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Hollister politics turn ugly

Councilman Marty Richman challenges Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Rolan Resendiz on accusing staff, fellow council members of conflicts of interest and back door deals.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he did not appreciate someone insinuating that he was a liar. Photo by John Chadwell.
Councilman Rolan Resendiz called Richman a bully who is arrogant, rude and disrespectful. Photo by John Chadwell.
Salvador Mora said Velazquez and Resendiz accused staff without proof. Photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said she would not stand for someone smearing her in her hometown. Photo by John Chadwell.
Councilwoman Honor Spencer said lies are being told to discredit her and Richman. Photo by John Chadwell.
City Manager Bill Avera said Velazquez's claim that former mayor Gordon Machado suggested the 400 block be a plaza is bogus. Photo by John Chadwell.

For the second consecutive time, a Hollister City Council meeting grew ugly as council members turned against each other.

Central to the acrimony at both the April 22 and May 6 meetings were Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Marty Richman, who disagree about the 400 block downtown development. Richman took the mayor and Councilman Rolan Resendiz to task for accusations of conflict of interest and back door deals they had made against other council members and city staff.

Richman challenged Velazquez and Resendiz to take their claims to the city’s human resources office for investigation and possible discipline. He also took issue with Resendiz repeatedly claiming that fellow Councilmembers Honor Spencer and Carol Lenoir “will do anything for somebody who wines and dines them.”

Richman demanded that Velazquez and Resendiz either present their proof or shut up, but no proof was presented. When BenitoLink pressed Velazquez on the matter he could not produce any evidence.

At the May 6 meeting, resident Salvador Mora repeated accusations he had made against the mayor during the Feb. 19 meeting.

Mora said that people were beginning to realize the mayor was using social media to deceive them and alleged that Velazquez had repeatedly called city staff liars.

“Someone else on the council referred to staff as cockroaches,” Mora said.

Later in the meeting, Resendiz corrected Mora, saying that he had called lobbyists “like the one sitting in front videotaping” cockroaches, motioning to Elia Salinas in the front row. Salinas is director of community relations for local medical cannabis company AgriPharma Extraction LLC. Her video of the exchange is here.

Mora said he originally had high hopes for Resendiz, but was disappointed that Resendiz never offered proof for his claims against Spencer and Lenoir. He said that for five years, the mayor preached slow growth, “but has never provided a blueprint for doing so.”

Speaking to Velazquez, Mora said, “You just don’t like anything that goes against your ideas. You are a good used car salesman, that’s what you are.”

Before public comment, a disclaimer is read to explain that elected officials cannot respond during public comment. Despite this rule, the mayor responded.

Velazquez said he didn’t appreciate people insinuating that he was lying. Salinas called out from the audience reminding Velasquez that he was not supposed to respond during public comment. Velazquez argued that he could, and said as someone who ran for office, Mora should show more respect.

Richman interrupted.

“I object. The rules apply to everyone. Point of order,” he said, referring to the disclaimer the mayor had read only moments before.

Then Resendiz said he wanted to make a comment and Richman shouted, “Point of order, the rules apply to everyone.”

Tag-teaming their response, Velazquez said, “When someone comes up here—” Resendiz completed the thought, “and accuses you and calls you out, then you have a right to respond.” Richman said it wasn’t true.

“This is exactly what happens,” Richman said. “The mayor has a set of rules for himself and others for everybody else. Every time he gets up, he accuses the staff and former council of being on the take. When I want to defend myself, I can’t do it, but he can’t keep his mouth shut.

“Mr. Mayor, the rules apply to you like everybody else. Nobody elected you emperor or dictator. Hollister city’s rules give no special powers or voting privileges to the mayoral position.”

City Manager Bill Avera told BenitoLink that in the six years Velazquez has been mayor, he has not responded as he did on May 6. He added that the mayor does not have more voting privileges than other council members.

“I don’t recall that ever happening in the past,” Avera said. “Certainly, sometimes I’ve been given direction to clarify after public comment, but I think what was witnessed went well beyond that.”

