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More traffic and annexation circles

Posted: Monday, Feb 11th, 2013

Apparently the relative value of $75,000 is in the eye of the beholder. The City Council is looking into another proposed “traffic calming” circle — and a vicious circle such projects have become. One glaring example is the Holm Road calming circle which was installed in 2009 at a cost of $10,000 before being removed at additional cost in the face of complaints from incensed residents of that neighborhood. 

In addition, traffic restricting curbs were placed on Auto Center Drive and later removed when they added tremendously to congestion. More recent examples are the concrete wedges placed in the Bridge and Beck Street intersection, and the zigzag created at the Lincoln Street and Freedom Boulevard merge which brought a flurry of protests to no avail. Is there a wannabe traffic czar somewhere with way too much time on their hands?  

The new circle is planned for the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Clifford Drive, and would require hiring a consultant at a cost “not to exceed $75,000” to design and prepare construction documents for the project. Apparently that’s considered a paltry amount to create plans which might be doomed to gather dust in a public works official’s hold basket; or worse, lead to larger expenditures to create something that might later need to be removed.

A much higher value on that approximate $75,000 figure was indicated in a Feb. 9 R-P letter from Sam Earnshaw, who opposed the city placing a measure to consider annexing the Sakata-Kett property on a June 2013 special election ballot “which will cost the city approximately $80,000” instead of putting it off to the next general election in November 2014.   

Councilman Daniel Dodge is the main proponent for the annexation effort, and though I disagree with his idea of trying to use the Sakata-Kett site for another Santa Cruz County Costco, its shovel-ready characteristics of existing infrastructure, freeway access, and neighboring businesses make it a far superior location for job and revenue creation than the isolated and environmentally restricted Manabe-Ow property.  

Since Sakata-Kett promises much quicker benefits, the $80,000 special election cost seems a bargain if it could bring those benefits sooner through a June election compared to kicking the timeline back 18 months to November 2014. All Sakata-Kett needs is better magnet businesses and employers than a box store that already has several outlets within driving distance of Watsonville. That’s where community input could come into the plan in seeking a more widely acceptable use, but we first need the property. 

Seeing Earnshaw and Dodge on opposite sides of this issue is somewhat nostalgic. In the original debate of the Riverside Annexation containing the Sakata-Kett property beginning around 1996, Earnshaw helped lead opposition to the plan from his position with the Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF). This alliance of small organic growers naturally opposes any farmland development.

One of those pushing for the Riverside Annexation as a needed jobs and revenue source in the 1990s was a young Watsonville planning commissioner named Daniel Dodge, which left him bumping heads with Earnshaw on a regular basis. The Jan. 23, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz (now Santa Cruz Weekly) reported the two being part of a group gathered at a cropland and potential development site. The publication described Earnshaw standing by rows of tatsoi greens while “proudly extolling the virtues of farm life.”

The article then continued: “Latino planning commissioner Daniel Dodge could barely contain his anger as he jabbed a thumb at the gourmet lettuce purchased by upscale restaurants. ‘I never heard of this stuff,’ he snapped at Earnshaw, who lives in Bonny Doon, ‘Now, how many shootings do you have by your house?’ “  

And that urban-agricultural rift probably still exists between them and others on both sides of the current Sakata-Kett debate. Here’s hoping something ... anything ... can come from it that will benefit our suffering city. If so, the $80,000 price tag for a special election would be a much better investment than another traffic circle design. 


Steve Bankhead is a resident of Watsonville and a frequent contributor to the Register-Pajaronian. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the Register-Pajaronian.

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