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Measure T will not cure Watsonville’s economic woes

Posted: Thursday, May 9th, 2013




The subject is the same, the names are different, and however, some things never change. In 1997, then Mayor Al Alcala cited the city of Watsonville’s high unemployment rate of 28 percent and pushed for the annexation of 814 acres of unincorporated farmland to be rezoned for industrial and residential use and was to create 3,555 new jobs. (The Riverside Annexation, about 200 acres was to be rezoned industrial use and the Tai property of approximately 600 acres was to be rezoned residential).

In 2006, citing the continuing high unemployment rate, Watsonville annexed a 95 acre site (Manabe-Ow property) for the purpose of building 1 million square feet of light industrial space, 300,000 square feet of retail space and residential housing. This was projected to create 2,000 jobs. To date, 7 years later, the property continues to be farmed and no industrial jobs have been created.

Fast forward to 2013 and the proposed Measure T. The proponents, citing the continuing high unemployment rates in Watsonville, have gathered the signatures and the city is spending in excess of $80,000 for a special election to annex 95 acres for the purposed of attracting “big-box” stores and create jobs.

As has been shown in the past, attracting large retail businesses to Watsonville has been difficult, if not impossible due to the demographics of the city. Spearheaded by City Councilman Daniel Dodge, the promise of attracting a Costco or other “big box store” is not a reality. The city could not even convince In-And-Out Burger to come to town as it did not fit their corporate demographic profile. Watsonville has a very large young, lower income and undereducated population and it lacks parks, recreational opportunities and jobs to support this population. Added to this is an aging infrastructure with deferred maintenance.

The answer is not annexing prime farm land. The answer is to get realistic. Agricultural jobs are typically low paying, so as each new wave of immigrants comes in and works the land, the second generation doesn’t want to work in the field and becomes unemployed or under-employed. What is needed is more mechanization in the fields and/or crops that are not labor intensive. Only then, when the demographics start to change, will Watsonville be an attractive location for larger retail stores and businesses which require an educated work force.

That being said, before any land is annexed we need to look at developing available vacant land already located within in the city. There are approximately 4 1/2 acres (the old Seagate site) located next to the hospital. The Apple Growers site is approximately three acres. There is approximately nine acres at the end of Sakata Lane, approximately six acres for sale on Beach Street and 3.9 acres for sale on Pine Street. These parcels should be looked at for development and the city needs to be creative on zoning to expand the potential for these sites. Additionally, incentives should be made available to attract new businesses and encourage the expansion of existing businesses. Another possibility is to go back to LAFCO and the County Board of Supervisors with a request to ease the restrictions on the development of the Manabe-Ow parcel.

I urge a “no” vote on Measure T. It is a “stop gap” measure that will not cure the economic woes of Watsonville.

•••

Judy Doering Nielsen is a resident of Corralitos.

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