Velazquez said any council member could defend themselves against “cheap shots and flat out lies.”

The mayor tried but was unable to silence Richman, who began an extended speech about Velazquez and Resendiz improperly responding to Mora’s comments and accusing staff of collusion.

The proceedings appeared to wear down Spencer, as she left the dais to take a break.

Velazquez and Resendiz also left the dais to sign papers for students watching the meeting, then departed the chambers. Lenoir remained at the opposite end of the dais while Richman continued to speak. When he finally wrapped up his comments, Lenoir thanked him and a portion of the audience applauded.

While Velazquez, Resendiz and Spencer were out of the room, several people turned in speaker cards. Salinas said she wanted to respond to Resendiz’s “cockroach” statement. Another woman said she wanted to comment on the council’s “childish behavior.” But when the three council members returned, the mayor allowed no more public comments and continued on with the next agenda item.

Velazquez and Resendiz are on the same page when it comes to growth and the 400 block, as each has voiced support for a building moratorium to be placed on an upcoming meeting agenda—even as Gov. Gavin Newsom has been pushing for more growth. Meanwhile, Velazquez and Resendiz face a united front of councilmembers Richman, Lenoir and Spencer.

Spencer and Lenoir said they did not appreciate being accused of being influenced by developers.

“I’m tired of this lying and undermining,” Spencer said. “The reason they’re doing this is to discredit me and Marty because they need District 3 and 4 out, so they can put their people in.”

Lenoir said Velazquez now wants a building moratorium, but she believes his motivation is to stop development of the 400 block.

“He lives and dies about the 400 block project,” she said. “Everything he does is geared toward that. He sees it’s coming so he’ll try an end-run with a moratorium.”

Lenoir said Resendiz used “smear methods” during his campaign in 2018, and that he will be ineffective going up against the solidarity she has with Spencer and Richman.

“We’re not going to tolerate that,” she said. “You don’t smear me in my hometown where I worked so hard to be honest. Just bring the proof that we were ‘wined and dined’ and the proof that staff and consultants colluded, or shut up.”

The confrontations at the last two council meetings reveal the bitterness of local politics over the last 20 years as Hollister attempts to put the 400 block back into commercial use for tax revenue as part of its downtown revitalization. As soon as the Community Foundation for San Benito County and the Del Curto Brothers development projects came to the 400 block, Velazquez took an adversarial stance.

Velazquez has since attempted to interject his vision of “smart growth” without explaining what it means.

According to Avera, city employees have expressed discomfort with the mayor’s social media outbursts, which they feel are being used to protect his personal investment, not stop growth.

Velazquez has repeatedly claimed that years ago there was an agenda item to approve a park and he told BenitoLink that Avera said it was taken off the agenda for some “minor tweaking,” but that it was never brought back for a vote. He said when he pressed Avera for an explanation, Avera told him it was planned for development and Velazquez didn’t have a say in the matter.

Avera explained that the Redevelopment Agency spent nearly $1.5 million to purchase the property and to remove the collapsed buildings after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. He said it would make no fiscal sense to build a park or plaza there, as the objective was to build a “catalyst project” to reinvigorate downtown.

“For 25 years, since I came to the city, that’s what the goal was,” Avera said. “There’s been nothing but buildings to generate tax revenue that would benefit Hollister.”

For the last few years, the mayor has attempted to stop any plans to develop the 400 block next to his building, the Vault. His first effort was through a referendum in 2017, which was unsuccessful, and now an appeal scheduled for May 20.

At a recent Hollister Planning Commission meeting, Velazquez said city program manager Mary Paxton was “playing games” and stating her own opinion on the 400 block. He later admitted to BenitoLink that he had no proof of his accusation against Paxton or any other city employee.

Velazquez once had other plans for the 400 block, even taking out a $20,000 loan from the city in 2000 to conduct a feasibility study and determine if the public would support an arts center. The study confirmed support at the time was not there. Over the years, there have been other proposed projects, including a hotel, a theater and other businesses.

Velasquez told BenitoLink that former mayor Gordon Machado once used the term plaza, but Avera said, “A plaza coming from Gordon Machado is bogus.”

