The 2018 race for San Benito County Supervisor District 4 is a crowded field, with five candidates vying for the role. Along with incumbent Jerry Muenzer, there is Hollister City Councilman Jim Gillio, as well as Elia Salinas, Sandy Swint, and San Benito County Republican Party Vice-Chair and Hollister School District Trustee Rob Bernosky.
Jerry Muenzer, 65, said that his family has been a part of San Benito County since 1910 when his grandfather moved to Hollister with his family and purchased a second-hand store.
“That was the beginning of Muenzer’s Cyclery and Sport Center, a fixture of San Benito for 105 years,” Muenzer said via email. “I grew up working in the store after school, on weekends, and during the summer. My wife’s family has owned a ranch on Southside Road since the 1880s. So both of our roots in San Benito goes very deep.”
Because of their long history in the county, Muenzer said he is committed to preserving the rural heritage. He has served on his kid’s school board of trustees, on the board of United Way, the Hollister Downtown Association, and the Ventana Wildlife Society. He also served on the Monterey Bay Association of Governments for the last six years and is a two-term president of its board. He is the county representative for the newly formed Monterey Bay Community Power, as well as the chairperson on the Mobility Partnership committee.
Additionally, he served on the Tres Pinos School board of trustees for two terms, the San Benito County Fish and Game Advisory Commission for 10 years, on the county’s Workforce Investment Board, and the Community Action Board.
“I believed that it is very important for San Benito County to have committed representation at these regional associations, making sure the voices of San Benito residents are being heard and I have fulfilled that role during my terms on the board,” Muenzer wrote.
Muenzer commented that his parents taught him the importance of giving back to the community.
“I have worked to live up to that expectation and their examples. By serving on the board of supervisors, I have learned so much, gone places that I would never have gone, and met many wonderful people that I might not have ever met. I prayed that through it all I have been able to give back to the community that has blessed me and my family so much.”
The incumbent county supervisor was first elected to the board in 2011, when the “county was suffering from double-digit unemployment, people were losing their jobs and homes, the county had spent its reserves, and it was then forced to lay off employees.”
Since then, he wrote, the county has balanced its budget, it’s begun to address its unfunded liabilities, and it is beginning to rehire employees back to replace those that were laid off and retired during the Great Recession.
“I continue to assist Congressman Jimmy Panetta to reopen Clear Creek Bureau of Land Management lands to the off-road community,” Muenzer said. “I am very proud of my representation to the regional associations that I have been able to accomplish in my two terms so far. And I hope to be able to continue for another four years.”
If re-elected, Muenzer said he will continue to focus on increasing revenues so the county can hire qualified employees and to work on financing the improvement of county roads.
“We are going to need the help of our neighbors to solve the transportation problems that we are facing now. Also, future economic development for the county is very important. That is why, when the update of the General Plan was done, I fought for a commercial corridor along Highway 101. We now have developers looking at those sites. I believe that the county must continue to develop more agricultural manufacturing facilities, such as the expansion of Earthbound Farms and the relocation to San Benito County of GCF Frozen, Inc.”
Jim Gillio, 44, is no stranger to crowded political landscapes. After former Hollister Councilman Roy Sims announced his abrupt resignation in early 2017, nine individuals stepped up to take his place. The council appointed Gillio to serve the remaining term. Instead of campaigning for the city position after his appointment expires in November, Gillio chose to run for county supervisor in District 4.
Gillio is general manager of Central Ag Supply, where his wife, Tricia, also works. Both grew up in Hollister, went to Fresno State and dated for several years before marrying. He worked for the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department for two years and then the Gilroy Police Department from 2000 to 2010. Gillio is involved in a Gilroy Police Department lawsuit filed by a co-worker in 2006.
He said he came back to Hollister and started going to the San Benito Business Council and Hollister Rotary.
“I love doing investigative work,” Gillio said. “So when they gave me my first environmental impact report, I read the whole thing. I would go and talk to people. I spent probably 50 hours researching Roberts Ranch and I voted no.”
He explained his ‘no’ vote was because there were unresolved issues related to access that concerned him.
As a candidate, Gillio said his three main areas of interest are public safety, building businesses and creating economic opportunity, and infrastructure. He said two things he hopes to complete before leaving the Hollister City Council are term limits and the ethics policy he has been pushing, with the support of Vice Mayor Mickie Luna.
“When I came into the city council, there were no ethics rules, laws, or policies,” Gillio said. “Mickie Luna supported it. I want to create a policy for council members to follow before I leave.”
Gillio said he feels the sensible approach to growth is to work on a growth management plan and the upcoming General Plan instead of entirely blocking growth, which he said, “kills the economy.”
