If there’s one topic that can set Hollister City Council members at each other’s political throats, it’s anything related to growth. At the council’s June 15 meeting, discussion of the state’s demand that the city void its growth management plan (GMP) became heated, and at times, personal.
On the one hand, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Rolan Resendiz, who are proponents of slow-to-no growth, are challenging the state’s right to determine how the city can grow.
On the other hand, Councilwomen Honor Spencer and Carol Lenoir accept the state’s growth requirements and believe the state holds the cards. Lenoir and Spencer say Velazquez and Resendiz are asking for legal trouble and that it is wrong to stop developers who have done everything asked of them.
Velazquez said his complaint about the situation was that the “state is trying to tell us what to do and never giving us the funding for us to survive.”
He said, “I’ve always had a problem with just annexing more land to build more single-family homes. It’s important to ask more questions before getting bullied into having to do something for growth.”
Lenoir and Spencer say they support economic expansion and responsible growth.
Carol Lenoir, who has over 40 years’ experience in planning, took issue in the meeting with the mayor’s stance against the state. “I don’t know how much clearer it has to be to you,” she said. “The state can tell us what to do. You might like to keep thinking the state can’t tell us what to do. I’ve got news for you, Ignacio, they’re going to tell us what to do and if you don’t start doing some proactive planning you’re backing us into a corner, and when I say lawsuits are coming, lawsuits are coming.”
The two sides of the council are at loggerheads since the passing of Councilman Marty Richman, who also saw growth as inevitable and necessary.
Velazquez has consistently opposed growth at council meetings and on social media. He has been against annexing land bordering city limits, especially along Buena Vista Road. For several years he has maintained that growth “needs to be smart,” meaning that infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewage need to come before single-family homes. However, he has not identified a source of funding for these projects and the state has threatened to reduce road funding in cities that will not provide more housing.
In January 2018, the council approved an ordinance amending Hollister’s Municipal Code to put an annual cap on residential allotments at 244 units per year in the city. The council also directed staff to obtain clearance from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that the city’s growth management ordinance is consistent with the certified Hollister Housing Element.
In 2019, Hollister adopted its most recent growth management plan in a typical 3-2 council vote that pitted Lenoir, Spencer and Richman against Velasquez and Resendiz.
For new residential development, the plan now caps the total number of market-rate single-family homes at 159 per year citywide or at the state allocation, whichever is larger. This represents an annual growth rate of 1.5%. Velazquez wanted the cap at 100 units per year, and Resendiz wanted zero units.
In September 2019, Richman wrote an opinion article for BenitoLink stating that he supported 159 units, which he believed would be acceptable to HCD. He wrote, “About a year ago, the then-City Council passed a draconian ordinance with so many unjustified and unsupported charges that it was obviously designed to prevent all residential growth.”
The plan was submitted last November to HCD as part of its housing element review.
Abraham Prado, city planning manager, gave his report at the June 15 meeting regarding a letter the city received from HCD which stated the city must void or suspend its GMP because development plans cannot reduce intensity, impose moratoriums, enforce subjective design standards or implement any provision that limits approvals or caps, which Hollister’s plan does.
Prado asked the council to allow staff to return on Aug. 3 to formally repeal its ordinance.
City Attorney Jason Epperson did not respond to BenitoLink requests for comments on what, if any, lawsuits could result from the mayor’s and Resendiz’s insistence on growth caps.
Addressing Velazquez, Lenoir said, “This is a direct result of what you’ve been doing for the last few years. What don’t you believe? I guess you’re going to have to learn the hard way, Ignacio, because it’s coming.”
Lenoir then accused him of “pandering for votes with a no-growth stance”
“You think that’s going to keep winning you elections,” she said. “They’re [HCD] going to tell us where to put it and how many units to put there. Then you’re going to see what the state can do.”
Resident Elia Salinas pointed out during public comment that if a person drove down Buena Vista Road they would see numerous housing developments next to one another that were either in the city or county but all along the same street. She said the mayor’s stated position has been to build infill projects and oppose annexing county land into the city, but that he has consistently blocked infills.
The mayor reiterated that Prado had verified the city was in compliance with state requirements, and said Salinas’ comments were misleading and confusing the public.
Lenoir indicated it was the mayor, not Salinas, who was misleading.
Then Resendiz insisted that Prado had clearly stated the city was in compliance.
When asked to clarify, Prado cautiously referred to the letter and contradicted Resendiz.
“Per the letter, if we don’t take action, it seems we will not be in compliance,” Prado said.
Spencer said to Prado, “So, what Ms. Salinas said is true? We are going to be out of compliance. She was not giving misinformation, right?”
Prado answered, “If Ms. Salinas was referring to the letter, that is correct.”
“There’s no misinformation and nobody is lying,” Spencer continued. “I want this community to know that in 12 months we will be out of compliance and we will be in trouble with the state. Am I correct in saying that?”
Again, Prado referred to the letter, saying it “insinuated” what she said was true.
“That is why we’re here asking for direction to go back to the state,” Prado said to Spencer. “We’re just doing what the state is asking, per the letter.”
Resendiz asked Prado how much time the city had to respond. Prado said the letter specified the ordinance had to be repealed or suspended immediately. Resendiz wanted clarification on what “immediately” meant and asked how much time they had to respond with questions. Prado said he wasn’t sure.
Resendiz then commented that the state wanted the city to suspend the growth management plan that the entire council had approved. In response, Spencer pointed out that she had not voted to approve the plan.
Prado said he would be willing to take any questions council members had for the state.
Then Velazquez said, “That’s all I want.”
Lenoir insisted Velazquez was the only one who did not understand the situation.
“We need affordable housing and apartments. Nobody’s listening to you and your delay tactics. You clearly don’t care that we have a housing crisis in California,” she said.
Velazquez then asked Prado if he could bring it back to council during the first meeting in August (the council does not meet in July). Prado started to say he could when the mayor said there was a consensus for him to pass questions to HCD.
Lenoir interrupted, “You get no consensus from me on this issue.”
Ignoring Lenoir, Velazquez thanked Prado and suggested he take the questions to HCD, despite the fact that there was no consensus and no questions presented at the meeting.
Related BenitoLink articles: What is smart growth?
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