Machado told BenitoLink he has never been in favor of a plaza and called Velazquez a “charismatic liar.”

Avera, who plans to retire from the city later this year, said he doesn’t understand Velazquez’s motivation about the 400 block, but thinks it might be that the Community Foundation’s building will be used not only for nonprofits to meet, but community events, which Velasquez may view as being in direct competition with his Vault property.

 

Other related BenitoLink articles:

https://benitolink.com/news/social-media-spats-spill-hollister-city-council-meeting

https://benitolink.com/news/planning-commission-approves-use-permit-400-block-development

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-mayor’s-letter-delays-approval-400-block-tentative-map

https://benitolink.com/news/hollister-city-council-approves-amendment-400-block-agreement

https://benitolink.com/news/parking-400-block-development-stalls

https://benitolink.com/news/designs-approved-400-block-buildings

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

 

 

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John Chadwell's picture
About:
John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. 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.

Comments

I have two significant disagreements with the Mayor and neither is about the 400-block project itself.

The  first are the Mayor's repeated accusations that the staff gave the project to someone for a payoff or other illegal consideration.  That's not about the project, that's about the process no matter what the project details may be.  Where is the evidence, who is supposed to be involved, when did it happen, and how?  Those are serious accusations.  Without some proof, and the Mayor has not provided a single iota of evidence, it merely insults the employees and degrades them.

The second issue is that the Mayor refuses to recognize the council's right to appeal his rulings on the question of order.  Here is the extract from the Hollister Municipal Code (my emphasis):

"2.04.050 - Mayor to decide questions of order."

"The mayor or mayor pro tempore shall decide all questions of order at city council meetings, subject to appeal to the city council, and all such appeals shall be decided by a majority of the members present."

By asking for a point of order and personal privilege, that's what I did. If the Mayor will NOT allow an appeal to the City Council of his rulings to go to a vote as required - then that process becomes totally meaningless, It's just a dictatorship, one-man rule.

It's not for the Mayor to decide if my appeal is legitimate, it's for a majority of the council, he must follow the code like everyone else or no one is going to follow the code.  He cannot be both judge and jury, that's why the provision is in there.

Marty Richman, Hollister City Council District 4

annross's picture
Submitted by ANN ROSS (annross) on

Well said, Marty.  Roberts Rules need to be followed - it is the baseline of order in conducting our government business.    Otherwise, the tendency is chaos.  

Submitted by (Salvador Mora) on

You are 100% Councilman Richman!

It took a lot of thought on my part to apply for Ray Friend’s vacant seat. I just thought with my history in local government that I could do some good for my city during my short tenure. I stated all along I just wanted to help. I spent 6 years, post retirement, on the Planning Commission. I have no agenda but I do like planning. I would never sell out my city for any amount. If you personally know me you know I make up my own mind with factual staff reports and a lot of studying. I attend meetings and sometimes I get lunch with our local business leaders; I learn their needs through these interactions. I have been to one breakfast with HDA that I paid for.   I went to one lunch with a non profit agency that represents development (mostly out of manners) and I reported that at a council meeting. I had a sandwich and no wine. This squabbling is most unfortunate but still I support Marty and I work well with Honor. I try and support Ignacio and Rolan when I can and I will continue until I have completed my obligation. It will all work out. Don’t lose all faith. 

Ever the optimist, peace and love,

Carol A Lenoir, City Council District 1

I am glad you applied for Mr. Friends vacant seat. With your background on the planning commission you will serve our city well. I support your efforts in making our community better.

Submitted by (Ron sullivan) on

Ive known Carol and her family for most of my life or as long as i can remember. There isnt another person in this city that loves this city as much as Carol. Shes honest, hardworking and cares about Hollister and its residences.

Submitted by (Kelly Sepulveda) on

Thank you for your service Carol. I have always known you to be an honest forthright person. You have always been willing to help and volunteer wherever and whenever you are asked or needed. This bickering and accusatory situation that is happening right now within the City Council is certainly unbecoming to our wonderful community. Hang in there! 

