San Benito County Snapshot
Assets: Strong sense of pride and participatory ethic among long-time residents; agricultural heritage that continues to animate many activities and the identity of the community; Pinnacles National Monument and generally beautiful open space areas; innovative economic ventures such as tourism, wine-making and organic farming; housing is less expensive than in surrounding areas; potential for strong redevelopment project; strong non-profits, service organizations, and faith community.
Challenges and needs
- Poverty levels are relatively high with 12.7 percent below poverty level in 2013 ("San"); more than half the school children qualify for school lunch programs.
- Hunger is increasing among seniors, migrants, and the working poor. Demand at the Community Pantry is up. Emergency food aid, especially for proteins, is stretched to fill need. There is a need for culturally appropriate nutritional information, and for community gardening.
- Shifting populations of strawberry and other agricultural workers create needs that are hard to service; more migrant workers are staying in US rather than risking annual border crossings to go home. One fifth in the county are foreign-born, and 39 percent speak a language other than English at home. Services are needed for Oaxacan immigrants who do not speak Spanish at all or whose Spanish is a second language.
- Issues common to migrant populations affect Hollister’s: invisibility due to fear, lack of participation due to invisibility and fear.
- Adult illiteracy is at a relatively high 18.6 percent ("Adult").
- Hollister schools spend $4,540 per student. The state average is about $7,800 this year. Drop-out rate is reportedly higher at SBHS than the 8-10 percent officially claimed, due to undercounting. Hispanic dropout rate is alarming—perhaps at 30 percent.
- There are 2,600 veterans but few services locally.
- The Hardship Index for this county is relatively high: 47.6 percent (one a scale of 0=easy life to 100=very difficult life based on several factors) ("Adult").
- There is little economic development being undertaken in the county, which will as a result not grow its economy in ways that raise the standard of living. Downtown is not a hub for shopping, entertainment, or activity. There is considerable leakage to Gilroy, Salinas, and elsewhere for shopping of all kinds. Local retailers find it difficult to compete pricewise.
- Service industry does not have a trained workforce; hospitality industry training and local small business management are real training needs.
- Salaries are low in most sectors, so it’s hard to attract and keep qualified professionals. High housing costs are an added disincentive.
- Sewage and water moratoria are limiting new building, so home prices are high. Homeowners with Silicon Valley jobs don’t get involved in or informed about the community. Most clubs and many churches draw the bulk of their membership from long-time residents rather than newcomers.
- Housing segregation is marked, and low income pockets exist on the west side and the northeastern section of town, as well as in the Veterans Park and R.O. Hardin School areas.
- There are trailer parks, homeless encampments, private labor camps and a county labor camp. Getting census data on these populations is difficult. A homeless Task Fore shelter operates late November-March, but emergency housing is needed year round, and transitional housing for families and singles is simply not available in San Benito County.
- Diabetes and obesity are major problems. Pesticide use is a hidden health issue.
- Mental health services are lacking, though the county provides some. There is no residential psych unit and often people needing services must go elsewhere.
- Gangs are active.
- Meth is made in the county, especially in rural meth labs, creating a problem for law enforcement. Meth use is a major issue for youth.
- Civic debate is often mean, with candidates and other public figures engaging in venomous accusations, frequent attacks, even lawsuits; there is a need for better ethical standards in political work.
- Police and fire services are underfunded; the fire department would have trouble handling more than one emergency at a time. Aged infrastructure will require significant investments county-wide.
- Library lacks stable funding and its literacy programs suffer as a result.The county has a fantastic resource in Pinnacles National Monument, but it is underutilized by locals, especially by the Hispanic population.
Sources excluding interview sources:
"Adult Illiteracy in California counties" Patchwork Nation, PBS Newshour 1996-2013 MacNeil Lerher Productions. Web.
"San Benito County, California." US Census Bureau. 6 January 2014. Web. 16 January 2014.