Shortly, Watsonville residents will be asked if they're in favor of moving several parcels of active farmland into the city's reserves of land designated for commercial development.
City Council Member Daniel Dodge announced this week that he plans to collect signatures in support of , the first move in a process aimed at creating desirable space for new businesses in Watsonville.
The Pajaro Valley farming community has long argued against taking farmland out of production to pave over for housing or business development. The land in question is currently farmed by strawberry and lettuce growers. A small parcel is an organic farm and home to the infamous Redman House, the dilapidated Victorian mansion to the west of Highway 1.
"Times have changed," Dodge said.
Dodge would like to see it developed into retail space, for business such as the and that city residents so deperately want. It's proximity to the highway and ability for business to build-to-suit are selling points to draw in big companies, he said.
Watsonville needs it, Dodge said. The city's unemployment rate in the winter tops 25 percent.
"It's jobs and it's a tax base," Dodge said. "Without any kind of economic development for the city of Watsonville, we can't provide basic services."
Dodge and his unnamed supporters are working on the language for the ballot measure this week and plan to turn it into the city on Monday. From there, it will be reviewed by the City Attorney and Dodge can begin the process of collecting signatures. He'll need about 1,500 signatures from registered voters who live in city limits to get the ballot measure approved for the November election.
"I believe there's enough support," Dodge said.
The land involved—between Riverside Drive and Beach Street, near Highway 1—has been identified as a growth area for the city for at least 15 years but was not included when Watsonville added land to its reserves with Measure U.
Under Measure U, the city is not supposed to annex land again for some time, but citizens can take action through the referendum process, which is exactly what Dodge has decided to do.
"It really came from one trip that we made to Sacramento at the end of redevelopment," Dodge said, talking about city leaders' efforts to lobby state officials to preserve Redevelopment Agencies. Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the agencies, a which rely on special tax bases to give incentives and assistance to businesses, earlier this year.
Dodge joked that the Sacramento trip was only fruitful because they stopped for lunch; there was no hope for saving Redevelopment Agencies.
"There's just a point when you realize this is dead. It's gone. It's final," he said.
The city is already knee-deep in one development that leaders hope will revitalize the local economy.
"The project would be for commercial development, where Manabe-Ow is industrial," Dodge said, who would like to replicate the success of the Target store on Main Street. It brings $400,000 in sales tax revenue to the city annually and employs more than 200 people.
The Watsonville City Council had what amounted to a study session about annexation plan in February, at which time city staff recommended any changes to the city General Plan come via a ballot measure, not city action. Dodge said he spoke with the landowners at that time and garnered their support for the referendum process.
"They're receptive," he said. "... It's all about jobs and it's about economic development."
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