo Vista subdivision is 48 units, the Fairview Corners is planned for 189 units and 20 accessory dwelling units; Gavilan College at full buildout expects 1,100 full-time equivalent students, according to the agenda packet. It also adds the campus plan includes 70 units of on-campus housing.
Hollister Community Services Director William Via with the interim City Manager David Mirrione presented the case for extending wastewater services to the Gavilan College campus and nearby Cielo Vista.
Via presented the options that attorney Michelle Chester of Somach Simmons and Dunn advised would meet city requirements and protect the city from lawsuits and liability.
The council was most drawn to Option 2, an agreement with Sunnyslope Water District to sell capacity on a per-unit basis to Gavilan, Fairview Corners and Cielo Vista.
In the agreement, Sunnyslope would agree to not oppose the city if it should reach out to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for contractual sewer services. It would also absolve the city from any liability from Sunnyslope resulting from LAFCO action. Sunnyslope would then be able to work with Gavilan, Fairview Corner and Cielol Vista on the condition that they agree to a no future contest to receive city wastewater services.
Before the council could proceed, Resendiz repeatedly remarked that Casey and Councilmember Dolores Morales should abstain from voting, saying that both members had received campaign funds from developers. Both refuted his claims.
Following repeated claims by Resendiz that Morales and Casey were funded by developers, BenitoLink in May 2023 compiled all their campaign contributions and found members of the Anderson Family of Anderson Homes and Lee family of the proposed Lands of Lee subdivision adjacent to Fairview corners donated to Casey and Morales’ campaigns. At the time of that report, Casey had returned those contributions.
Hollister candidates and elected officials are limited by a local ordinance to receive more than $250 in campaign contributions annually from an individual or organization. In 2023, a new California law went into effect that bars elected officials from voting in a project if the developer contributed more than $250.
Throughout the discussion, Resendiz, who was the lone “no” vote to both actions, expressed dissatisfaction with the options.
After a heated exchange between Resendiz, protesters and Morales, Casey called for a five-minute recess. As the rest of the council members left, Resendiz stayed behind and led the protestors in a chant yelling “mentirosa” or “liar” in Spanish for several minutes.
The meeting then moved on to public comment, in which 25 public members asked to speak. Constituent Mary Graham ended her speech by saying, “No more sewage, no more traffic, no more houses,” views voiced by most of the other speakers.
Hollister’s Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant is located on the west side on San Juan Hollister Road. It was built in 2008 at a cost of $57 million. It has been operated and maintained since 2010 by Veolia North America, a company that manages water, energy and waste recovery in over 530 cities in the United States and Canada.
Via also urged the council to approve the city’s plan to replace the membrane bioreactors at the wastewater facility, saying they are over 15 years old and critical for the proper functioning of the plan.
Burns also called for a new environmental impact report to study the wastewater treatment plant and for the council to reach out to the Public Health Department regarding the sewage smell.
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