This public letter was contributed by Dan Floriani. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions.
Dear Mr. Velazquez: Anywhere, anyplace, anytime.
I’ve sat back quietly and watched for nearly two years as you spewed lies about my family’s property in San Benito County and I’m not going to take it anymore. As you know, for over 40 years my family has owned the ranch at the north end of the county where we are proposing the Strada Verde project. A project that preserves hundreds of acres of productive agricultural land, creates two biological preserves totaling more than 500 acres, a 3+ mile multi-use trail along the Pajaro River that would be open to the public, educational opportunities and countless jobs. What it doesn’t allow? Housing. It specifically prohibits housing. Can you hear me? Is that clear enough?
It blows my mind you continue to get on Facebook and send out smiling posts telling the citizens of Hollister an endless stream of lies. I can no longer sit back and allow that to continue. So, if you want to debate this in public, I’m all for it. I’m not a politician, I have no debate experience but I’m willing to do this because I’m not going to let you continue this disservice to my family or the citizens of this county. I’ve heard recently that you publicly stated you don’t want to debate me and honestly now I can see why.
You continue to say the citizens of this county already voted down this project through Measure N. No they didn’t. They voted down what they thought was a giant housing project in disguise…because you told them it was. I know because we’ve talked to the citizens.
Did they vote against having a 500+ acre preserve with more than 3+ miles of publicly accessible trails along the Pajaro River? No way. We have owned this property for countless years and I suspect less than 1% of the county population has even seen the river. I want to change that. We’ve worked for years with our on-site farmers and countless volunteers to clean up the Pajaro. Steelhead were seen swimming up the river this year for the first time in 40 years! That should be celebrated and it should be seen by the public so we continue to keep it that way.
Did they vote against keeping hundreds of acres of productive farmlands? No way. Our site is 2700 acres, but we can only farm +/- 650 acres of it now because the vast majority of the property does not grow any crops. Come see for yourself. We will preserve hundreds of acres of the best farmland and allow for research teams to come in and study how we can all provide food for the world while using less water and less chemicals. Did I say less water? Yes, even at full build out of our proposed project it will use 50% LESS water than the farm does today.
Did they vote against having local jobs? Not a chance. 65% of the residents in Hollister leave the county to provide for their families. That creates way more traffic, leaves them less time to spend with their families, doesn’t allow for many of them to even see their kids sporting events, and ensures daytime retail dollars are spent outside of this county, meaning no taxes for roads, schools, fire and police. Our project restricts all public access off Highway 25 yet simultaneously creates millions of dollars to improve it. Our project will provide countless jobs for the county across all spectrums of the working world. If you have a high school degree, there are jobs here. If you have a technical degree, there are jobs here. If you have a college degree, there are jobs here. And if you have a masters of engineering degree, you have jobs here.
Did they vote against educational opportunities for their children? I doubt it. We have partnered with local high schools and colleges to create further educational partnerships and career pathway programs to help benefit the children of these communities. And the taxes generated from this project? Millions a year will go to fund the county’s schools. There’s a reason why those schools all support our vision.
Are the people of Hollister against us spending $25 million to improve Veterans Memorial Park? No way. It’s an amazing amenity for the community but we all know it can be better. We are proposing to do that all without a single tax payer dollar. We are going to fund it entirely ourselves. It’s not anywhere near our property, but we talked to countless community members to see what was important to them and we listened. And we stand behind it. Were you planning on miraculously funding that yourself?
Mr. Velazquez, please stop using your bully pulpit to spread lies that this is a housing project. You know it’s a lie. You are using that narrative to create fear and to control your residents. And congratulations, it’s worked quite well for a while.
But please stop spreading lies that we are now “buying” the votes of the county supervisors. We have not donated one penny to a single county supervisor nor any mayoral candidate running against you. Not a penny. Is that clear enough? You are doing my family and the supervisors a great disservice by spreading this lie and it is slanderous (a legal term you might want to look up right about now.) It’s easily verifiable…so stop acting like you don’t actually know the truth. Do you see me on Facebook telling people who is secretly funding you behind the scenes? Nope. That’s called fear mongering, a technique you use quite well. I prefer instead to stay grounded in the truth and inspire people. Because this community deserves better.
I have nothing against you Mr. Velazquez. I don’t know you personally because you’ve turned down countless offers for us to come meet with you and discuss this. But your reign of having my family sit quietly while you disparage us is over. I’m a 47 year old father of three, who grew up roaming around this property. Residents of this community remember me walking around getting pie at the local shops with my Dad. I brought my 3 children to the Strada Verde Information Center this last weekend and they left inspired and wanting to learn more about how they could help. My 10-year-old is now writing a paper for his school about how autonomous vehicles can reduce traffic, improve quality of life and improve the environment. My 13-year-old asked me point blank why you were lying to the community about the project? I had no answer. Their actions and words inspired me to finally take a stand and write this open letter to you. As a parent, I now know I need to do everything in my power to make sure we don’t sit back and tolerate fear mongering. We need to lead our children by example.
So, my offer stands. Anywhere, anyplace, anytime and we can let the residents of this community decide.
Citizens, you all deserve to vote as you see fit. It’s the democratic process and I firmly believe in it. But find the information yourselves, do not rely on smiling, conspiracy Facebook posts. If you believe in any of what I said above, please stand with my family to vote firmly against Measure R and Measure Q…which, by the way, are ironically both massively funded by companies outside of this community. Those people who walked around the town gathering your signatures? They are all paid to do that and none of them live in San Benito County. Go find out for yourselves.
Citizens of this community…if you have questions or comments or want to reach out to me feel free to stop by the Strada Verde Information Center (354 1st St Hollister, CA 95023) and find out for yourselves. You at least deserve to know the truth.