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Jumping for joy... Ed Wong

NEW BALER FIELDS San Benito High School cheerleaders lead a celebration of the new athletic complex for football, softball and swimming, completed in August. PAGE 6B

Learning from the past

Robert Eliason

150 YEARS San Juan Bautista residents wear period costumes from past generations in a rousing celebration of the mission city’s 150th anniversary. PAGE 4B




SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

Cannabis booming in county CONSULTANT: COUNTY A ‘TRAILBLAZER’ IN STATE Erik Chalhoub

Magazine and Business Editor

Erik Chalhoub

San Benito County could be reaping the benefits of its newest cash crop in the next several years while other neighboring jurisdictions are shunning it. The cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista, along with the County of San Benito, have all adopted ordinances allowing commercial cannabis operations in their respective jurisdictions, with each having their own requirements. Victor Gomez of Pinnacle Strategy, who helps cannabis businesses navigate city approval processes, said Hollister has received about 50 applications for various cannabis businesses since the council approved its ordinance in December 2016. “Hollister was a trailblazer when it comes to policy development and ordinance adoption,” said Gomez, a former Hollister mayor. “They came on board really early.” On June 3, the Hollister City Council voted to allow recreational cannabis to be sold in the city, adopting a new ordinance that removed the word “medical.” At an April 22 council meeting, City Manager Bill Avera told the council that the city was “breaking even” on cannabis revenues. Maria Mendez, cannabis affairs manager for the city, previously estimated that with recreational and medical sales, the city could collect $5.5 million annually in fees. Hollister charges a 5 percent tax on gross sales for various types of cannabis uses, such as dispensaries or grows. The state collects a 15 percent excise tax from dispensaries, as well as a 7.25 percent sales tax.

CANNABUSINESS Genesis Marketplace General Manager Chris Joynt shows some of the products offered at the new dispensary on Shelton Drive. While the city only allows two dispensaries (one of which, Genesis Marketplace on Shelton Drive, is operational), there is no limit on the number of other types of cannabis licenses that can be issued. According to Hollister’s ordinance, cannabis businesses can only operate in five zoning districts with various setback requirements, such as 600 feet from a school and 150 feet from residences. About 34 cannabis businesses, ranging from cultivation to manufacturing facilities, are

proposed in Hollister and in various stages of approval. Hollister might seem more welcoming than neighboring jurisdictions to businesses looking to set down roots. The City of Gilroy prohibits all commercial cannabis activity, as does unincorporated Santa Clara County. The Morgan Hill Planning Commission on Aug. 27, meanwhile, recommended the city council approve a cannabis ordinance that would allow retail

sales, manufacturing and more. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance in October. Morgan Hill voters in 2018 approved taxing cannabis businesses if they subsequently were allowed in the city. Cannabis’ cousin, hemp, is also finding a home here. Following the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill in December, which made it federally legal to grow the crop in the U.S. for the first time in roughly half a century, San Benito County

Agricultural Commissioner Karen Overstreet said her office has been receiving “a lot of inquiries” about growing hemp. “One of the reasons why the county is getting a lot of interest is because 50 percent of the state is not allowing it at this time,” she said. “That drives them to the various counties that are allowing it.” One of the largest hemp operations in the state is planned for San Benito County, after the Board ➝ Cannabis, 13


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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

San Juan’s heart is its mission STATE PARK LIES IN CENTER OF 150-YEAROLD CITY Jaqueline McCool Reporter

File Photo

STATE PARK The San Juan Bautista mission is the focal point for visitors to the historic city in San Benito County. structures’ historical past while in character. Vizcaino said all of the theatrics “give visitors a cohesive story.” There have been times that San Juan Bautista has been overlooked, Vizcaino admits. In 1870, Vizcaino said San Juan Bautista became a ghost town following the creation of surrounding freeways. People no longer moved to the small rural community. Its deep history was overlooked for bustling cities.

Despite an economic downturn in the city, it was this random act of fate that Vizcaino said ended up preserving the precious history of San Juan Bautista. In the 1930s, several remaining family members of the historic families of San Juan Bautista banded together to get the structures recognized by the state and protected. In 1968, the buildings and surrounding area were designated as a historic state park.

Vizcaino sees San Juan Bautista’s story as part of a larger tapestry that explains the past and the future of the state. “The history of San Juan Bautista State Park is the history of California,” Vizcaino said. That’s why Vizcaino sees his role as important; he informs people of San Juan Bautista’s unique place in the story of California: “San Juan Bautista was the crossroads of California.”

