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Candidates gathered at VFW Hall in San Juan Bautista on Oct. 5 for a public forum in which they answered questions from the public and gave their stance on issues affecting the city. The forum was hosted by the San Juan Bautista Ad Hoc Committee and was moderated by Kristina Chavez-Wyatt, president and owner of FarmHouse Communications.

In attendance were the candidates for two available seats on the city council: Incumbents Rick Edge and Robert Lund and newcomers John Freeman and Dan De Vries. Also in attendance were candidates for the city clerk position: Connie Schobert and Yolanda Delgado. The unopposed candidate for the city treasurer position, Chuck Geiger, was not in attendance but did provide a written statement.

Each candidate gave a three-minute opening statement. De Vries introduced himself by saying he has lived in San Juan Bautista for the past 20 years. His law practice, De Vries Law Group, operates out of San Juan Bautista. He said he believes there needs to be more taxes on new developments and a limit on residential growth.

“Urban sprawl is not the way to go,” he said. “It’s time to turn that around.

Current Mayor Rick Edge told the audience that he worked for the Free Lance newspaper for about a year before marrying and moving to San Benito County. In 1990, his family settled in San Juan Bautista. He has had several jobs, including working for the Hollister Police Department, AAA in Gilroy, and as a real estate agent. When the recession hit, Edge said he went into security because of his law enforcement background. He now works as the director of Security at Menlo College in Atherton. He has served as a city council member for the past 10 years. 

Candidate John Freeman, chairman of the San Juan Bautista Strategic Planning Committee for the past two years, said he is running for several reasons. 

“One: I think our growth has become more unbalanced. Two: we do not pay enough attention to our children, we don’t offer them enough places to play on weekends and after school. Three: we need to do a better job on maintaining and improving our infrastructure. And four: our city hall is not transparent enough.”

Incumbent Robert Lund, who has been on the city council for the past four years, has lived in San Juan Bautista for 13 years and has been a part of the fire committee, intergovernmental committee, a member of the water board and San Juan’s representative to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District.

“We’ve made great strides over the last four years…we have paid down our debt, we’ve paid our invoices, we are in such a positive growth right now,” he said. 

Candidates for the city clerk position — Delgado and Schobert — also gave their opening statements. Delgado has worked for the United States Post Office for the past 17 years as a mail delivery clerk, an operations manager, branch manager and has also worked at FedEx.

“The reason why I’m getting involved,is” she said. “is because I care about this town.”

Appointed incumbent Connie Shobert said she has an associate’s degree in education and a bachelor’s in psychology. She said she has developed and built the new website for the city where she hopes to show a level of transparency. She has plans to attend California State University, Northridge to obtain a degree in public administration.

After the opening statements, Chavez-Wyatt asked the each of the candidates two questions selected by the San Juan Bautista Ad Hoc Committee. The first regarded an ordinance on business franchises within the city. 

De Vires said it was something he was very passionate about and in fact one of the main reasons he was running for city council. He said that small businesses are part of the charm of San Juan Bautista.  

“I feel adamantly about protecting our small local organic businesses,” he said. “If we allow the franchise businesses to come in, they’re going to directly take money out of the pockets of the people who have been here for generations.”

Edge seconded De Vries’ statement and added, “formula businesses are not what San Juan is all about. We don’t need any more of that.” 

“We will never have a McDonald’s here, we will never have a Starbucks here,” he continued. “These people all look at the numbers of the area, what kind of sales they can generate. The reason why a smaller town like Gilroy can has all the things they have is because of the daytime population and the number of people that drive through that town. We don’t have that here.”

Freeman said he was also a proponent of small businesses, saying they are the heart and soul of the city. He thinks there needs to be some small changes to let some businesses into the city without hurting those already in place. “We need to let in the Ace Hardware without litigation. We need to let in a bank, because all banks are chains and we need a bank here really bad. We need certain businesses that are considered chains and we need them here now,” he said.

Robert Lund said he was glad all the candidates were on the same page about small businesses. “When I’m walking downtown, I feel like a kid again with all the mom and pop shops,” he said. 

