The Hollister City Council recently heard an update on its General Plan, a document used as a tool to protect the city’s history and guide current and future land usage decisions.

After hearing Abraham Prado, of the Development Services Department, give the annual General Plan status report, the council voted unanimously to accept the report and directed staff to forward it to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

In the land use section, the Planning Commission approved 32 resolutions for construction projects that Prado said were consistent with the General Plan.

“That’s part of what the Planning Department holds very dearly, and when we go through our development review committee process, we make sure the project is consistent with the General Plan,” he said, “as well as with the zoning ordinance.”

Prado said the same level of customer service is provided no matter what the project may be, whether it is a 30,000-square-foot building or if it’s a resident who wants to build a 20-square-foot shed or a room addition.

He said a major accomplishment in 2016 was the adoption of the housing element, “essentially a state requirement for each city, not necessarily to approve housing, but at least designate areas in Hollister for various steps of housing, including special-needs housing, transition housing or homeless shelters, farmworker housing, below-market-rate housing, extreme level to moderate and even bottom market.

“The city council adopted the North Gateway area for homeless shelters,” he said, “and with a conditional use permit areas such as light industrial zoning district. In June 2016, the city staff worked together with the county staff to approve a conditional-use permit for a 12,800-square-foot building adjacent to the Community Pantry for a homeless shelter. It will provide in-home services for job placement and to provide meals.”

The state reported back to the city in May 2016 that its housing element had met state requirements and was certified.

“That’s a key accomplishment because one of the ways that cities or organizations can obtain funding through grants is through either a competitor or non-competitor process,” Prado said. “One of the key questions on these applications is ‘does the city have a certified housing element?’ If the response is ‘no,’ it’s pretty tough to obtain that grant.”

One non-competitive grant for which the city is applying is a parks grant that requires cities have a certified housing element that has been reported annually to the state.

“It looks like we’re looking at $1.4 million,” Prado said.

Asked by Councilwoman Mickie Luna to clarify what extremely-low housing meant, Prado responded that the term is based on an average median income in San Benito County for a family of four, which is $81,100.

“Most of the population in the city commutes to Silicon Valley, so that’s kind of high, but the extremely low is 30 percent of that ($24,330) for a family of four.”

He reminded the council that the housing element doesn’t really require a city to approve housing projects, but to at least plan for them.

“One example is we’re currently working with the CHISPA development on Buena Vista Road,” he said. “They were approved through the county for 41 apartments at an extremely low market rate. They needed to show that they were within the county in order to receive certain grants. With their counsel, we approved an outside jurisdiction of water and sewer service for them, so they can continue the process with the county, with the caveat that prior to final of the first unit they were added to the City of Hollister.”

As of January the project was annexed into the city. Luna said, then, that it behooves the city to make sure the extremely-low rate is essential to the housing element.  

Leatherback Clean-Up

Councilman Roy Sims asked if the hazardous waste from the former Leatherback property at the corner of McCray and Hillcrest streets had been cleaned up. Prado told him that after the company left Hollister, the city conducted the environmental cleanup in 2009. He said the city has since designated the site as a mixed-use property. Sims asked why the city was held responsible for the cleanup and not the company.

Bill Avera, city manager, said the decision was made by the State Redevelopment Agency.

“That was kind of their primary role, to alleviate blight,” he said. “We knew at that time that without another industrial use going in there it wasn’t going to get cleaned up by private parties. We did spend about $1 million to demo and clean up the entire area.”

Avera said that as long as the soil isn’t disturbed for the top four feet of the property, there is no danger from contamination. He also said that there have been discussions about building a pool there.

“If we start to dig it up we’d probably have to go back out and make sure the pool is in a location that was not affected by one of the tanks that had some contamination,” he said.

Sims wanted to know if the cost of the property was “relevant to the cost of the clean-up.” Avera said he would have to research the history of the property, but estimated that the cost of the property was $2.7 million, not counting the cleanup costs.

“We’re into it about $4 million or so and the property is worth way less than that,” Avera said.

Sims continued to question why the previous property owner was not held responsible for the cost of cleanup. Avera said the now defunct Hollister Redevelopment Agency had made the decision not to make the company clean up the site or hold Leatherback responsible for any liability related to the contamination.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...