About 50 people came together on Sept. 12 for the Leadership Luncheon in the church hall at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Cienega Road in Hollister, where local officials answered questions on topics such as education, county drug programs, traffic and how to better serve low income and homeless members of the community. Moderator Hal Hendrickson posed questions to a panel that included San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho, County Administrative Officer Ray Espinosa, Hollister School District Superintendent Diego Ochoa, San Benito County Sheriff-Coroner Darren Thompson, and Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez.
At the luncheon table, cards and pencils enabled attendees to ask a question and give it to the moderator to pose to the panel. Hendrickson received five cards highlighting the fact that there was not one woman on the panel.
“To the five women who wrote about the lack of female representation on this panel: it has been noted,” Hendrickson told the audience.
The San Benito County Community Action Board hosted the free event, which brought together policy- and decision-makers with advocates for disadvantaged people in the community.
“The war on poverty will march on until there is no more poverty in San Benito County,” said Enrique Arreola, deputy director of the San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency and director of Community Services and Workforce Development.
Hendrickson introduced Ochoa as the Hollister School District’s first Latino superintendent. Asked about his long term vision to handle growth, Ochoa said, “The new school, Rancho Santa Ana which will be open by August 2021, is one way. For example take [the] Ladd Lane neighborhood: one out of three students is currently attending a different, non-neighborhood school. Forty percent of our families are not attending neighborhood schools. My vision is to keep schools open later—more hours to provide kids with a safe and fun experience where they are learning, and parents continue to be involved in their student’s education.”
Thompson addressed a question about how the Sheriff’s Department is handling drugs in San Benito County, which was designated a high-intensity drug trafficking area in 2017.
“There is no doubt of the depth of impact that drugs have on our county,” Thompson said. “There has been an attempt to decriminalize certain drugs, therefore funds have been redirected from going straight to the jail facilities. Instead the funds go to several substance abuse programs available to our inmates. When they are released, they are also connected to county programs that provide similar services.”
Regarding affordable housing and increased cost of living, Velazquez said it was important to get the word out about rental assistance programs, “as well as advocating for developers to consider creating neighborhoods with a mix of single family homes, townhomes, apartments and low income residences.”
Velazquez also touched on the issue of homelessness when asked what he was most proud of during his time in office.
It’s the homeless shelter that makes me happiest of what we have been able to accomplish,” he said. “I’m proud of the homeless solution and we are not even halfway done.”
Hendrickson asked Espinosa a transportation-related question, describing exactly as it was written on the card: “Traffic???!”
“Measure G will infuse funding to address traffic on Highway 25,” Espinosa said. “There have been many committees, many hours devoted to reducing traffic. One thing we’ve already done is address the pothole issue. By smoothing out the streets throughout the county, we add to creating a smooth flow of traffic.”
As stated in the BenitoLink special report on Measure G, the measure is a major investment in roads voted on and passed by county residents in 2018. The 1% sales tax is expected to generate $16 million annually. Funds are intended to pay for implementation of the Transportation Investment and Safety Plan (TSIP) with the goal to increase safety on the streets. The TSIP’s cost is $485 million, half of which is targeted for widening Highway 25.
“Measure G will solve a lot of road issues, but there is a lot of work ahead of us,” Espinosa said.
With a tagline of “ending poverty by empowering people,” the luncheon was an opportunity for community advocates, county employees and residents to celebrate progress while highlighting the fact that there is still much more to be done.
Asked what it will take to end poverty in San Benito County, Arreola said, “It takes mobilizing communities. We are only touching a fraction of the community. We want to reach more!”