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Local officials discuss 2018 challenges, 2019 goals

The high-turnout November election brought new faces to local government, new faces are saying there is a willingness to collaborate internally and involve the community in decision making.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho at a 2017 board retreat. Photo by John Chadwell.
Supervisor-elect Jim Gillio at a Hollister City Council meeting. Photo by John Chadwell.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez. Photo by John Chadwell.
Hollister City Manager Bill Avera. Photo by John Chadwell.
San Juan Bautista City Councilman Dan De Vries at a 2018 meeting. Photo by Noe Magaña.
San Juan Bautista Mayor Cesar Flores at a 2018 candidate forum. Photo by Noe Magaña.
San Juan City Manager Michaele LaForge (right) follows up with Lab Technician and Water Operator for San Juan Bautista Luis Vasquez. Photo by Becky Bonner.

BenitoLink Staff Reporters Carmel de Bertaut and Noe Magaña contributed to this report.

In his opening remarks at the Dec. 11 San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Anthony Botelho covered some of the board’s accomplishments of 2018 and goals for 2019.

Botelho said he was proud of what the board was able to do and is happy about the election results that will bring change to the county, such as Highway 25 improvements made possible with the passage of Measure G in November.

The business tax will bring much-needed revenue to the county, Botelho said. He said he also believes “Cannabis might have potentially a very positive impact if we implement that ordinance carefully.”

Botelho also mentioned the county’s contract for energy with Engie, “which includes bringing energy-efficient lighting, improved HVAC systems in a number of buildings, and development of solar on county properties.”

Starting in January, a new iteration of the Board of Supervisors will begin tackling local issues. The new board will consist of Botelho, Mark Medina, Jaime De La Cruz, Peter Hernandez and Jim Gillio. Hernandez will take the seat of former supervisor and current State Assemblyman Robert Rivas, while Gillio will replace Jerry Muenzer.

Supervisor-elect Gillio told BenitoLink he reached out to different departments in the county government to learn about them and has met with several department heads.

“What I would like to do if if board is willing to do this is work with the cities and organizations to allocate funds for economic development,” Gillio said. He said he wants to work with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office to ensure public safety, and he would like to implement a classification study for county personnel to make sure that compensation is appropriate and job descriptions are accurate.

As the incoming supervisor for District 4, Gillio said he knows that solutions must be found for the county service area issues. He plans to meet with residents to determine their needs.
 

Hollister City Council

Looking back at 2018, Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and City Manager Bill Avera said there were several important accomplishments, and the biggest was the road rehabilitation program.

The city approved over $3 million for the projects in March, with $1.7 million funded by the California Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB 1).

“That was good to see that finally happen after working on it for several years,” Velazquez said.

Avera said the Fourth Street improvement project was important as well because it solved storm drain problems.

“People should really start to see the benefits of that particular project,” Avera said.

While Avera gave honorable mention to the McCarthy Park project, Velazquez said the election turnout was particularly important for the city because voters voiced their opinions through their vote on what path they want Hollister to take.

Among those elected to the City Council was Marty Richman, who now represents District 4. He said the biggest challenge for the city in 2018 was the public. Although Richman has not held an elected position prior to winning his council seat in November, he has been present at council meetings for years.

“When you do meetings that focus on resolutions, the wording is clumsy, what’s going on is clumsy, but you’re stuck with it,” Richman said. “When you do projects and programs you can talk to the audience and tell them this is what we are trying to do.”

Richman said educating the public on legal requirements, taxes, and how funds are used requires having a third meeting a month, which he proposed at the last council meeting of the year.

Velazquez said the biggest challenge facing the city was growth.

“I was very disappointed throughout the year that so many projects were being approved without paying attention to what the public was saying to us,” Velazquez said. “The most disappointing though was the council refusing the public’s request to vote on the 400 block.”

Velazquez led a fight against the sale of the 400 block through a petition signed by 2,465 residents. The petition asked the council to place the sale decision on the November ballot in order to let the voters decide.

Despite the mayor’s efforts, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on April 27 that the resolution could not be subject to referendum.

To Avera, it was continuing to deal with the new cannabis industry. The challenge was setting high standards for the people that wanted to do business in the city while keeping up with constantly changing state regulations.

“That was an interesting component of this year,” Avera said.

In 2019, Velazquez said he hopes to get the community to voice their opinions on how Hollister should be managed. In order to do that, he said, there is a plan to hold a citywide town hall meeting in January so that elected officials and community members can set common goals.

“When the public feels like you are listening they want to be involved,” Velazquez said. “When they feel like they are being ignored they just stop participating. And when they stop participating we start the process of failing as a community.”

Richman said the 2019 goal is getting through as many projects as possible, which is why he suggested a third meeting every month.

“We need more meetings with the idea that some of them will be dedicated to programs and projects rather than routine maintenance like paying bills,” Richman said. “Without the program and projects portion we’re not going to make any headway.”

However, the challenge with that is balancing the budget, Richman said.

“If money was unlimited, getting proper staffing would not be a problem,” Richman said. “Money is never unlimited so it’s always a problem.”

Richman added that the base of professional staff allows Hollister to demand that work be done right and on time.

One challenge the city faces is finding resources to maintain the growing number of parks.

“We have a pretty small parks and streets crew and just making sure that we continue to have at least that level of service . . . because the number of parks are just rising,” Avera said. He added that it’s easier to obtain funding to construct a park, usually through grants, than it is to find revenue to maintain them.

Avera said other services like police, fire, water and sewer are in really good shape and he doesn’t foresee any immediate needs.

 

San Juan Bautista City Council

The past year has been eventful for San Juan Bautista with the hiring of a new city manager, controversial developments and dealing with contaminated water.

Newly appointed Mayor Cesar Flores and two-year Councilman Dan De Vries said the best thing for San Juan was having new people in charge who can collaborate to ensure the success of the city.

“I think that the greatest accomplishment of 2018 was this town transitioning out of an era dominated by the previous city manager Roger Grimsley and into a new era with a new council, a new city manager and getting things a little bit back under control,” De Vries said.

Michaele LaForge was promoted to city manager in April, replacing Edward Tewes, who had been interim city manager since September 2017.

Grimsley, who served as city manager and city engineer, resigned in August 2017 after concerns about his handling of the Rancho Vista housing development.

LaForge was hired by the city in December 2017 as assistant city manager before being promoted.

“I think the current city manager, to the extent that we can all collaborate on our efforts moving forward, will ensure our success,” De Vries said.

Finding a new city manager turned out to be one of the many challenges the council faced while overseeing two developments, Copperleaf and Rancho Vista, but De Vries said there was no bigger issue than solving the water problem. Water remedies have been implemented, De Vries said, but he looks forward to developing even better ones in 2019.

San Juan Bautista faced water contamination in 2014 and 2017 with high levels of nitrates in Well Two, but could not explain why it occurred.

Water can be contaminated through groundwater movement and surface water seepage from nitrates in chemical fertilizers, human sewage and animal waste and fertilizers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As for 2019, both Flores and De Vries said they want to focus on attracting more businesses into the historic downtown area.

“I think the new council wants to bring in more life to the town,” Flores said. “Make some more events and try to bring in new businesses to liven up the town.”

De Vries said it was wrong to think of residential growth as a way to increase revenue. He said it was the “sustained viability with our merchants in our historic district” that will bring in revenue to the city.

Along with attracting businesses, Flores said the city also has to keep working on the projects that are underway like water, streets and public safety.

LaForge did not respond to requests for an interview.

 

 

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