For Hollister Councilman Ray Friend, it’s about time to start moving dirt for development on the 400 block of San Benito Street.
Friend’s comments Monday were among the remarks from council members and residents in favor of developing the long-vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets in downtown Hollister next to the Briggs Building and Vault building owned by the mayor.
“After 30 years, I think it’s time to put shovels in the dirt,” Friend said at Monday’s meeting.
Council members in October 2017 approved placing the question on the ballot after a group of residents, in opposition to the proposal for a philanthropy center and mixed-use development, submitted a petition to stop the buildings from moving forward. The philanthropy center is meant to be the future home of the Community Foundation for San Benito County and other local nonprofits and will be funded by donation. The Del Curto Brothers development firm is handling the construction and was involved in pursuing the land purchase from the City of Hollister, which has owned the lot since the former redevelopment agency bought it following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Velazquez had led an effort to get enough signatures for placement of a referendum on the ballot. The council previously approved placement on the ballot, but also checked with the attorney general’s office for an opinion.
That 4-0 vote Monday to repeal the prior resolution to place the question on the ballot came after the state attorney general’s office issued an opinion stating that the matter did not belong on the November 2018 ballot.
An array of speakers talked on the matter, all of them in favor of the 400 block development.
Bob Tiffany, owner of Tiffany Ford and president of the San Benito County Business Council, said “it’s time that we move forward” and called it “a great project” when he spoke at the meeting.
“It’s not just a good project. It’s a great project,” he said, noting how it will support nonprofits with commercial and condos that are beneficial to downtown.
He said it never should’ve been headed to the ballot.
“It’s also going to revitalize downtown,” he said.
Phil Fortino, branch manager from the local Rabobank and chairman of the board for the Community Foundation, said these types of projects are coveted elsewhere.
“These are exactly the type of residents that you want to attract to the downtown area,” he said. d
Gordon Machado, owner of Rustic Turtle and a longtime active member of the nonprofit community, said there had been a push to bring back commercial to the spot since it was devastated in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Before the earthquake, there had been commercial buildings in the location.
Councilman Jim Gillio, who is running for District 4 county supervisor, noted how there have been longstanding plans to rebuild the 400 block and said there was “misinformation” out there on the matter.
Following the vote, the mayor took to social media to criticize other council members.
“The majority of the Hollister City Council (council members Jim Gillio, Mickie Luna, Karson Klauer, Ray Friend) have officially Voted to take away your right to Vote to keep the 400 Block from becoming a public plaza and instead turn it into Condos,” Velazquez wrote on his mayoral Facebook page.