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Designs approved for 400 block buildings

Hollister mayor claims planning commissioners have conflicts of interest with project.
Hollister Planning Commission. Photo by Leslie David.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez at the podium. Photo by Leslie David.
Darin Del Curto at the podium. Photo by Leslie David.
Picture during Hollister Planning Commission meeting of proposed design of buildings. Photo by Noe Magaña.

The Hollister Planning Commission unanimously approved an architectural design for the controversial 400 block project during its Sept. 27 meeting. Two buildings—a new Community Foundation for San Benito County headquarters and a multi-story, mixed-use commercial/residential structure—are planned to occupy the lawn area at the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets.

Councilmember Jim Gillio said during a September 2017 meeting that the block is owned by eight regional agencies, including Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, Gavilan College and the county itself. The agencies are expected to receive a portion of revenue from the sale of the 400 block. In addition, the state mandated the land to be sold in accordance with the Dissolution Act of 2011, regardless of whether it was going to be developed.

The three-story building, set on the corner, is planned to have six commercial units, a restaurant and a lobby on the first floor, according to a presentation given during the Planning Commission meeting. The second and third floors are expected to offer nine one-bedroom, one-bathroom residential units and two studio units. Planning Manager Abraham Prado said the price for the units is still unknown.

A 2,000-square-feet open area is planned for the rooftop with multiple tables, chairs, trees in planters and a barbeque area.

The Community Foundation building is expected to have an open area leading to four offices, a break room, storage room, large meeting room, electrical room, restrooms and a patio area that connects to the Briggs Building parking structure. An office area, break room, copy room, future expansion room and two restrooms are planned for the second floor of the nonprofit’s new headquarters.

It wasn’t long before a confrontation ensued during the public comment period.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he had concerns about commissioners having conflicts of interest.

“Miss [Pauline] Valdivia with the city funding some of your programs... Miss [Carol] Lenoir your application for a City Council member pointed out that you wanted to be a councilmember to make the right decision on the 400 block, which kind of says you already have an opinion on that,” Velazquez said.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Lenoir quickly responded that she never stated an opinion because she stays out of all that.

“Don’t tell me I have a conflict,” she said.

After Velazquez said he was just pointing it out, Lenoir replied, “Don’t point it out because it’s not true.”

Over the years, Velazquez, owner of the Vault building on the same block, has repeatedly voiced his opposition to developing the 400 block. Over the summer he gathered residents’ signatures to petition the city to stop the development plan and allow residents to vote on it.

Elia Salinas, candidate for Hollister City Council District 3, said she was originally against developing the 400 block.

“I really wanted to see a park out there,” Salinas said. “I wanted to see some kind of community benefit out there, where the public can come out there.”

But Salinas also said she thought it was ironic that Velazquez made efforts years ago to develop that property and now he is against it. She added that the mayor has had several opportunities to do so but didn’t and questioned whether he was bitter because now it’s happening.

“I find it offensive that he is trying to say that the people would have voted for it,” Salinas said. “He had the opportunity. They went out there. They got the signatures. The Attorney General of the State of California said it couldn’t happen, it wasn’t going to happen. So he’s had his opportunity.”

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on April 27 the resolution to sell the property for development was not subject to referendum.

Velazquez said early on the city tried to build an “anchor” to downtown based on consultant suggestions, and the ideas that the city explored  included an art center, theater and a hotel. He said a deal was never struck because a shopping center was ultimately decided upon.

Gordon Machado, who is campaigning for mayor against Velazquez, was among those in the audience who spoke in favor of the project.

Machado said the grassy area in the 400 block is not appropriate for a park, even though it has been used for Movies in the Park and other activities, unless it is completely modified to ensure the safety for children.

“I’m glad to see this going forward and I think it’s beautiful,” Machado said.

Anne Hall was another resident who voiced approval of the 400 block project.

“I’m really happy to see that it’s going to be developed,” said Hall, principal engineer at San Benito Engineering & Surveying, Inc. “There hasn’t been much going on there and I’m here all the time, so I know that.”

On Oct. 17, 1989 at 5:04 p.m the 7.1 magnitude-Loma Prieta earthquake caused an estimated $100 million worth of damage in San Benito County. Buildings collapsed or were demolished because of severe damage from the quake, which is why the empty lot exists downtown.

Before approving the design at the Sept. 27 meeting, planning commissioners echoed a message of satisfaction about the potential mixed-use building and increase in foot traffic downtown.

Lenoir said the project will give young couples affordable housing as well as multiple areas for people to gather and socialize. Valdivia focused on viewing change in a positive light and said it is something future generations will enjoy.

Mayor Velazquez called the decision disappointing and “short-sighted” after the commission approved the design.

“It’s going to prove to be a financial hit to the entire downtown,” Velazquez said. “We are never going to have the ability to bring the foot traffic that we want to make a successful downtown.”

