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Measure T final bill less than expected

Posted: Tuesday, Jun 25th, 2013

WATSONVILLE — Watsonville's June 4 special election on Measure T, the proposal to amend the city's urban limit line to make way for annexation and the potential commercial development of 95 acres of farmland along Riverside Drive, cost the city $62,761.29, according to the Santa Cruz County elections department.

The final bill was determined by the expenses incurred to run the election including: ballots, sample ballots and voter information guides, postage for mailings (vote by mail ballots and sample ballots), polling place costs and staff and overhead charges.

The cost is lower than the top figure of $80,000 that was initially estimated back in February when the City Council voted to hold the election at the earliest possible date rather than wait for a general election when the cost could be shared across other districts with initiatives on the ballot.

For general elections, the cost per registered voter usually runs between $1.50 to $2.50 a voter, according to the county elections department.

For the Measure T special election, the cost ran to $4.42 per voter, based on the number of registered voters in the city — 14,198.

Only registered voters living within Watsonville city limits were eligible to vote.

Of those registered voters, only 4,409 cast a ballot. The certified vote put the final tally at 3,345 "no" votes and 1,064 "yes" votes.

The low voter turnout was not a surprise to City Councilmembers Nancy Bilicich and Trina Coffman-Gomez, who both voted against holding the election in June back in February.

Both said special elections tend to draw mainly those who already hold entrenched opinions on the issue — not the general public.

Coffman-Gomez said due to the success of the petitioner in gathering the necessary amount of signatures, the proposal "needed to go to vote," yet she would have preferred giving parties on both side of the issue more time for their messages to be made — and made clear to the public.

Coffman-Gomez said for one the project timeline was murky; any development on the land was still 10 to 15 years out and posed many obstacles, which was not made clear to voters.

City Councilman Daniel Dodge, who spearheaded the annexation debate last year and led the successful signature gathering effort, said the turnout demonstrated to him how little time people, not including retirees, had to engage civically when they were so busy trying to make a living.

Dodge said overall the “Yes on T” message did not reach enough people, and it was easier to vote “no” on something you were not clear about.

Mayor Lowell Hurst stated in an email that he was concerned about the low number of registered voters in the city and the low voter participation during the special election.

"In this recent special election only 4,419 voters participated revealing that 69 percent of the eligible voters didn't cast a ballot," wrote Mayor Lowell Hurst.

"I am hoping that those who didn't vote will now join those who did, as well as those who are not even eligible, and focus on what can be accomplished to move the city forward economically.

“We need everyone's participation to find solutions to unemployment, poverty and low municipal revenues. Now is the time to put away the differences and come together for solutions that work downtown, uptown, all around the town," wrote Hurst.

Bilicich said that one of the takeaways of June's electoral exercises was that "as a body," the City Council needed to engage with people prior to taking such definitive action and reach out to community based organizations with stakes in the issue.

Coffman-Gomez said if proposals like Measure T don't have a "buy in" from community groups, they are not going to be successful.

As for the cost, Coffman-Gomez said it could have been avoided, and she would have preferred the money go toward capital improvements, investing it in needed police cars or shored up for future uses as the city needs it.

"We need to be forward thinkers," said Coffman-Gomez.

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