Government / Politics

Hollister General Plan Action Committee takes up first round of policy issues

Parks, new school funding, farmland mitigation are among the topics covered as the city works to update its guiding document.

The seven-member Hollister General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) met on March 23 on Zoom to discuss policy issues that could be included in the city’s 2040 General Plan to replace the current 2005-2023 General Plan. The 2040 General Plan Update will provide an opportunity for the community to review the current policies and make changes that will guide Hollister through the next 20 years.
The committee consists of two Hollister City Council members, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Rolan Resendiz, two planning commissioners, David Huboi and Roxanne Stephens, and three residents-at-large, Carol Johnson, Larry Rebecchi and Chris Evans.

Velazquez told BenitoLink meetings will be conducted over the next few months and the recommendations will then be drafted into a document, which could take another year before going to the City Council for consideration and adoption. 

David Early, project consultant from PlaceWorks, moderated the meeting and told the committee there are 24 policy issues they will discuss through April. During the March 23 meeting, he led discussion on the first eight policy issues, including strategies for each. Discussion included parks and recreation, new school funding, farmland mitigation, sensitive habitats, heritage trees, historical and cultural resources, coordination with local tribes and environmental justice. 

Parks and recreation

The 2005 General Plan established a park standard of four acres of park space per 1,000 residents, though the 2018 draft park facility master plan suggested five acres per 1,000 residents. The current ratio is 3.5 acres per 1,000 residents.

Velazquez told the committee that the City Council adopted a parks master plan in 2019 designating five acres per 1,000 residents with the hope that it would eventually reach seven acres per 1,000.

New school funding

Discussion of new school funding policy included four strategies: new school construction bond; incentives to voluntarily provide additional school funding; a specific plan that includes voluntary developer funding as a pre-condition for development; and lobbying efforts to expand state funding of the public school system. Early said all four should be included in the 2040 plan update.

Velazquez reminded the committee that there are several bonds on homeowners’ property tax bills, and added that impact fees don’t cover a third of the cost of a new school. He said the public is fed up with bonds and that even with some money coming from the state, funding for a new school is out of reach.

Stephens said while she agreed that developers should pay their fair share, she was concerned builders would pass impact fees to new homeowners, increasing costs and hampering the construction of affordable homes. Velazquez said developers can only sell homes based on market rate, not fees. He said the housing market is hot now, so developers are doing well. He said that when the market cools off, so too does construction.

Evans thought perhaps there were too many school districts in the county and asked Velazquez if he thought the state would provide more funding if there were fewer. Velazquez said it wouldn’t because it’s a statewide issue.

“The dollars are just not there,” Velazquez said. “Two thousand homes are equivalent to having to build a new school. Those 2,000 homes bring about $12 million to $15 million in impact fees. A new school, K through eight, costs between $50 million and $60 million, so you can see the problem.”

Early suggested affordable units might be exempted from impact fees, which he said would decrease money collected but would not burden the building of affordable homes. Resendiz said attention needs to be paid to how affordable is defined because the market is inflated and out of reach for those looking for affordable homes. Early said those terms have already been defined by the state. The state defines affordable housing as not costing more than 30% of a family’s monthly income. In Hollister, the median household income is $71,948.

Farmland mitigation

In discussing farmland mitigation, Early said the committee needed to decide if it should establish a program to determine ratios of agricultural land to developed land at either a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio, as well as decide the city’s formal role and what types of agricultural land should be mitigated.

Huboi pointed out that there is little farmland within the city limits, which makes what is left even more valuable. He said he was concerned about longtime landowners being forced to leave land undeveloped.

Early said he did not assume mitigation would necessarily take place inside city limits and wondered how far away from the city mitigation might be considered. Mitigation for a development inside city limits involving the mitigation of land outside city limits could only take place if the landowner was willing to sell development rights and commit to leaving the land agricultural in perpetuity, which Early said would guarantee a green buffer zone around the city.

One possibility would be for the city to set up a land trust and buy property to add to it to use for mitigation purposes, rather than having to search for land every time it’s needed. The committee agreed on a 2:1 ratio and on the city’s role as an enforcement agency. Management responsibilities would be handed off to a conservation organization.

Sensitive habitats

GPAC discussed what policies, if any, the Hollister General Plan should include to limit or avoid impacts on critical habitats for the endangered California tiger salamander and threatened California red-legged frog. The consensus was to prohibit development within critical habitat areas and within buffer areas around critical habitats. Early pointed out that the sole critical habitat area is east of Fairview Road outside the city limits.

Heritage trees

When discussion turned to trees, Huboi wanted to know what species would be designated as heritage. Even though a tree might be protected as a heritage tree, the committee agreed that it could be removed if it caused damage to sidewalks or other city infrastructure. In that case, Stephens said an effort should be made to remove and replant a heritage tree.

Historical and cultural resources

GPAC focused on five policy areas related to cultural resources: whether the city should form a  historic commission; require a consultation with the San Benito County Historical Society; establish incentives for property owners to preserve historic and cultural resources; establish a comprehensive inventory of cultural and historic resources; and public education about historic and cultural resources. All five will be included in the plan, Early said.

Huboi and Velazquez both stressed the importance of keeping historical structures from being torn down and replaced by modern, less aesthetic buildings.

Stephens said she understood the concern to protect existing historic and cultural resources, but wondered if there was interest in developing new cultural resources as part of the 2040 update. Early said that topic could be covered in conversations about arts and cultural facilities.

Coordination with local tribes

This policy section covered acknowledging the importance of tribal cultural resources (TCRs); identifying steps to preserve TCRs; supporting the tribal consultation process; and requiring pre-construction investigation of potential TCRs. The committee supported all four strategies.

Huboi said most developments have ignored tribal cultural resources. Resendiz asked Early if his team had reached out to local tribes. Early said they had, but the response so far was “limited.” He recommended an agenda item for the next GPAC meeting to discuss it further. Stephens wondered if there was a definition of what a tribal cultural resource was. Early said the state has defined it and that perhaps the definition should be included in the plan.

Environmental justice

Under the state’s SB 1000 land use law, general plans must address environmental justice if a jurisdiction includes disadvantaged communities. Early said Hollister does not have a state-defined disadvantaged community. However, he said there are neighborhoods within the city that qualify to receive assistance.

Huboi felt environmental justice was important enough to be a standalone element in the Hollister General Plan. Early said it could be its own element or be included in other elements throughout the entire document. Resendiz favored having it as its own element so people would understand its importance, but to also interweave it through the other elements. The other committee members agreed that both options should be used.

Environmental justice encompasses access to affordable and nutritious food, bike- and pedestrian-safe streets, reduced exposure to pollution, promoting participation in public processes, and equal access to public services and facilities.

The next GPAC meeting is scheduled for March 30 and is open to the public on Zoom.

Over the next two months, additional policy topics to be discussed will include: economic development, retail leakage (when residents spend more for products than local businesses capture), job creation, tourism, industrial uses, airport, cannabis, Complete Streets and safe routes to school, level of service, roundabouts, growth management, special planning areas, high-density residential land use designations, inclusionary housing, arts and culture, climate change and hazards.

Other related BenitoLink stories:

Hollister Council appoints new member to General Plan Advisory Committee

Hollister General Plan Advisory Committee selects chair and vice chair

Hollister hires consultant for general plan update

 

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John Chadwell

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