Housing / Land Use

Land annexation defeated in defiance of state order

Hollister City Council splits vote for project that proponents say cannot be legally prevented.
Local developer Hugh Bikle said the development would mean over $17 million in taxes paid to Hollister. File photo by John Chadwell.
Local developer Hugh Bikle said the development would mean over $17 million in taxes paid to Hollister. File photo by John Chadwell.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez quizzed SBHS Superintendent Sean Tennenbaum about the potential cost of a new high school. File photo by John Chadwell.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez quizzed SBHS Superintendent Sean Tennenbaum about the potential cost of a new high school. File photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said negotiations for a new high school would be between the school district and the developer, not Hollister. File photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said negotiations for a new high school would be between the school district and the developer, not Hollister. File photo by John Chadwell.

With a tie vote on Aug. 17, the Hollister City Council failed to pass a resolution to approve an annexation agreement in defiance of the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that has twice ordered the city to void or suspend its growth management program (GMP).

Even after attorney Christine Kemp—who spoke for local developer and Stone Bridge Homes President Hugh Bikle—and comments from members of the public who told the council it could not legally prevent the annexation, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Rolan Resendiz voted against it for the fourth time since March 16, 2019.

While the late Marty Richman was still on the dias, the council adopted an ordinance on Sept. 3, 2019, to pre-zone the 9.3-acre property located at 1070 Buena Vista Road, belonging to Alan and Lorraine Woodle.

“Despite the staff and City of Hollister Planning Commission’s recommendations and state law [SB 330] requiring a housing project such as the Woodle project to move forward, the City Council, on a split 2/2 vote, has twice refused to move the housing project forward,” Kemp said. “By continuing with its split 2/2 vote, it is a de facto denial of the resolutions preventing the Woodle project from moving forward.”

According to a letter Bikle sent to the council, the proposed project “will include 98 new, smaller, detached single-family homes considerably less expensive than the large lot, large homes being built elsewhere in and around Hollister.”

In the letter, Bikle outlined the financial benefits of the project:

  • $7.3 million in property taxes over the first 10 years after completion.
  • $1.7 million in payments to Community Facilities Districts 4 and 5 to pay the new home’s share of the costs to maintain the public streets and city parks, and pay their share of the costs for added police and fire protection.
  • $7.4 million in city, county and school impact and permit fees will be paid by the homeowners.

The Woodle annexation agreement has gone before the city council six times in 2020, according to Abraham Prado, planning manager for the city. Four of those resulted in tie votes.

Bikle addressed Velazquez and Resendiz directly from the podium: “I really hope the mayor and the councilman understand that you’re required by law to approve this. There are no exceptions, no way around it. This could get really ugly if we don’t move forward in a proper and legal manner,” he said. “I can’t imagine why the mayor of a city and a city councilman are willing to break the law.”

SB 330, the Housing Accountability Act of 2019, will be in effect until Jan. 1, 2025. The California Legislature determined that the state needs to build an estimated 180,000 homes annually to keep up with population growth, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for 3.5 million new homes to be built over the next seven years.

During public comments, San Benito High School Superintendent Sean Tennenbaum said the district was actively exploring options to gain funding for a future high school site. He said that he and Bikle had spoken about mitigation that might provide that site.

Foreshadowing his impending vote, Velazquez asked Tennenbaum how much a new high school would cost to build.

“Less than $100 million to a couple hundred million,” Tennenbaum said, depending on student capacity.

The mayor asked Tennenbaum if the high school was “tapped out as far as the number of students?” 

Tennenbaum responded, “We’re near capacity.” 

San Benito High School has an estimated 3,331 student body.

Velazquez wanted to know how much the school currently had in impact fees to go toward a new high school. After an uncomfortable moment as the mayor continued to press him, Tennenbaum said there was “less than $5 million” toward a potential $100 million for a 1,200 to 1,400-student high school.

Velazquez then claimed the city would have to tax residents for the $100 million.

“Did you miss the part where the school directly negotiates with the developer?” Councilwoman Carol Lenoir asked the mayor. “The city is not involved in the negotiating of school impact fees. There are a lot of things to factor in funding a high school and it’s not just local impact fees. There are also bonds, but it’s unfortunate that they bonded themselves out of the market. Nobody said the city was going to fund the high school all by itself. We’re not going to be able to get anything done with your stance on growth.”

San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez spoke during public comment and said that even though he respected what Lenoir had said, “I don’t know how much longer we can allow the state to thumb its nose at us, telling us what to do, how to do it, and pretty much crushing our community. Having to kowtow to the state makes no sense to me.”

Salvador Mora, who is running against Velazquez for mayor, reminded council members that there would be a financial penalty if it continued to violate SB 330.

“The state will impose fines and fees [$10,000 per unit and increased by a factor of five if the city is found to have acted in bad faith] and appoint somebody to ensure that the projects continue whether you like it or not,” Mora said. “The taxpayers will have to cover these fees, not the mayor or Councilmember Resendiz.”

Before voting, Lenoir responded to comments from Velazquez and Tennenbaum about funding high schools.

“If we don’t build one more house, the high school is still in a pickle,” she said. “I imagine they’ve received pressure from parents over the last decade or more to build a new high school. Now you want to talk about it because your bond didn’t pass. You should realize the value of partnering with developers who give you land to build your school as part of the mitigation.”

 

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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: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.