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

The County Council of Governments is getting an update on the Hollister Pinnacles Highway, San Juan Washington Bridge and Hwy 156 beautification plans.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez

At the meeting of August 18 of San Benito County Governments (COG) meeting, nothing on agenda there were filmmakers who spoke quite like Item 6: A Presentation by Caltrans District 5 Transportation Art Coordinator Corby Kilmer.

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

All are part of Clean California Initiativeprogram introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March that provides grants to communities across the state to remove litter, upgrade roads.

“In Hollister, we’re working on a landscaping plan that I know the community has wanted for a long time,” Kilmer said. “It will stretch from Sunset Drive to Santa Ana Road. There is plenty of pavement but no landscaping and a very solid wall; it’s a very hard landscape.

The Pinnacles National Highway is part of the Airline Highway, which spans about two miles. The beautification project hopes to dramatically change this stretch of highway into something more visually pleasing and a source of community connection.

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

Another addition to the route is public art.

A sculpture by artist Jamez Peterson will be installed at the intersection of Hollister Pinnacles National Highway and Meridian Drive. Peterson was one of about 30 applicants to design a sculpture for that 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 underway as Peterson waits to receive input from the community.

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

That 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 Roland Resendiz said he was “thrilled and honored to have someone of this 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 Memorial sign added at 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 prevent new items like Velasquez’s requests from being approved. As for the monument’s sign, Kilmer said it should be consistent with the Portal Memorial Program.

The other two beautification projects presented by Kilmer are in San Juan Bautista. Plans for these include a mural with sculptural elements on the Washington Street underpass by artists Ryan “Yanoe” Sarfati and Eric “Zoueh” Skotnes of JANOE x ZUEH. It will also improve the area with new pavement, scenery and fencing.

“Yanoe and Zoueh’s concept is a mural that will be on the walls below the crossing and the beam above and extend up to that pavement on the slope,” Kilmer said. “So something that is currently quite dark and unattractive gray will become bright and colorful.”

Community outreach will also play an important role in this project, with workshops coordinated by 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 his presentation, Kilmer highlighted the possibilities for beautification in Hwy 156 Improvement Project at the Bixby Roundabout and, unlike the Hollister Pinnacles Expressway and Washington Street underpass projects, this one is in its infancy.

“Your options are twofold,” Kilmer said. One route is more artistic, with a sculpture in the center of the circular. The other option is a gateway monument to communicate the name of the region drivers are entering.

District 2 Supervisor and COG Director Colin Kosmicki called for promoting Pinnacles National Park in the design. “Something that I’m in favor of is something that’s kind of oriented toward Pinnacles National Monument,” he said, “because it’s a gateway to Pinnacles.”

Resendiz proposed a design based on the direction people drive. “If you’re leaving Hollister and going into San Juan Bautista,” he said, “you could say you’re going into San Juan Bautista and identify the mission or whatever on that side and, if we can, on the other side, there’s something , which advertises Pinnacles or Hollister.

No matter 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 get in the way.”

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