The news came in hard and fast this year. The city started construction on its long overdue wastewater treatment facility, ensuring economic growth in the coming years. A San Juan Bautista company was linked to a nationwide E. coli outbreak that sickened 200 people and possibly caused three deaths. This year, Hollister learned an important lesson about its annual motorcycle invasion after attempting to cancel it. In November, voters rejected a measure that would have allowed developers of a proposed 4,400-home senior community to skirt local building caps, while another proposed large development remains on track. A few weeks later, Hollister broke ground on a new wastewater treatment plant that will allow development, stalled by a state moratorium, to resume. A June fire devastated the historic St. Francis Catholic Retreat, destroying priceless artwork and religious artifacts.
n Nationwide E. Coli Scare

The biggest news of 2006 came in September when spinach processed by Natural Selection Foods of San Benito County was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 200 people nationwide. Two elderly women and a 2-year-old boy died after eating the tainted spinach. Federal agents raided the company’s San Juan Bautista plant in October investigating suspected criminal violations of federal environmental laws. In the wake of the outbreak, local spinach growers were hit hard and 4.6 million pounds of spinach went unsold. Natural Selection Foods was also forced to lay off 164 seasonal employees several weeks earlier than planned. To date, no criminal charges have been filed.

n Hollister Voters Say No to Measure S

The Nov. 7 election featured the most expensive campaign in Hollister history. Final financial statements are still not available, but the most recent paperwork shows that the Yes-on-Measure-S campaign – funded largely by developer Pulte Homes – had spent $660,000 by the end of September. Their opponents, meanwhile, spent about $7,000. Pulte subsidiary Del Webb hoped to build a Sun City senior community of up to 4,400 homes in Hollister. Measure S would have exempted the project from the city’s annual 244-unit cap on building permits. The measure drew vocal support and opposition. In the end, however, Measure S was solidly defeated, 58 percent to 42 percent. Planning for another proposed big housing development, DMB’s El Rancho San Benito, which would bring nearly 7,000 new homes to San Benito County, is continuing.

n St. Francis Retreat Fire

St. Francis Catholic Retreat was devastated by a raging fire in late June that completely destroyed the Flint-Bixby House, which housed both the retreat offices and the living quarters for the friars. Several friars tried to put out the fire with garden hoses before help arrived. Officials believe the blaze was caused by old electrical wiring in the walls of the structure, but the fire burned so hot and so fast it is virtually impossible to be certain. Although firefighters and Franciscan brothers were able to save some of the artwork, crucifixes and religious artifacts housed in the building, hundreds more were consumed in the fire. Retreat staff hope the rebuilding process, which could cost anywhere between $3 million and $9 million, will be completed in two years.

n Sewage Treatment Plant Groundbreaking

Hollister took a big step toward lifting the state-imposed sewer moratorium that has brought local development to a standstill. On Dec. 5, the city broke ground on the long-awaited sewer treatment plant. Increased sewer rates and development impact fees are supposed to pay for the bonds that are funding the project. Both the construction contract and the bonds cost less than expected, and administrators said those savings will be passed along to residents. The city’s sewer woes started in 2002, after 15 million gallons of treated sewage spilled into the San Benito River. The state imposed a moratorium on new sewer connections, effectively halting new development. The moratorium will be lifted when the plant goes on line, which is scheduled for 2008.

n Independence Rally Canceled

Hollister’s famous motorcycle rally went back on the calendar for 2007 – but only after the City Council voted earlier this year to cancel the 2006 rally. In spite of the cancellation, tens of thousands of bikers rode into town over Fourth of July weekend, and the city had to foot the hefty public safety bill. The rally’s previous organizers declared bankruptcy in February, but then-Mayor Robert Scattini organized a new committee led by Johnny’s Bar and Grill owner Charisse Tyson. That group, in turn, has hired Santa Ynez-based Horse Power Promotions to run the event. The committee has agreed to pay for the city’s staffing costs – estimated at $382,000 – by March 31. Horse Power President Seth Doulton said his plans should improve both public safety and the rally’s financial benefit to the city.

n Gavilan Announces Satellite Campus in Hollister

In January the Gavilan College Board of Trustees voted to purchase land in San Benito County for a new satellite campus, with the intent that it would one day grow into a full-size community college complete with a library, performing arts space and athletic facility. An 85-acre plot adjacent to the Hollister Airport was identified as the preferred site for the new college, but many locals were concerned that this site would induce sprawl, hinder the future of the airport and deprive downtown Hollister of many economic and cultural resources it could desperately use. After forming a committee to work with local residents, Gavilan backed away from the airport site and began looking elsewhere in earnest. In early December, the college released a list of 16 possible sites throughout the county and promised to report back to the community with further updates early in the new year.

n Voters Reject Measure R, Cuts to Come

Hoping to avoid substantial service cuts, Hollister’s City Council placed a 1-percent sales tax increase on the Nov. 7 ballot. However, Hollister’s voters rejected Measure R 48 percent to 52 percent, and the city is currently wrestling with how to address a $2.7 million budget deficit. City Manager Clint Quilter’s recommendations, developed in conjunction with city staff, include a reduction in police staffing, the elimination of the fire department ladder truck/rescue company for one-third of the time and the closure of a number of city offices one day a week. Fire Chief Bill Garringer and others have warned that some of the cuts could threaten public safety. The council plans to vote on a deficit reduction plan in January.

n District Attorney Voted Out of Office

San Benito County District Attorney John Sarsfield was swept out of office in the June primary election after four years of very public problems in office. Sarsfield had survived two recall attempts during his tenure as district attorney, but lost to career prosecutor Candice Hooper by a wide margin in June. In March, after Sarsfield went over budget prosecuting the anonymous group Los Valientes, the Board of Supervisors held a public vote declaring that they had “no confidence” in his ability to carry out the duties of his office. Sarsfield’s heavily-publicized court battle with Los Valientes also came to an end this year, when a local judge removed him from the case.

n San Benito County Bids Farewell to Several Prominent Residents

Gary Goularte, a longtime mentor for San Benito High School students, died at age 54 in March after suffering a brain aneurysm. Goularte was known for his work in education as well as his talent for cooking and love of photography.

Ron Stubblefield, a former county supervisor, died suddenly at age 56 in May on the eve of the primary elections after apparently suffering a heart attack. Stubblefield took nearly 14 percent of the vote in the election. Stubblefield’s friends remembered him as loyal, kind and loving to his family.

Marley Holte, one of Hollister’s most recognizable philanthropists, died at age 80 in September. Holte was well known for his holiday dinners and for his work helping the homeless. Friends of Holte continued the dinners after his death with support from the community.

Dan Reed, mayor of San Juan Bautista, died at age 61 in November from complications stemming from a lung transplant. Reed had recently retired from the orchid industry. He is remembered for his dedication to the city and accessibility to his constituents.

Judith Rider, an educator and San Benito High School trustee, died at age 62 in November after a yearlong battle with cancer. Rider is remembered for her devotion to SBHS and was honored this year as a Community Hero by the Hollister Youth Alliance.

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