Robert Eliason

Over the past 10 years, Marcos Vizcaino has seen San Juan Bautista change. He’s watched as new families have moved in to escape the daily hustle of Silicon Valley and he’s watched businesses pop up throughout the downtown. Vizcaino’s job stays the same—to focus on the part of San Juan that never changes, the San Juan State Historic Park. Vizcaino is the lead interpreter for the park— he organizes tours with fourth-grade classes around the area and acts as the primary guide for explaining the park’s historic structures. Within an hour, Vizcaino can take someone through the entire history of the park. Off of the top of his head he can recite the history of each building on the site; the Castro/Breene Adobe, the Plaza Hotel, Plaza Hall/ Zanetta House and the Plaza Stable. Vizcaino helps to create the park theme and any events—this includes this year’s 150th anniversary of San Juan Bautista and “living history Saturdays,” which take place the first Saturday of every month. Actors are spread throughout historic San Juan Bautista, where they tell stories of the

EXPERT TOUR GUIDE Park ranger Marcos Vizcaino leads visitors on fact-filled tours of the San Juan Bautista State Park.

An enchanting 51st season!

Cinderella Steel Magnolias Rock of Ages Cabaret Beauty and the Beast

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019






SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

Gavilan marks 100 years

Tarmo Hannula

Hundreds of Gavilan College students, faculty and supporters, past and present, gathered at the college’s Gilroy campus in September to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Guests of the sold-out gala took a nostalgic stroll down Sycamore Lane, where stations were themed to each decade featuring food, wine, music and more. The gala kicked off a year of events that will be themed to Gavilan’s centennial celebration. Voters in San Benito and Santa Clara County last November approved Bond Measure X for Gavilan College with 57 percent of the districtwide vote. This authorized the community college district to issue up to $248 million in bonds at an estimated tax rate of $0.02 per $1000 in assessed property value to fund facility construction and upgrades. Fifty-five percent of the vote, districtwide, was needed to pass. The vote totals were: San Benito County, 51.3 percent Yes; Santa Clara County, 59.9 percent Yes.

Strike up the band The San Benito High School marching band led the way in an August celebration and open house for the new high school athletic complex in Hollister. Community groups, athletic teams, parents and school organizations attended the official grand opening of the state-of-theart San Benito High School stadium, aquatics center and softball field, and toured the entire complex, which was completed after 13 months of construction. The athletic parking lot features a new “Home of the Haybalers” sign. The complex was funded by a bond approved by school district voters.

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

Ostriches offer new option BIG BIRDS, OTHER ANIMALS ON SITE Erik Chalhoub

Magazine and Business Editor

Erik Chalhoub

The Gilroy Ostrich Farm, the only such farm dedicated to the world’s largest birds on the Central Coast, celebrated its grand opening in August. Dan Nelson, a Morgan Hill-based entrepreneur, is the founder of the Gilroy Ostrich Farm, located on Pacheco Pass Highway near the intersection of San Felipe Road. He purchased the 114-acre property in 2018 to embark on a quest to bring the African native birds to not only the South Valley and San Benito communities, but to the state as a whole. The venue is not only new to the region—the two closest ostrich farms are in Los Angeles and Solvang—but for Nelson himself. “It’s a really new venture for me,” he said. “I’m spending a lot of time learning the behavior of ostriches.” Ostriches can grow to 9 feet tall and weigh more than 300 pounds. While they can’t fly, somehow they can run more than 40 mph. And the round, gangly, yet muscular bird can live for roughly 50 years. Nelson has a simple description for these unique-looking animals. “They’re beautiful birds,” he said. After a year of preparation, the farm has opened to much fanfare: Nelson

said people have been visiting from all over the state to witness these gigantic birds in person. “People seem to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s been getting busy.” The farm is open Friday through Monday, 10am-5pm for self-guided tours, weather permitting. Guided tours for groups of 10 or more people are also available. Although its name may suggest otherwise, the Gilroy Ostrich Farm is not just ostriches. The property also houses alpacas, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs. Nelson said the plan is to add miniature horses and cows in the near future. A completely remodeled barn near the entrance to the farm serves as a farm stand, where guests can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as well as hollow ostrich eggs, which Nelson noted many people use for art projects. But the farm’s namesake is the star attraction. “When the kids come, they hang out here most of the time,” Nelson said as he stood in the middle of a number of ostrich pens neatly positioned across the property. “The ostriches are the feature.” Signs posted next to the pens inform visitors about the different species of ostriches and their behaviors. Holes along the fences allow guests to feed the alwayshungry birds themselves. While holding a pan of food toward the towering

STRETCH FOR FOOD Ostrich entrepreneur Dan Nelson tends

to his ostrich flock at Pacheco Pass farm.

