Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez this week requested the city place an item on an upcoming agenda to discuss his idea for a residential building moratorium.
Since the mayor lacks support on the council, with three of five members openly against the idea, he said he would consider pursuing a voter initiative on the matter.
Velazquez, who has been outspoken against growth for several years, wants the council to discuss a self-imposed ban on any residential construction, he said Monday and again following the meeting.
The move would starkly contrast the governor’s wishes for Hollister and other California jurisdictions to make sure they are building enough housing to meet continually growing demand. Opponents are concerned such a move would also rekindle dark economic times for a city that spent six years in a state-imposed building moratorium after a 2002 sewer spill of 15 million gallons into the San Benito River.
“If we can’t come up with something, I’m going to have to go out and get an initiative put together,” Velazquez said after his comments in the council meeting.
It would appear that’s the only possible route for Velazquez since council members Carol Lenoir, Marty Richman and Honor Spencer are against his idea. All three spoke to San Benito Live and confirmed they would oppose it, while Councilman Rolan Resendiz, also outspoken against the city’s rate of growth, said he would support it.
Richman was blunt in his assessment.
“I think the idea of a moratorium is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” Richman said Tuesday. “Because even if you never put in a new person here, not a single one, we graduate 700 people from high school every year.”
Some go off to school but others stay, he noted.
“If you want the families to stay together, you have to have a place for people to live, even if it’s only apartments.”
Resendiz used similar verbiage, but to describe the other side’s viewpoint after claiming consultants have “infested” the local political process.
“I think it’s stupid to grow like that in such an extreme manner without maintaining the basic infrastructure in our community,” he said.
Resendiz said the majority of council members and county supervisors have “bought into this facade” created by outside interests who wine and dine with elected officials. He said those elected officials should instead answer to the public. He said he would support a residential building moratorium in the city and county.
“Just because they’re not there like these cockroaches at every meeting, in every little board, in every little situation to try and fulfill their own interests, that doesn’t mean policies won’t negatively impact the public,” Resendiz said.
Victor Gomez, a former Hollister councilman and mayor, often speaks at local government meetings as a land-use consultant for Pinnacle Strategy. Gomez said he wasn’t surprised by Velazquez’s comments and that the mayor has tried to portray himself as wanting to merely slow down growth.
“Now, finally, the truth comes out,” Gomez said. “It’s been something he’s been wanting to do, I think, since he got elected.”
Gomez said such a self-imposed building moratorium is illegal because it would require an emergency situation. He surmised several entities would sue the city including the state, the builders’ association and himself.
He also believes an initiative would immediately be deemed illegal. If, somehow, the mayor found a way to move ahead on an initiative, Gomez thinks it would have an adverse impact on the economy. He predicted if it happened, interested tenants for the new shopping center off the Highway 25 bypass would back out.
Lenoir, who has been around growth issues as a planning commissioner and now a councilwoman, also expressed concerns about the perception. She said the city is making headway on commercial and industrial development. She’s worried if those entities hear about the mayor’s move, it might affect prospects for new businesses.
“I really don’t think a self-imposed moratorium is the right tool for managing growth,” Lenoir said.
She added the city is headed toward a new growth management ordinance and how she’s comfortable with affordable housing elements.
“Having gone through that other moratorium, it just doesn’t do anybody any good,” she said.
Spencer is relatively new to the council scene but has a firm stand on the mayor’s idea.
“I am opposed to a complete moratorium,” she said. “I’m opposed to a moratorium, period. I think that it’s dangerous for our community, for our economic development.”
She also mentioned Velazquez stating numerous times he wants smart growth. She said a moratorium would “kill economic development” locally and hurt the city’s ability to provide services.
“How are we going to do smart growth if we have a moratorium?” she said. “I don’t understand.”
But Velazquez remains defiant. His latest move is on the heels of the mayor hiring a law firm and threatening the city over plans to develop the 400 block of San Benito Street grassy plot next to The Vault building he owns. Velazquez has long supported other ideas for the lot such as a performing arts center, but in recent times has said he wants to keep it open for the public.
The mayor, however, said he has talked over and over about implementing smart growth with no results.
“In the meantime, all these people are trying to get their applications in while the stall is going on,” he said. “It’s out of control already.”
Velazquez said he would envision a moratorium until the city can update its general plan, a process that can take many months, if not years. He said some city officials are “dragging their feet” on the update.
“The general plan is pretty flawed,” he said. “That’s why all this craziness is going on.”