By Kathleen Kilpatrick
Twenty years ago my family and I supported Measure U. Measure U was a compromise measure that came from Action Pajaro Valley, a robust stakeholder process that created the Watsonville Urban Limit line to allow for some growth and protection of farmland and wetlands.
While we signed the petition to place a measure on the ballot to renew Measure U, now called Measure Q, recent conversations with friends have given us pause. Times and community needs are changing.
Some of the questions that have been raised: Why no public process this time? Why not demand a greenbelt around town, with conventional farms transitioning to organic when close to schools, homes and our local hospital? How about more parks and trails as part of the plan? Where can the desperately needed housing go and what will it look like? Will it have trees, walking trails, gardens, play areas?
Yes, we want to preserve our prime farmland, on some of the richest and deepest topsoil in the nation. But how can this happen with constant rounds of fumigants being used to sterilize and sap the life out of it, followed by more harmful chemicals acting to counter the diversity of flora and fauna in the ecosystem, much of it beneficial. The Senior Village where we live has been flooded with recent notifications of toxic pesticide use near our homes and schools.
How might instead this fertile valley maximize our capacity to sequester carbon by building healthy, living soil, restoring and preserving wetlands, restoring native species, and planting more trees?
Watsonville voters seem to agree that they don’t want sprawl and mindless expansion of big-box stores, chains, warehouses, and plopped-down expensive single family homes only affordable to those moving here from elsewhere. Don’t we want our current residents to be well housed first?
The new folks, often downsizers and commuters from over the hill who are drawn to this great climate, perhaps appreciate access to nature, but may not care as much about the diversity of cultures and economic strata that make this valley the special place for immigrants rising out of poverty, local entrepreneurs, home-grown professionals and ag innovators.
It is time for the Pajaro Valley to be a laboratory and model of best practices for the agriculture of the future, a system that protects workers, neighbors of the fields, our natural environment, and our climate. We envision a valley that values human and environmental health over runaway profits and tasteless conventional chemical berries being grown for overseas export.
Yet as of now, we have no commitment from berry wholesalers who wield the power to convert fields adjacent to schools, homes and hospitals to organic.
We are also aware that city planners and some of the City Council members may be attracted to easy revenue-generating developments like fast food restaurants and big box stores. But how many more Starbucks and fast food franchises, which can displace small local businesses, do we really need?
Given all these big questions, both Measure Q and the City Council’s Measure S are flawed approaches that do not promote a real public process for the people of Watsonville to figure out how we want our city to grow and improve. Voters are likely to be confused by the competing options, and may believe they must choose one or the other. Not so.
We can reject the bad choice that we have been dealt. We can do better than choose between two measures and visions that are backed by either developer or corporate agricultural interests. The future is too important to be hastily decided by this confusing campaign. Voting No on both Measure Q and Measure S might be the best way forward to force a real public process.
It is time for our City to come together to determine our City’s future so that we can have real affordable housing, healthy farmland, and more parks for the people of Watsonville.
Kathleen Kilpatrick, RN, MN, NP, PHN, CSN, is a retired Pajaro Valley Unified School District nurse, and member of Campaign for Organic and Regenerative Agriculture and Safe Ag Safe Schools. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.