creatures can be intimidating to some, an ostrich’s “bite” is no worse than its bark, since it has no teeth. Unless threatened, all ostriches want to do is eat, not fight, Nelson said. Ostriches maintain a diet of roots, leaves and seeds, as well as rocks, eating roughly four pounds of food a day. The Gilroy Ostrich Farm once had dozens of ostriches on the property, but now has 20, as

the remainder was sold to other farms due to costs. “They are very expensive to maintain and feed,” he said. A hen can produce up to 50 eggs a year, which weigh about 5 pounds each. Those eggs are then shipped to an incubator in Los Angeles, Nelson said. However, it can be difficult to raise ostrich chicks, he noted. While many eggs never hatch at all, the ones that do suffer a high

mortality rate within their first 90 days of life. But once they survive those critical 90 days, they grow quickly, reaching their full height in nine months. As expected for the world’s largest bird, ostriches at birth are as big as a full-grown chicken. Nelson purchased the birds from a farmer near Pajaro Dunes on the outskirts of Watsonville. He is quick to note that the ostriches are not raised for

meat, but rather to educate the public. “I love animals,” he said. “I wanted to open something to the public that would be educational not only for kids, but for adults as well. There’s nothing like this in South County.” The Gilroy Ostrich Farm is located at 5560 Pacheco Pass Highway. Admission is $10 per person. For information, visit

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019



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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

Support grows for library COALITION IS BUILDING FOR NEW SITE Jaqueline McCool Reporter

File Photo

A PLACE TO READ Youngsters discover the excitement of books at the San Benito County Library.

Jaqueline McCool

The San Benito County Free Library sits nestled between county offices down the street from Hollister City Hall and a block from the county courthouse. The library was established in 1960 and has barely been touched since, but a group of county residents are working to change that. Susan Logue was the President of the Friends of the San Benito County Free Library when the group held its annual fundraiser. Logue decided to put out a paper during the fundraiser to gauge community interest in a new library. By the end of the event 15 people had signed up. After a few meetings and brainstorming sessions the Coalition for a New Community Library and Resource Center was born. In the fall of 2017, things began to fall into place for the group, when the county needs assessment was done and identified the needs of a new library, it’s also when Tami Aviles came on board. Aviles joined Logue, helping with all things web-related and creating a design for the group’s signature button. The group has been successful in sparking community support for a new library. In the summer of 2019 the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and the Hollister City Council passed resolutions of

support for a new library and resource center. It was a major win for the group and Aviles and Logue who try their best to attend all of the different governing meetings in the county. “It was kind of a big accomplishment for us,” said Aviles. “I know it’s just a sheet of paper, but it was months of hard work.” The same day the supervisors passed the resolution, they allowed the librarian to allocate a portion of her furniture budget to a feasibility study, which will gauge public interest and ask residents what they would like to see in a new facility. “Once the feasibility study is done then we’ll take that information to determine what the people want,” said Logue. That’s when the women will start using the coalition to fundraise for the new library. As of right now the library is funded 5 percent from library services, 8 percent from library partners, and 87 percent from the county. The group has grown from the original 15 names. Aviles said the number of the people on the coalition email list is now around 80. The third Saturday of the month the coalition meets from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. at the library, goes over the progress they’ve made, works through a premade agenda, and ends the meeting with a brainstorming session. Aviles said, “I think we have really gotten out there in the community and that the library is something that people are talking about.”

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

Deputy and dog are partners FALKON HELPS HIS MASTER AT WORK Michael Moore Reporter

Michael Moore

To say that San Benito County Sheriff ’s Deputy Victor Casada and his K9 partner Falkon are best friends is an understatement; in fact, they put their lives in each other’s hands on an almost daily basis. “We’ve been on the streets together for six years,” constantly fostering their unbreakable bond as K9 and handler, Casada said one recent morning before heading out on patrol with Falkon. Casada, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff ’s office, and Falkon, a 7-year-old German Shepherd bred in the Czech Republic as a police service dog, spend almost every minute of every day together—at work and at home. While on duty together patrolling the small towns and rural expanses of unincorporated San Benito County, they form a dynamic duo as they search for illegal drugs, run down criminal suspects and clear buildings and homes of any potential danger. “He’s got a reputation on the streets: don’t run on him,” Casada said on a recent ride-along with a Free Lance reporter. Casada described just some of the times that Falkon has quickly caught up to running suspects who had a head start on officers. Falkon’s partner estimates the dog has “apprehended” at least 70 suspects in the six years Casada has been working with the K9. Of those incidents, Falkon has bitten or “engaged” with unrelenting, belligerent suspects four times.

