On May 16, the San Juan Bautista City Council approved a $18.7 million water agreement with the city of Hollister. City Manager Don Reynolds announced that the project to divert the city’s wastewater to the Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hollister is firmly on track with several important goals now completed or in the process of completion.
Detailing the steps forward, he mentioned a well-attended pre-bid meeting with contractors on May 11, final permits received from Caltrans, formal approval from the federal Risk Management Agency for the use of county roads, and completed negotiations for agreements with the city of Hollister on easements for the necessary pipelines and to accept the San Juan’s waste.
“We are in step with Hollister on this agreement,” Reynolds said.
The inability of San Juan’s own treatment plant to sufficiently process the city’s waste resulted in a letter from the California State Water Resources Control Board delivered in June 2019 detailing over $800,000 in fines from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Reynolds, who became city manager in July 2019, has made resolving the city’s water problems his top priority and announced in December 2022 that the project to link San Juan with Hollister’s plant has been fully funded.
Two resolutions were submitted by Reynolds, both seeking to approve agreements with the city of Hollister prior to committing to an estimated $18.7 million construction contract.
The first resolution finalized, for a term of 40 years, Hollister’s acceptance of San Juan’s domestic wastewater under the condition that San Juan bears the costs of the 7-mile pipeline to the Hollister plant, including maintenance and operation of the pipeline. There is also a one-time connection fee of $2.5 million and then $47,000 per month. In return, Hollister agrees to accept up to 1.2 million gallons of waste per day. Currently, San Juan treats 160,000 gallons per day.
The agreement, which was passed by a unanimous vote of the council, will be submitted to the Hollister City Council for approval and, if it passes, will be followed by an agreement with the San Benito County Water District.
A second resolution, seeking an easement for the construction of the pipelines, was also passed unanimously. In his manager’s report, Reynolds mentioned that the two cities are meeting regarding a secondary project, which would lay a broadband conduit in parallel to the sewer line during construction.
The council voted unanimously to refer section 11-04-030 of the zoning ordinance to the city Planning Commission, to address issues such as bringing in outdoor on-site sales of food or merchandise.
The ordinance had been used recently as the basis of citations issued to the Hapa Bros. food truck, which sparked intense debate within the community during the April 11 Planning Commission meeting.
In his request, Assistant City Manager Brian Foucht acknowledged a similar discussion at the May 2 commission meeting, which he characterized as the public thinking that “the ordinance is restrictive rather than enabling” and asked the commission to consider whether the code should be amended.
Councilmember John Freeman referred to the ordinance as “bizarre” and in need of being reconsidered and divided into several separate pieces. Planning Commissioners Dan De Vries and Jose Aranda attended via Zoom to say they believed the ordinance needed review for possible changes.
Saying he thought that Reynolds and Foucht had been brutalized over the issue, former mayor Chris Martorana said that he thought the enforcement was not necessarily wrong but that he thought the way it was undertaken was problematic.
“They have been coming at it from a purely legal standpoint,” he said. “I think the approach was inappropriate for the town and that the timing was inappropriate. I would suggest they back off and take some time to understand what is going on in the community.”
Several speakers urged the council to suspend enforcing the ordinance that deals with outdoor on-site sales of food or merchandise until the Planning Commission had reviewed it, which led to members asking City Attorney Bob Rathie if they could amend the referral to include such a suspension, suggesting at one point for 120 days.
Rathie, quoting from the agenda entry on the ordinance, said that it would not be possible to suspend it as there could have been no way that the public, prior to attending the meeting, could have known that such a motion was going to be offered, thus no opportunity for public comment.
Foucht pointed out that suspending the ordinance would not allow the Code Enforcement Department to uphold any part of the ordinance, which covered other vital zoning regulations beyond those the merchants thought were over-enforced.
Earlier in the meeting, a proposal by Reynolds to seek a $113,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would need to be matched by the city to renovate Abbe Park, failed to pass after councilmember Scott Freels pulled the item from the consent agenda for discussion.
Freels cited his concerns that the historic nature of the park, currently home to a Little League field, a T-ball field and picnic tables, would be irrevocably changed by the addition of a Tot Lot, which he described as “a multicolored plastic playground in center field.”
Public comment was uniformly opposed to the grant, echoing the concerns that Freels raised, and included that of San Juan Bautista Historical Society president Wanda Guibert, who said the land had been deeded to the city in perpetuity by the Abbe family on the condition that it remain a baseball field and, if that should change, the land would revert back to the family.
With no council member making a motion to bring the agreement to a vote, the proposal failed.
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