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An open letter to City Manager Matt Huffaker, Watsonville staff

In 2015, developer Kamalesh Patel proposed to replace the National 9 motel across from St. Patrick’s church with a four-story La Quinta. The proposed hotel did not comply with Watsonville ordinances intended to control development of downtown properties. In a 2016 public meeting, the City Council, over the objections of Watsonville residents, amended the ordinances to allow Mr. Patel to build his hotel.

Mr. Patel now proposes to build a Hilton hotel that will have 80 guest rooms, two meeting rooms and 85 parking spaces for hotel guests, meeting attendees, and 20 to 25 hotel employees. Mr. Patel says that in the next 90 days the National 9 motel will be demolished and construction of the Hilton hotel will begin.

Residents are still opposed to the project because a four-story hotel will, both literally and figuratively, cast a shadow over the neighborhood. Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia voted “No” during the public meeting in 2016, saying that she spoke to at least a dozen neighbors opposed to the proposed hotel. She was also concerned that an amendment would allow a bar, lounge, or liquor store to open in the neighboring area.

City staff and the City Manager’s office have not addressed hotel-related issues repeatedly raised by residents over several years. The primary unresolved issues related to pedestrian safety, parking, traffic and impacts on existing properties. Residents believe that construction should not proceed until these issues are addressed and resolved and are requesting the City Manager identify the staff that can address the following issues.

Pedestrian Safety

The neighborhood to the east, north and west of the proposed hotel has approximately 110 residential properties and no parks or designated play areas for children. Consequentially, neighborhood children often play in the streets around the proposed hotel. Maria Esther Rodriguez, Assistant Director of Watsonville Public Works and Utilities, has stated: “The street is not an appropriate location for children to play safely.” But children play in the streets when they lack options. Having hotel guests looking for parking and dealing with traffic congestion around the hotel will increase the threat to children.

The closest public play areas are in Callaghan Park and Ramsay Park. To access those parks, children from the neighborhood must cross Main Street or Freedom Boulevard. The intersection of Main Street and Freedom is particularly unsafe for young children. 

Parking

The proposed Hilton will not have sufficient on-site parking for guests, workers and visitors. The surrounding neighborhood already lacks sufficient on-street parking. Planning staff said their concerns stop at the motel property boundaries and that impacts on traffic and parking are issues for other agencies (e.g., the Police Department and the Public Works and Utilities Department). What parking will be utilized for overflow from the Hilton? Are there any measures such as signage and parking permits planned by any City agency to restrict parking on some streets around the motel to prevent guests or visitors from parking in adjacent residential areas?

Traffic

A traffic study for the aborted 2015 project concluded that there would be an increase of 536 daily trips due to the hotel, but that traffic flow at the intersection of Main Street and Freedom Boulevard would not be unreasonably degraded. The study did not address traffic on Western Drive and Southern Circle immediately adjacent to the hotel. The current intersection design has flow problems, and the additional trips will add to them. The traffic study cannot be considered complete until the effects on adjacent streets are considered and addressed.

In 2011, Rodriguez spoke about a roundabout planned for the intersection of Main Street and Freedom Boulevard, saying that one “should appear in about five years.” She also said the level of service at this intersection is projected to worsen to unacceptable delay levels around 2030 and that a roundabout would improve operations to acceptable levels and “would improve safety, provide pedestrian crossings, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Completing the traffic study may show that the roundabout is needed to address adverse effects from the new hotel.

Impacts on Existing Properties

In addition to parking and traffic impacts, some residential properties around the proposed hotel will have their views of Saint Patrick’s church and downtown Watsonville blocked by the hotel. Property owners are justifiably concerned about a reduction in their property values directly attributable to the hotel.

Units in the southern part of the Hyde Park apartment complex located adjacent to the proposed hotel will have their sunlight blocked by the tall hotel. This issue was not addressed in the review for the hotel project in 2015, and no remedial actions have been identified.

Hilton hotels are advertised as “pet-friendly.” However, it does not appear that the hotel plans include any area where pets can deposit wastes. The grass area across 7th Street from the hotel is designated as a memorial to veterans, and it would be inappropriate to have dogs using that area for their bodily functions. The hotel needs a designated pet area.

Planning issues

For over four years, residents concerned about construction of a large hotel on a tiny (less than a half-acre) lot have tried in good faith to maintain communication with staff concerning the project. However, staff does not offer openness and transparency. From the start, the Planning Department has made minimal efforts to communicate with people potentially affected by the hotel. Information was not made available in Spanish and was not sent to owners of potentially affected properties. Planning Department staff have limited neighbors’ access to the file for this project.

Councilwoman Garcia says that residents in the neighborhood still contact her for updates on the project; that is because they are not getting information from staff. It appears that critical information has not been extended to the City Council either.

Residents believe that City Council efforts to accelerate approval of the hotel are flawed and are based on misleading statements promulgated by staff that failed in its duties, especially its responsibility to review and address the CEQA Negative Declaration associated with the failed 2015 project. A larger hotel would supposedly generate greater revenue for the City, and perhaps administrators are putting budgetary issues above the welfare of residents.