Proposed locations of traffic cameras. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.
Proposed locations of traffic cameras. Courtesy of the City of San Juan Bautista.

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During a six-hour meeting on Oct 18, the San Juan Bautista City Council alternately approved the installation of traffic surveillance cameras, opposed a plan to conduct a further study of the business community, postponed a decision on approving the proposed Urban Growth Boundary, and to reconsider their decision to remove the parklets by the end of the year.

Amy Cornell from the Flock Group gave a presentation to the council on a proposed surveillance camera system, which would monitor the city’s entrances and exits. Six cameras would be placed at various parts of the city, with two cameras at the intersection of the Alameda and Highway 156, and one camera each at the traffic circle on Lavagnino Road, the intersection of Monterey Street and Highway 156, at City Hall, and one at the water tower on Lausen Drive.

Cornell said the cameras are intended for gathering evidence and facts about vehicles through the capturing of license plate images to identify wanted vehicles or for use in crime solving. She said they would not be used for traffic enforcement. She added the cameras do not record any facial features and are not tied to any resource that would identify personal information.

According to her presentation, the system is widely used in the Northern California area, with systems currently set up locally in Hollister, Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Salinas. The initial cost of the system is $2,100 for installation and implementation and is leased for $18,000 annually with an initial two-year contract for a total cost of $38,100.

City Manager Don Reynolds asked whether the system could be used to identify trucks that are illegally using the city’s roadways. Cornell said it was possible, but it would require a specific policy decision on the part of the city.

Council Member Jackie Morris-Lopez shared her concerns over privacy and the amount of money being spent for what she characterized as a low level of criminal activity in town.

Mayor Leslie Jordan and council members E. J. Sabathia, Scott Freels and John Freeman voted to approve the system. Morris-Lopez abstained without citing a reason.

Following the vote, Amanda Elliot of Main Street America, a commercial district revitalization service, presented a proposal to provide a plan for improving the city’s business exposure. The “Main Street Four Point Approach” would map the city’s assets to identify ways of bolstering partnerships within the businesses and create transformational strategies to strengthen the economic future of the town. The program would run from Sept. 2023 through July 2024 and would cost $15,000.

While the city’s Economic Development Citizens Advisory Committee (EDCAC) currently has a membership with Main Street America, Elliot said that did not include the kind of strategic planning the proposed program would provide.

Morris-Lopez and Sabathia expressed their disappointment that Main Street America was proposing more planning rather than more tangible assistance. Jordan brought up how the Main Street America program had not stopped the city from losing three businesses over the course of the last year—the Hapa Bros, Chars Boutique, and Brewery Twenty-Five—that are appearing on an upcoming “Best of” list published by the Hollister Freelance.

During public comments, Fran Fitzharrris, co-owner of Brewery Twenty-Five, however, brought up the problems her business had in dealing with city staff in her efforts to expand in the city, which ultimately led to it closing operations in San Juan. 

“No one looked at our conditional use permit,” she said. “Nobody helped us, and we got harassed. We really need to get our house in order before we spend that kind of money.”

None of the council members brought the proposal to a vote, which ended consideration of the matter.

The next matter was the approval of the Urban Growth Boundary, which has been the subject of considerable work by an ad hoc committee appointed by the council. During public comment, it was brought up to the council that part of the Loayza property, which is slated for development, is not within the boundary. 

After proposing a friendly amendment to the plan that would resolve the issues, neither the amendment nor the approval of the plan was brought to a vote. The council then decided to bring the matter back for further discussion.

At the end of the meeting, Reynolds reintroduced the matter of the pending closure of the city’s parklets. A resolution passed at the April 18 council meeting, that was predicated on the loss of licensing for liquor sales within the parklets, would have forced their removal by Jan. 1, 2024. The recent passage of Assembly Bill 1217 extended the authorization for outdoor alcohol sales through July 1, 2026, which Reynolds said changed the situation enough for the council to consider allowing the parklets to remain.

In a followup comment to Benitolink, Reynolds said, “The council directed staff to return 11/14 council meeting with a resolution allowing parklets to remain until 2026 per the new law. Only for food and beverage. The retail parklets would still be scheduled to come down by 01/24.”

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