WATSONVILLE — The Santa Cruz County Business Council Board of Directors voted unanimously May 2 not to support Measure T, a proposal to amend the city’s urban limit line and annex 95 acres of farmland for possible commercial development.
Supporters say the move would create jobs and bring tax revenue into a financially strapped city plagued by high unemployment rates, while opponents say the agriculture industry already operating on the property does that already. Opponents also say the annexation could permanently destroy farmland.
The privately funded, nonprofit organization is made up of more than 60 businesses throughout Santa Cruz County.
According to SCCBC executive director Joe Foster, the 15-member board of directors made the decision after hearing presentations from Watsonville City Councilmember Daniel Dodge, who has spearheaded efforts to put the issue on the ballot, and from Chris Enright, the immediate past president of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, who spoke against Measure T.
“While SCCBC is certainly supportive of the city of Watsonville exploring retail options to expand its revenue base and create new jobs, we feel that the annexation of additional agricultural land for future commercial development is not the most effective method to achieve these two goals," said SCCBC Executive Director Joe Foster.
Foster said the board would like to see commercial development on already annexed property, possibly referring to the Manabe-Ow Business Park, the property where the old Apple Growers building once stood and the abandoned Gottschalks building.
“Only after exhausting all other avenues for development, should an additional annexation by the city be a priority,” he said.
SCCBC Chair Robert Murphy of Wells Fargo Insurance Services acknowledged that unemployment rates are a concern, but said that the “vacant” downtown areas and undeveloped commercial property throughout the city could hold the answer.
“... there appear to be a number of other options where attention can to be directed for economic development purposes,” he said. “While we appreciate the sides that Councilmember Dodge and Mr. Enright represent, SCCBC would like to see the private- and public-sectors find common ground, similar to what transpired around Measure U in 2002, that will allow for relationship building and economic progress.”
This story will be updated.
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