 

Other BenitoLink articles related to the 400 block (in chronological order):

https://benitolink.com/hollister-city-council-agrees-400-block-development

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-city-council-approves-proposal-develop-400-block

https://benitolink.com/news/foundation-chamber-hda-business-council-aim-restore-400-block

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-mayor-threatens-suit-against-city-over-400-block-officials-say-his-facts-wrong

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-city-council-certifies-mayors-petition-will-rescind-decision-400-block-or-put-ballot

https://benitolink.com/news/referendum-petition-400-block-be-november-ballot-unless-state-attorney-general-says-unlawful

https://benitolink.com/news/attorney-general-decision-goes-against-petition-stop-sale-400-block

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-city-council-repeals-400-block-referendum

 

 

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About:
Noe Magaña (Noe Magaña)

Noe Magaña is a freelance writer for BenitoLink. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School graduate with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.

Comments

I was following direction from not only my Councilman Ray Friend but the direction of the entire council. It was a rare occasion for me to call Ray but I did on this project. He encouraged me, after my review, to consider an approval. I told him I would do just that given the direction of the full Council. It’s a beautiful project and I suspect businesses will flock to this new development for the new construction feel and look. Those condos will sell out too providing an affordable product we are definitely lacking in Hollister; like housing for singles and young couples.  I am willing to take some grief from the mayor if it means bringing this product to our downtown.  Give it a chance.....you may just like it when it’s all done.  Commercial progress is good for our city. At least that’s what I keep hearing. If you have questions or comments I am always available at 831-637-8588. Have a nice evening. 

Mayor Velazquez called the decision disappointing and “short-sighted” after the commission approved the design.
“It’s going to prove to be a financial hit to the entire downtown,” Velazquez said. “We are never going to have the ability to bring the foot traffic that we want to make a successful downtown.”
Mayor Velazquez is the proud owner of a failed enterprise called The Vault restaurant at a prime downtown location in Hollister, so consider the source here. He is neither 'short-sighted' nor 'far sighted' to economic development, philanthropy, and commerce; he is simply blind to these matters.
Neither does the mayor provide any factual data to support his dire warning about the potential impact of the 400 Block project. He is simply singing the blues - hopefully his own swan song as mayor - because he was unsuccessful lobbying for a public project that would benefit his ill-spent investment in The Vault; a clear and present example of conflict of interest issues by an elected official.
Velazquez' sour grapes might make decent vinegar, but its stench continues to befoul public policy in Hollister.

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

The reason the Mayor has changed his mind about developing that block is that he is older an wiser now. That's what happens when we mature, hopefully. People who want to put buildings everywhere have not yet reached that that level but in the meantime, they can do a lot of damage.

The old saying goes: "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail." And it certainly applies here. The mayor and his minions NEVER developed a cogent and compelling vision and business plan to include all of the initial and ongoing costs to the city to convert and manage the property as a public capital asset, pay off partnering government agencies, and/or build and maintain whatever it is they wanted to do. The mayor had the capacity to understand his own self-interests as a property owner next to the 400 Block project, effectively lobbied a critical mass via social media to subvert the proposed Community Foundation building development plan, but failed to define and execute a municipal parks and recreation asset management project according to public policy best management practices and local government protocol.

The mayor isn't 'wiser now' than when he started his failed campaign to leverage public property for his own benefit; again, a conspicuous conflict of interest. He is simply angry and bitter that progress is being made contrary to his failed effort and in the process, name-calling city planning commissioners in an attempt to intimidate and influence their collective deliberative decision-making duties. 

Finally, the Community Foundation plan to develop the property through generous philanthropic donations to purchase, design, build and operate the buildings for community benefit is exactly correct in its commonwealth intent, perspicacity, long-term planning, engineering and best management practices for community planning.

The mayor and his minions are reduced to name-calling and failure forecasting because they simply failed to plan otherwise.

An Open Letter to Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez:

Mr. Mayor, your reported actions attacking individual Planning Commissioners and claiming – falsely – that they had a conflict of interest on the 400-block decision was a disgrace. By law and by logic, you are the public official with a conflict of interest.

You may have found a loophole that let’s you engage in this outrageous behavior, but what it really shows is that you could care less if you leave the city structure in shreds as long as you protect your personal financial interests and you care nothing for the spirit of the conflict of interest law. Neither do you seem to care what damage you did to the reputations of people who served Hollister selflessly and honorably for years.

I fear your strategy is to destroy the city’s governing institutions so you can rebuild them as you like for total control. Why would anyone want to be a Hollister Planning Commissioner and expose themselves to these kinds of scurrilous attacks after you have poisoned the water? You are setting a new low standard for slash and burn politics. You need to try and recover some of the dignity Hollister deserves and expects of its Mayor who represents all of us.

Marty Richman

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