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Measure T will further impoverish city

Posted: Thursday, May 9th, 2013




To the people of Watsonville, friends and neighbors in our priceless Monterey Bay Area community:

Watsonville is at the very center of one of the most exquisite, fragile and irreplaceable treasures on the planet — the watershed of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It is a global heritage site, to be protected and preserved for all of us, and for future generations.

We recognize that Watsonville must find long-term solutions to the community’s need for safe, clean, affordable and attractive housing; good jobs, and economic development, as well as enhanced overall quality of life for residents and visitors.

But the city leadership’s proposed solution to the problem of stimulating Watsonville’s economy through annexation and development of coastal farmland is an unenlightened, knee-jerk idea. Measure T will destroy that which is unique and valuable here, replacing it with sterile, big box store sprawl, exactly the same blight as that already laying waste to much of our Highway 101 corridor. Measure T is a bottom feeder’s plan. It’s designed to profit a few while laying waste forever to our priceless shared heritage, our most rare and valuable assets — our rich and fertile farmlands, priceless wetlands, open space, wildlife habitat and the natural beauty that offers our young and old a rich landscape for creativity, healing, education and discovery in the arts and sciences.

Many studies have shown that so-called growth by developers actually robs communities of their long-range natural resources and the kinds of economic activity through which future generations can thrive.

The farmland of this region is some of the most fertile on the planet. In the inevitable unpredictably changing future, food security — our ability to grow food locally — is only going to become a more valuable asset. Our priceless and dwindling farmland must not be paved over.

Our agricultural industry does hold a paradox that must be faced. Watsonville strawberries are a $200 million-plus a year crop, yet very little of that profit is shared with those who live and work here. We have an official unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and a poverty-ridden community that can barely afford to support a Kmart.

The so-called jobs, which are always promised by the type of development proposed in Measure T, never benefit those members of the community who most need the income. Furthermore, as others have recently pointed out, it is unlikely that shoppers from Santa Cruz, Monterey or Silicon Valley are going to flock to yet another box store blight in Watsonville. Watsonville is not likely to fill its coffers on profits from such development. It will only further impoverish itself.

The economic paradox of our agricultural industry is that, although strawberries are our biggest cash producer, grossing more than $23,000 per acre per year, they require up to five times more labor than most vegetable crops, an inordinate draw on our dwindling water resource, as well as massive inputs of methyl bromide and other expensive toxic pesticides. The industry employs a very high number of workers, enticed over the border often illegally, usually paid below the legal minimum wage, often suffering human rights abuses, and subsisting without adequate housing, food, or health care.

So the community is flooded with impoverished workers with little or no English and no other job skills. The enormous strawberry profits are going into the hands of a few, while the community at large becomes more impoverished. Urban sprawl, bringing in industries for which Watsonville workers have no job skills, will not solve our problems.

We believe that what is really needed is an expanded, but restructured sustainable agricultural land base, a redeveloped and revitalized downtown, development of an environmental tourism industry, quality education, green and tech job training for our people, truly affordable housing and decent living and working conditions for all.

And we need a growth boundary strategy. Once and for all, we need to establish an Urban Growth Boundary to protect our farmlands, wetlands and the watershed of our Marine Sanctuary.

Watsonville is at a turning point. Our city can either become a model for a sustainable community — a culturally rich and diverse, stable, economically just and healthy population living in ecological balance in a beautiful environment, or just another sad example of blighted urban sprawl. We invite everyone to join us. We desperately need your support to help create the kind of world we all want to live in, and want to leave to our children and grandchildren.

•••

Mary Flodin is a retired Watsonville teacher.

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