The authors of Measure T — the proposal to annex 95 acres of world-class Pajaro Valley farmland for unspecified development and urban sprawl — like to present this as forward-looking and innovative. In fact, it is a tired and worn-out blast from the past that this community doesn’t need to revisit.
In the 1990s Watsonville was at war with itself and going nowhere. The City Council and staff were determined to annex farmland and open space for city growth. This was opposed by community members, farmers, environmentalists, organized labor and open space advocates. Pitched battles raged at City Council meetings and LAFCO hearings. The last major battle over annexation was fought in 1999, and the city lost when LAFCO rejected the city’s annexation proposal.
Out of this stalemate, Action Pajaro Valley was born. After thousands of unpaid hours of community outreach and other volunteer work, a three-year process brought the warring parties to the table to try to reach a compromise on growth issues. It succeeded.
The anti-sprawl community advocates agreed that hundreds of acres of farmland, habitat and open space could be annexed to the city for development in specific locations. In exchange, the city agreed not to seek further annexations until after the expiration of a 20- to 25-year urban limit line. This agreement was embodied in Measure U and approved by Watsonville voters in 2002. As a result, dozens of former annexation opponents spoke out in support of the Manabe-Ow annexation in 2006, and LAFCO approved the annexation.
Now, some residents, led by Watsonville City Council member Daniel Dodge, are attempting to annul the spirit of this agreement. Without any attempt to reach out to or consult with the many supporters of Measure U, signatures were gathered to allow annexation of an additional 95 acres of prime farmland known as the Sakata-Kett and Greenfarm parcels at the intersection of Highway 1 and Riverside Drive. This annexation proposal is now known as Measure T and it’s headed for a special election in the city of Watsonville on June 4.
If passed, Measure T would set this community back 15 years to the days of “land use wars” and divisive confrontations at City Council meetings and LAFCO hearings.
Since the 20-year urban boundary at the Sakata-Kett property is already more than half way to expiration, a far better path would be to reconvene a strategic planning process in the years leading up to the expiration of that urban limit line in 2022. It would be well worth the hard work required to achieve another community-wide consensus on land use and growth issues.
In the meantime, instead of trying to gobble up more valuable farmland for growth, the city should concentrate on developing the hundreds of acres already earmarked for annexation under Measure U and on revitalizing Watsonville’s beautiful and historic downtown.
As recently as 2007 the Watsonville City Council affirmed its support of Measure U. Those voting in favor included councilmembers Oscar Rios, Antonio Rivas, Kimberly Peterson and Manuel Bersamin. They reaffirmed support for Measure U in the name of “economic stability, social equity and smart-growth policies.”
We agree. Let’s stick with Measure U — Vote no on Measure T!
Celia Organista and Amy Newell, are co-chairs of the Committee to Save Jobs & Farmland – Opposing Measure T. Organista is a long-time Watsonville community activist and Newell is a graduate of Watsonville High and a retired trade unionist.
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