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A Push for Farmland Annexation, Commercial Development

Watsonville City Council Member Daniel Dodge will use the referendum process to try to bring big business to town.

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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Watzon McWats April 19, 2012 at 01:24 AM
We need this so bad!
David Heilman April 19, 2012 at 02:29 AM
I understand and appreciate the need for more city revenue. But to trade the view of the Pajaro Valley that I see when I come down the hill from Salinas Rd on Highway 1 for a Costco seems to me to be too high a price.
Jennifer Olds April 19, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Every time the council comes along and wants to pave over more farmland, it makes me sick and angry! Our area is based on it's agriculture. What happens when the farms are gone and the buildings are empty - then what? And no one wants to shop in Watsonville because they don't feel safe. Spend your time and money dealing with the gangs first.
Quite Big Bill April 19, 2012 at 05:20 PM
A new hamburger stand and a big box store to suck customer away from existing local business? I got a better idea. Let's allow the Voters to elect their own strong mayor. An open and honest local political competition might finally select leaders that can think better than Danial Dodge and balance out the rest of the crony appointed Clown Council.
Leonardo Nahum Rivera April 19, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I am from Watsonville, born and raised we know that nothing creates gangs more than idle hands and by the same token nothing detours gangs like having a job!!! Can you or any one else opposed provide any other solution to our city's 27% unemployment Jennifer Olds?
Cathy P. April 19, 2012 at 10:39 PM
wetlands watch, No, I have not gone downtown to shop lately because there is nothing there. Except for the library, post office, ACE Hardware, and a handful of eateries, what exactly is the draw downtown? I used to shop at Gottchalks when we had one and would definitely shop at Penny's if we got one - where do you shop downtown? Maybe having a few "big box" stores out by the highway would help other potential retailers stop and take a second look at Watsonville. Maybe that will help fill the empty storefronts downtown. Are you happy with property values right now? The foreclosure rate? The umployment rate? As Mr. Rivera so rightly stated above "nothing deters gangs like having a job!!!" I'm willing to sacrifice a few strawberry fields to make our community a better place.
David Heilman April 20, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Does Costco have to be right along the highway? A lot of tourists and out of towners drive that road. An In and Out would certainly encourage people to stop, then maybe fruit stands, wine tasting (not for the drivers), and other attractions that reflect the region would encourage people to stop and spend some money. I would rather see Costco on either Riverside or Beach closer to town, but still close enough to highway 1 to be convenient. Another possibility might be farm land already ruined by salt water intrusion, but I don't know enough about this to do anything more than make the suggestion. I don't want to see Highway 1 looking like 101 in Gilroy.
Watzon McWats April 20, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Farming is great, and I enjoy living in an area where I have access to farm fresh produce, but in the end, how much does farming really do for the actual residents of Watsonville? Only a small handful of people make any real money, and the rest are seasonal workers making peanuts. A Costco pays better, and employees more persons per square foot than a farm. We need good jobs and good businesses if we want to turn Watsonville around. I wanna live in a town where we don't need a check cashing store and payday loan center on every corner. I'm so, so tired of these junk businesses.
Anthony Sicairos April 23, 2012 at 06:34 AM
How will we be affecting our atmosphere? By having farmland, we promote the recycling of air, purifying our atmosphere, I agree with all of your comments, you all make a valid point. I love being from watsonville! Having more attractions is always a plus, but why not work on refining what we already have? One thing I would never want to change about watsonville is its humble backgrounds. By bringing more corporations, we stop the humble beginnings from which we all started from. It will deter from independent business owners making a living and trying to start a better future for their families. By bringing more jobs, how many entrepreneurs are we sacrificing? For example, if we put a fifth Starbucks next to cafe ella, were cutting down our roots! One of the main reasons why we don't have many shoppers downtown, is mainly because the Target area is becoming the new downtown and is our new main attraction. However much we benefit from these huge corporations, which we all benefit from through ease of access; what are we really doing to the place we call home? Do we really want it to be just like the rest of our surrounding cities, or do we want to be remembered for being something else? Do we want our visitors to see us as a reflection of where they just came from?
Jennifer Squires April 24, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Have you seen this? Dodge's plan got hammered by officials at a meeting on Friday. http://www.register-pajaronian.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=72&story_id=12361
Quite Big Bill May 20, 2012 at 10:02 AM
http://bcaweb.bayarea.net/cal/cal9-03.htm Indeed, BCA always starts with little old me playing the piano – yep, that “Bill Kenville kid from Watsonville”. Yet, BCA can quickly start creating ongoing local events designed to draw well-heeled visitors to Watsonville from all around the Western States – and beyond. Our fans – AND THEIR MONEY – will stay in Watsonville for extended periods of time - because, our events will be designed to cause them to do so. Why do I think that BCA can accomplish this? Because we’ve done it in Watsonville before and it worked. Best case scenario? In and Out Burgers and Costco will take current business and current jobs away from the current local burger joints and retail outlets. On the other hand, allowing BCA to return to Watsonville won’t cost the Taxpayers any money, won’t pave over paradise to build a parking lot and will generate a steadily increasing flow of new customers and NEW MONEY for existing local business.
Quite Big Bill May 20, 2012 at 10:19 AM
An unprepared and rather drunken "Le Banjo" by Gottschalk..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqZZW89uZ7w
Jim May 04, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Vote no on T..

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