Clean California Initiative to bring public art to the streets of San Benito

County Council of Government receives an update on beautification plans for Hollister Pinnacles Highway, San Juan Washington Bridge and Hwy 156.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez

At the Council of August 18 of San Benito County governments (COG) meeting, nothing in agenda there were filmmakers speaking as well as Item 6: a presentation by Caltrans District 5 Transportation Arts Coordinator Corby Kilmer.

At the presentation, Kilmer provided updates on several projects under development — one in Hollister and two in San Juan Bautista — that seek to beautify cities through public art installations, nature and updated landscapes.

Everyone is part of it Clean California Initiativea program introduced by Governor Gavin Newsom in March that provides grants to communities across the state for litter removal, roadside improvements.

“In Hollister, we’re working on a landscape plan that I know the community has been asking for for a long time,” Kilmer said. “It will stretch from Sunset Drive to Santa Ana Street. There is a lot of paving there, but not any scenery, and a lot of solid walls; it is too hard.”

The Pinnacles National Highway is a section of aerial highway that covers about two miles. The beautification project hopes to drastically change this stretch of highway into something more visually pleasing and a source of connection for the community.

Design plans for the highway include drought-tolerant plantings. “We’re going to put vines on the solid walls, add colorful shrubs, add shade trees, and it’ll all be irrigated by a drip irrigation system that conserves water,” Kilmer said. “That system will be powered by solar controllers, so it’s also very energy efficient.”

Another addition to the street is public art.

At the intersection of Hollister Pinnacles National Highway and Meridian Drive, a sculpture by artist Jamez Peterson will be installed. Peterson was one of about 30 applicants to design a sculpture for the space and made it to the final round where he presented three different concepts to a panel of community members and the San Benito Arts Council, Kilmer said.

Final plans for the sculpture are still in progress, as Peterson is waiting to get community input.

“He will continue to engage the community. He’s going to post a sign that will have a QR code on there to lead anyone who’s interested to a website he’s creating just for the sculpture commission,” Kilmer said.

This website, Kilmer said, will become a place where community members can share their ideas and input on what they want the sculpture to represent.

Hollister City Council Member and COG Director Rolan Resendiz said he is “thrilled and honored to have someone of that caliber working in our community.”

Hollister Mayor and COG Chairman Ignacio Velasquez requested that accent lighting be installed along the corridor and expressed interest in a Hollister monument sign added to the Santa Ana intersection of the Pinnacles National Highway.

Kilmer said the project is already $100,000 over its $1.02 million budget — which could preclude approval of new elements such as Velasquez’s requests. As for the monument sign, Kilmer said it would have to be in compliance Gateway Monument Program.

The other two beautification projects presented by Kilmer are in San Juan Bautista. Plans for them include a sculptural mural in the Washington Street underpass by artists Ryan “Yanoe” Sarfati and Eric “Zoueh” Skotnes of YANOE x ZOUEH. The area will also be improved with a new sidewalk, nature and fences.

“Yanoe and Zoueh’s concept is a mural that will be on the intersection walls and beams above and will extend into that slope paving,” Kilmer said. “So something that is now pretty dark and unattractive gray will become bright and colorful.”

Community outreach will also play a large role in this project, with workshops coordinated through the San Benito County Arts Council.

Both projects are expected to be completed by the summer of 2023, Transportation Planning Manager Veronica Lezama said, and construction is expected to begin early next year.

At the end of her presentation, Kilmer highlighted the possibilities for embellishment in Hwy 156 improvement project at the Bixby Roundabout and, unlike the Hollister Pinnacles Freeway and Washington Street underpass projects, this one is in the early stages.

“Your options are twofold,” Kilmer said. One street is more artistic, with a sculpture in the center of the roundabout. Another option is a gate monument to communicate the name of the region leaders entering.

District 2 Supervisor and COG Director Kollin Kosmicki asked to promote Pinnacles National Park in the design. “Something that I support is something that’s geared toward Pinnacles National Monument in some way,” he said, “because that’s a gateway to the Mayans.”

Resendiz suggested a design based on the direction people are driving. “If you’re leaving Hollister and going into San Juan Bautista,” he said, “you can say you’re going into San Juan Bautista and identify the mission or what not on that side and, if we can, on the other side, they have something promoting either Pinnacles or Hollister.”

Regardless of which option is chosen, Kilmer said, it will be subject to approval and review by our traffic safety people. So whatever it is, or becomes, we have to make sure it does what it’s intended to do, but doesn’t distract.”

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