“We do not have enough other strong sources of revenue and we need more good paying jobs,” he said on the viability of impact fees.
Elia Salinas, 58, is a familiar face at both Hollister City Council and San Benito County Board of Supervisors meetings as an outspoken advocate for the cannabis industry and on behalf of a wide range of local concerns.
“When I speak at meetings and the subject is cannabis I consider myself to be an advocate of cannabis,” Salinas said. “But I’m not speaking for any particular company.”
When asked if it might be appropriate when she speaks on cannabis for people to know that she works for one of the recently approved and now operational applicants, Salinas said, “I think most people think that I’m getting paid by cannabis clients to begin with, [but] I just became an employee in October.” She added that she was not being paid by the cannabis industry until after there was a city ordinance in place, then various companies paid her to help with the licensing process.
Salinas has worked as a paralegal secretary for various law firms for 30 years. Recently, she was hired as full-time director of community relations of Agripharma Extraction LLC, formerly ZyteOil LLC, an international medical cannabis distribution company. She is also one of the corporation’s founders and directors.
Salinas is the daughter of migrant workers who traveled from Texas to Hollister where she attended the Fremont School on Fourth Street, now the location of the San Benito County Superior Court, before relocating to Gilroy where she grew up. She moved back to Hollister in 1993. She is a single mom with a 26-year-old son, Justin.
Salinas said even though there were rumors that she wanted to run for supervisor, she told people she wasn’t. Then one day she said to herself, “Why not me? I can do the job just as well, if not better.”
As she prepares to go up against Gillio and three others, Salinas said she hates to see him leave the city council because he “…is doing such a great job. We need more people like him in the city.” She laughed as she related how when she talked to Gillio she told him how she felt and that he should stay with the city.
“Of all the candidates out there, besides myself, Jim Gillio is a good candidate,” Salinas said. “But he hasn’t done anything in the county, while I attend at least 70 percent of the meetings concerning what happens in San Benito County.”
Salinas said one of her main concerns is for more residents to be aware of what is happening at the county meetings. She said by the time people show up the decisions have already been made and it’s too late for them to voice their opinions. She said it’s unfortunate that most people in the city and county get the majority of their information from Facebook, which she said is mostly just misinformation.
Her two main focus issues are housing and roads.
“People don’t realize we’re behind on housing,” Salinas said. “People complain about the number of houses going up, but we went through a [building] moratorium and a real estate crash, and the city and county are trying to catch up. I don’t know what the solution is for the roads, other than it is going to take time to widen the roads. The city is talking about roundabouts, but are roundabouts the solution for what’s going to happen 20 years from now? The solutions are Band-Aids that make it look like they’ve done something, but nothing has really happened.”
Salinas conceded that even though she did not know what the solution for substandard roads is, she does not want to raise sales taxes and feels there is money available from Senate Bill 1 if the county were only more aggressive in attempting to get.
“As a small county we should still have a voice,” she said. “The county hired a consultant [lobbyist Kim Stone], but I’m not sure what the consultant is doing. I should inquire what she is doing, but I don’t hear about any projects she’s working on when I go to meetings.”
She recognized the fact that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for those who commute to make it to government meetings. And while many voice their opinions on Facebook, she said many younger residents don’t use it. She said the county needs to more aware to all forms of social media to reach the public.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take,” Salinas said. “We need to post more in newspapers, public places and maybe even churches.”
Salinas is also in favor of a no-kill zone for the animal shelter.
“I don’t know how long it will take to do something like that, but there are funds and grants we should be able to reach out to help fund it,” she said. “There needs to be more publicized adoptions. All of us can share the responsibility that we don’t euthanize as many animals.”
In addressing the tax-sharing agreement between the city and county, in which the county receives 75 percent of property taxes and the city only receives 25 percent, Salinas said it should be an equal split between the two jurisdictions.
“The roads are affected by all county residents, whether you live in the city or in the county,” she said. “We share resources like the hospital and fire department. It should be more of a partnership.”
While the job of a county supervisor is considered a part-time position, Salinas feels that a supervisor should be full-time.
“The government running the county is big business and there are a lot of issues,” Salinas said. “I don’t think someone who’s working full time can actually dedicate that many hours without affecting their personal and family lives. I have issues with people having to recuse themselves because their lawyer is involved in something or they have a relationship with a developer. If you’re going to run for the board of supervisors, you have to make a decision [about jobs or relationships].”
Salinas did not see an issue of her working for a cannabis company because it is located in the city, but admitted if an issue were to arise involving Agripharma she too would have to recuse herself. She said she would also stop her advocacy activities for cannabis should she be elected.