Submitted by (David Masoni ) on

No votes for the Mayor ever again, this is really sad, to bad so much time wasted, 

I watched this meeting on the city website with my laptop, and I have watched meetings on the CMAP website in the past. I have never seen such violations of the Robert’s rules of order for public meeting conduct.
 
The Mayor should be aware of Robert’s rules, but in watching this meeting and reviewing the video recorded by Ms. Salinas, it is quite clear that he does not.
 
I have read or seen some, if not all this mayor’s accusations in the past. He can never apparently back those accusations up. This behavior on his part should make him unsuitable for public office. I have wondered how this person was voted in as Mayor.
 
I hope all Hollister voters take notice; he needs to be voted out of office as soon as possible.
 
The remarks accusing a person taping the meeting from the audience, and others of being “cockroaches” by Councilman Resendiz is reprehensible. No person in the audience of a public meeting should be referred to in such a manner by a public official.
 
I do think Ms. Lenoir, Ms. Spenser, and Mr. Richman have the best interests of the city in mind. They should be supported now and if they should decide to run again in my opinion.

Submitted by Josh G on

As a new resident to the Hollister community, I am appalled at the lack of professionalism that is shown from the Mayor. I have witnessed it on the social media and through the many attempts to halt the growth of the 400 block and from the video that was included in the article. I personally would like to thank Mr Richman, Ms Spencer, and Ms Lenior for taking a stance against what is happening and for keeping the best interest of Hollister in mind. I think it is very sad when your own mayor says he wants smart growth yet prohibits growth of the downtown community. The downtown NEEDS a revitalization if you want to attract more business, both retail and consumer. All I can say is I hope something is done soon because unfortunately I can’t vote due to being just outside the city limits and technically being in the county. So all I can do is voice my opinion and stand from the sidelines which is Fairview road. 

Submitted by (Honor Spencer) on

The people of this community have the right to express their opinions without elected officials calling them out or calling them names such as cockroaches or insinuating through propaganda that they are sub-human because they may be a lobbyist or a consultant or a special interest group. And insinuating that myself, Carol and Marty are in the pockets of developers,  and falsely accusing staff of manipulating the agenda and influencing the outcome is totally ludicrous. This type of behavior is detrimental to the trust and respect of this community and staff  towards the City Council. This community and the staff of the City deserves better. Please have faith that Marty, Carol and myself do have the best interest of this town and the people that live here in our hearts and will always do the right thing.

Honor Spencer   City Council District 3

 

Does anybody else think this reminds them of what goes on constantly in Washington, D.C.? We have an executive, the mayor, who offends people in public speech and pontificates on social media and seems perhaps to have a personal stake in what happens to the 400 block. In addition there is a legislative body that can't legislate but does a good job of sniping at each other while not serving a populace that is being largely ignored or is too bored to get involved.

Podunk on the Potomac/Foggy Bottom on the San Benito?

Is there anyway to have a vote on the issue? Or at least a poll?

I'm a county resident so I can't participate, but I do go downtown to dine and shop and would be pleased to have  a nice downtown space wherein to enjoy a sandwich or listen to some buskers or play checkers or just sit and watch the cars roll by. Anybody else?

Unfortunately speeding and poor driving habits plague our downtown. It’s gotten better but still has a way to go. I agree with you there should be more sitting opportunities downtown. I really used to like the benches that were all along downtown but little by little they were removed upon requests from businesses due to the homeless camping day and night on the benches in front of their businesses. There are only a few left. I would like to see seating replaced with seat separators that deter the ability to lay down. I think we need more light downtown; maybe in the trees professionally done. The corners need to bulb out and I have supported on the Planning Commission, in the past,   the concept of parklets. It’s taking a parking space and converting it to dining space. If we could implement Phase 2 of our adopted Downtown Strategy Plan we could accomplish some of our desires for downtown while making it safer for our pedestrians. I don’t just represent downtown I live downtown. I would be happy to speak with you regarding downtown anytime. Please call 831-673-3366 if I can be of service. 

Carol Lenoir, District 1

Hollister City Council 

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