Falkon is trained to sniff out four kinds of narcotics: cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and marijuana. He has alerted on paraphernalia such as needles or pipes that hold only a residue of drugs. “I’ve used him on numerous searches of houses and vehicles for drugs,” Casada said. Falkon has also tracked suspects, for hundreds of yards, who have tried to hide in the middle of crop fields and riverbeds in remote areas of the county. Casada said in many of these incidents, deputies likely would not have found the suspect without a K9. Falkon also has a deterring effect when a suspect wants to fight with deputies. When the dog reveals his long white teeth within a snarling, growling visage, “They back off and they’re compliant,” Casada said. Falkon’s exquisite sense of smell can lock onto any of the human or narcotics odors he has been trained to identify. On a Sept. 19 ride-along, Casada received a call that an alarm was sounding at Neil’s market in San Juan Bautista. Casada and Falkon arrived and contacted the store owner. The deputy and K9 then stood inside the front door as Casada yelled, twice, for anyone inside to reveal themselves or else he would send in Falkon. Hearing no response, Casada then released Falkon, who sniffed throughout the market— without allowing shelves full of food to distract him—for any out-of-place occupants. Finding none, Casada declared the store safe. Casada started working as Falkon’s handler when the dog was a one-year-old puppy. They have trained and lived together since then. Training for both

DEPUTY’S BEST FRIEND San Benito County Sheriff ’s Deputy Victor Casada and his K9 partner, Falkon. the handler and K9 is an ongoing process, ensuring not only that Falkon remains skilled in tracking, searching and obeying commands to apprehend or release a suspect; their training also serves to constantly preserve and strengthen the bond of trust between deputy and dog. “Bonding is important because he has to listen to me,” Casada said. “If the dog doesn’t respect you, you’re going to have a hard time.” Most of Falkon’s behavior, at work and at home, is directed by about 30 commands—all in the Czech language—delivered by Casada. These include commands to “get amped up” for

work, or to calm down and seek a scratch from a nearby human. The duo demonstrated Falkon’s ability to find a hiding suspect and apprehend a defiant criminal back at the sheriff ’s office on Flynn Road. Deputy Silvestre Yerena played the role of the suspect as he donned a thick, puffy “bite suit” specially crafted for service dogs to sink their teeth into without injuring the person inside. On Casada’s command, Falkon ran full speed toward Yerena from about 50 yards away before leaping at his arm and clamping down. With another command from Casada, Falkon released his jaws from Yerena’s arm.

Casada and Falkon form one of two K9 units within the sheriff ’s office. The other team is currently on leave as the handler recovers from an injury. At home with Casada and his wife, Falkon is like any other family pet. He plays gently and patiently with Casada’s grandchildren, and allows his wife to brush the K9’s teeth, Casada said. Casada said his work and life with Falkon has been rewarding. “Knowing that I was going to have a partner that was going to be with me every day—If I need help I know I’ve got him. I’ve enjoyed every moment of being a K9 handler.”


SEPTEMBER 27, 2019



Tarmo Hannula

LETTUCE IS TOP CROP Vegetable crops like this field of lettuce near Holllister are still top cash crops, but newcomers cannabis and hemp are now part of the farm landscape.

Cannabis industry booming ➝ Cannabis, 2

of Supervisors approved an agreement July 23 that will transform a former turkey farm and equestrian facility into a hemp processor. Pacific Bay Capital Group plans to construct the 275,000-square-foot San Benito Hemp Campus at 7800 Frazier Lake Road in Hollister on property owned by the Kevin Chambers Living Trust of Menlo Park. The 75-acre

site is currently home to Gilroy Gaits, which offers various equestrian facilities as well as personal storage for the owner. Per the development agreement, Pacific Bay Capital Group will pay 1 percent of its gross annual receipts to the county. San Benito County officials are currently drafting an ordinance to regulate hemp. “I give a lot of kudos to

the board of supervisors because they understand that at the end of the day, if you want to preserve San Benito County as a rural agriculture-based community, cannabis and hemp is just a plant,” Gomez said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s just regulate it to an extent and find some common ground.” While hemp and marijuana are both the same species of plant, hemp

contains little THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis that gives consumers a “high.” Hemp fiber is noted for its strength and durability, and is used for products such as apparel, rope and more. Perhaps the biggest challenge for cannabis, in both the county and state, is the stigma attached to it, Gomez said, adding that some people “chuckle” when he tells

them he is involved in the industry. But the perception of who cannabis users are will hopefully change in the coming years, he noted. According to a report by cannabis delivery platform ease, baby boomers represented the fastest growing demographic of cannabis users, growing by 25 percent in 2018, based on information from 450,000 buyers. The next five years will be critical to the industry,

as Gomez said he expects a lot of the dust to be settled around regulating the crop. “A lot of people, specifically politicians, are going to be watching what’s happening in the industry and correct their course depending on where the industry is going,” he said. “The consensus is, let’s not compete with each other, let’s find and settle on a tax rate for everybody in California. It’s not a race to the bottom.”




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