To contact Salinas, call 831-537-7312 or email email@example.com
Rob Bernosky, 54, his wife Jennifer, and their three children moved to San Benito County 24 years ago from Redondo Beach because they wanted to raise their children in a rural environment for a slower, less hectic pace of life. He said the decision worked out beautifully.
“All three graduated from San Benito High School and have gone to college,” Bernosky said. “The public school system in San Benito County worked very well for us.”
His professional background includes over 20 years as a chief financial officer in the high-tech and agriculture industries. Politically, he is one of 23 board members of the California Republican Party, and a regional vice chair, representing the Central Coast. His first and only elected office, so far, was when he was elected in 2016 to the Hollister School District Board. He said even if he becomes a country supervisor he hopes to remain on the school board and that he is running for supervisor because the school district has so many problems working with the county’s management regarding missing district funds.
“The school district is so overwhelmed with the investigation and litigation into where the monies are, I figure the rest of the community entities are, as well,” Bernosky said. “I want to play a role in the smart management of San Benito County.”
Bernosky said more than $1.5 million of the school district’s funds are unaccounted for and a lawsuit is attempting to determine exactly how much is missing. Additionally, he said the county is at the tipping point on transportation issues, cannabis, and in a general sense, quality of life.
“We need to shape the county for what we are, a bedroom community to the area, but with a significant western, agricultural environment,” Bernosky said. “I want to see those two things come together so that we maintain our quality of life and we don’t become overly influenced by the cannabis industry, or we become stagnant for another 25 years as we don’t solve our transportation issues.”
His specific approach to relieving the daily commutes of thousands of residents is to transform Highway 25 into a six-lane thoroughfare to handle high-speed traffic to not only help people get in and out of town faster, but to attract more businesses. He knows of the plans to widen Highway 156 to four lanes, but pointed out it ends at the intersection with Union Road, which will bring traffic to a stop.
To fund such projects, Bernosky said the first thing he wants to do is work with others to repeal SB1 and get rid of cap and trade. Then it would be more likely that residents would pass a local sales tax to fund the roads, he believes.
“It’s time that we get some of that money spent here,” Bernosky said. “Right now, we pay all these taxes and they’re spent on high-speed rail. Well, that’s not for us. It’s spent on projects in the Bay Area and Southern California. That’s where our tax dollars are going, but we live here.”
In his views about cannabis, he said everything he wants to do is based on his concept of quality of life.
“Our quality of life involves on how much time we spend on the roads,” he said. “It depends on if we can walk around our town safely without being impacted by the very presence of cannabis. It’s about whether it is being smoked in our presence, whether it’s being grown in our presence, or we have a lot of ugly looking facilities with razor wire fencing, cameras, guard dogs, and armed guards are not indicative of a great place to live.”
Sandy Swint, 40, and her husband Josh moved from Sonora to Hollister 10 years ago. She was raised in Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County. She said they moved to the area for the rural environment. She joked that they were high school sweethearts, though they attended different high schools in different cities.
“We were both in high school,” Swint explained, adding they’ve been married 13 years and have two children. She said her husband’s business, S. C. Stone Fabrication company, is located in Hollister.
Swint said for the past year she has worked in marketing and advertising.
“I do the social media marketing for an advertising company in Moss Landing,” Swint said. “I also run my husband’s office. I do all the payroll, estimates, and invoices. I’ve been doing that since we’ve been married.”
Swint is on the board for Chamberlain’s Children Center and is a 4-H volunteer in San Juan Bautista. She feels she is qualified to run for San Benito County supervisor because of her expertise in bookkeeping and numbers.
“I’ve noticed all the quick growth and feel like so many people are on the Internet talking around town about all these issues, but no one’s really stepping up to the plate saying we need to take care of these big issues,” she said. “We need to slow down our growth and take care of [Highway] 25, which is a nightmare.”
She said she’s seen that people have doubts and think someone else can step up.
“That’s somebody else. That’s not me,” she said. “Then I woke up one morning and said, ‘why not me?’ So, here I am, a concerned resident.”
With her main concern being unbridled growth, Swint said the county needs to focus less on becoming a suburb of Santa Clara County.
“The reason we live in Hollister and San Benito County is because we’re attracted to the rural atmosphere,” Swint said. “It’s not because we want to live in a suburb. We should not be building south of Union or east of Fairview. We need to start with our growth within the city and maybe even go back to implementing one-acre plots instead of these developments that just keep coming.”
She wants, instead, to focus on city and county roads by implementing a sales tax and setting aside money in the budget for roads. She said impact fees on new construction are not the answer to fund the roads.
“It’s one-time money and it’s not enough,” she said. “San Benito County is not going to see much of the SB1 money. I’d be very surprised if we saw much of it, besides for the widening of Highway 152.”
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