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December 4, 2023

Mayor defends his mural with item absent from meeting agenda

Hollister City Council members Monday held an extended discussion about appropriateness of the “HOLLISTER” mural recently painted on The Vault building downtown owned by the mayor.

The topic was absent from the city council meeting agenda, while the state open meetings law requires municipalities like Hollister to list items up for action or discussion. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, who owns The Vault and commissioned the mural at the heart of the discussion, took part in Monday’s discussion and led the council’s dialogue on the matter.

The topic came up during City Manager Bill Avera’s reports to the council when he asked for direction in response to questions that have arisen about whether to have building owners go through a public art review for such artwork. Avera clarified at the meeting and again Tuesday that there are no city laws regulating murals or paint colors on private properties like Velazquez’s building.

The matter caught Velazquez’s attention in the meeting when he realized the discussion Monday had been focused on his “HOLLISTER” mural painted across the side of The Vault visible from San Benito Street.

Velazquez during the meeting recalled a similar situation in the early 2000s when dealing with the city regarding a building he owned.

“I was not part of this government but I was dealing with a person who felt they knew what was best for my buildings,” he said, going on: “I do not want to be in a situation where we’re restricting property owners’ choices in some of their choices of colors.”

Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked if the city had guidelines on such issues, and Avera responded that such regulations affect properties that are publicly funded in a public right of way. Councilman Karson Klauer also chimed in and said he felt the city would “get ourselves in the weeds” if it started telling property owners how to paint on their buildings.

That’s when Velazquez got to the point about his building.

“We’re talking about the ‘HOLLISTER’ sign, is what we’re talking about,” he said.

The mayor then said at the open meeting how he’s always wanted a sign to showcase the city. He said he was inspired by a similar sign in Boston on a recent trip, when his children ran to the sign and wanted pictures with it, so he moved forward with the concept.

City council members Monday ended up dropping the notion of pursuing any restrictions for private property owners.

On Tuesday, Velazquez reacted to the idea that council members openly discussed a non-agendized item for several minutes, and that he took part in a consideration with a potential conflict since he owns the building under discussion. He said he had been caught off guard because he didn’t know the council would be discussing his property.

“The question should be, what were they really trying to say? If they’re trying to implement a policy for my building, say it,” Velazquez said.

He said if that happened, he would’ve stepped out of the conversation due to the conflict of interest, and added that San Benito Live is “absolutely right” in questioning why the item was not on the agenda.

‘This was just one of those weird things where I felt like someone hit me on the side of the head,” he said.

He said he knows the rules on murals because he’s looked into it before, and alleged city officials “change the rules depending on who they like and who they don’t like.”

Avera on Tuesday, however, reiterated how the city does not have an ordinance on the books relating to painting on private properties, and said it came up when a downtown church called to clarify whether there’s an ordinance regulating paint on its building.

Avera said with The Vault’s “HOLLISTER” concept, there are rules for signs but not murals on private properties.

“I think that although it’s text, I don’t know if we can actually call it a sign,” Avera said. “When we went through our ordinance and our policy on the mural, it didn’t really address private property owners paying for something to be painted on their building.”

In considering whether the council would want any further consideration, his intent Monday was to explore whether members wanted to place the question on a future agenda, not to hold an extended discussion.

“The idea was to just find out if they wanted it on agenda to discuss,” Avera said.

-Kollin Kosmicki