Chavez-Wyatt asked the next question, first to Edge: “ What are three businesses that you believe the city should be actively courting to help increase both tourist traffic and also businesses to help service the residents that live here? What ideas do you have for attracting and accommodating those businesses for investment in our community?

Edge said that for any kind of development that comes, whether it be a subdivision of homes or a business, studies should be done to see if they will be able to make a profit. 

“We haven’t turned anything down, nobody has come to us to put any of these businesses in,” he said. “Of course, we would get them if they decided to come in, but it has to start with the developers and businessmen. They have to be able to make a profit or they won’t be able to stay in business.”

Freeman said he would like to see breweries and wineries and another hotel that is cheaper than Leál on a per-night basis. “I think we need to really just try and get those types of businesses. Attract those and we’ll have a really vibrant downtown,” he said. 

Lund said he would like to see more cultured restaurants come in to give everyone more variety. He also said there needs to be more focus on downtown and keeping those businesses open longer. 

De Vires listed some ideas of what he would like to see in the city including: a San Juan Organics Festival, reopening the Plaza Hotel and establishing Pinnacles State Park visitors center in San Juan Bautista.

Next, the candidates were asked a series of questions solicited by the public. The first question asked was: Have you viewed the staff reports and environmental reviews of the housing proposal currently under consideration by the city?

Freeman was the first to answer. “We now have about 117 approved. That’s probably enough for right now,” he said. “The state wants a 3 percent growth by the year; that’s 17 homes per year. I’m not sure the town can keep up with it in terms traffic and everything, until we can get a few of the problems with our infrastructure worked out.”

Lund said the growth rate is small and that not all of the housing projects have been approved. “What we have proposed is not set in stone. It’s not like one day you’re going to wake up and there’s 117 houses,” he said.

De Vries said, “We can not satiate; we can not fulfill. You need to have a limit. If you don’t have a limit, there are no limits.“

Edge said that even though the city has had housing developments built about which he didn’t agree with at first, but there have been people who live in those homes who have contributed to the community. 

Chavez-Wyatt asked the next question: Do you believe the city currently has enough resources such as water, infrastructure, treatment plant capacity, adequate policing, security, and city staff to efficiently service the community at its current population?

Lund said that as for resources, what is in place is adequate and the city is prepared for what is coming. He added that the city is understaffed.

De Vries said he doesn’t feel like the city has adequate infrastructure. “Look at the roads, look at the water. All that we hear is that we’re gonna. These things need to be put in place first,” he said.

Edge said, “All of the things that we are talking about here is already in the works.” He added that the top priorities are to get Well 4 and Well 5 operational to take care of the city’s high water nitrates problem solved.

The public also asked about extracurricular activities and the relationship between the school district and the city.

All council members agreed that there needed to be more such activities for the youth and city officials need to continue to work on a relationship with the school district to get the facilities open for public use.

Lastly, the candidates gave their closing statements. De Vries said, “The choice that the citizens of San Juan Bautista have this election year is a pretty clear one. If the citizens like what they’re seeing in town, or they like the idea of this city growing into Gilroy or Hollister or San Jose, vote for the incumbents. If you think that’s not our heritage, that’s not our future, that’s not the direction we need to go, then make a change.”

Lund said, “We do not want to see housing because we only have a small circle to build on and once it’s built its done. My goal is to work with downtown and get these businesses open longer and figure out why these buildings that have been vacant for so long, why they’re not occupied. They are in the historical part of the city and they need to be open.”

Freeman said he feels like there needs to be more transparency between city managers and the public, there needs to be more commercial development, and an increase cooperation with other governmental agencies.

Edge said, “One of the nice things about being a challenger is that you can look at all of the things that are wrong and point the finger and say you can do things differently. One of the bad things about being an incumbent is that you have to stand on the record of what has been done already. The are the priorities the city has right now — water well number 4, the water treatment plant, water well number 5, wastewater treatment pond sludge removal — if you think we should drop all of that and try to do some of these other projects, when do we find the time?”