As a member of the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection that is putting Measure Q on the ballot, I want to address some of the claims that have been made against us by certain Watsonville City Council members and others. We have been committed to conducting a positive campaign, and will continue to do so.
Starting in July 2021, for six months we walked the streets of Watsonville, ringing doorbells and talking face-to-face with over 3,000 people. The accusations that our process was undemocratic, racist and driven by special interests do not hold water and are inflammatory. Working hard to put an issue on a ballot that the whole city can vote on is the essence of democracy.
The accusation that we are against growth is equally unsubstantiated. We know that the city needs to grow, and the strength of Measure Q is that it directs the city to concentrate on the many existing opportunities to grow within city limits: over 100 vacant and under-utilized sites are identified on the Housing Element on the City’s website, and their recently released Downtown Specific Plan, created by a community visioning process, cites over 3,900 potential housing units in that area alone.
Measure Q, and the original Measure U, allow the City to permit residential development on any property that is beyond the Urban Limit Line if necessary to implement state or federal housing law. This is a safety valve for the city, and should have been adequate to satisfy councilmembers who have been so critical of the proposed measure.
Furthermore, certain councilmembers advocate the need for single-family houses, with yards and driveways in suburban neighborhoods. How realistic is that, with the average price of houses in Watsonville pushing $1 million, and current single-family houses being snapped up by out-of-towners who need no financing? Advocating that kind of growth does not address the needs of the current citizens of Watsonville who need more housing opportunities.
Protecting Pajaro Valley farmland was the goal of Measure U, passed by a majority of voters in 2002 and reaffirmed in 2013 by city residents rejecting the City-backed Measure T that wanted to convert Riverside Drive farmland into big box stores. Most of us intuitively know that in our moderate coastal climate, the flat, deep farmland surrounding the city is only found in a minute part of the entire world. We can produce food on these productive parcels that simply cannot be done anywhere. The transition to organic agricultural practices in the Pajaro Valley is among the most widespread in the state.
Most of us also commonly hear people lamenting the loss of California’s farms, as urban sprawl slowly devoured San Jose’s Valley of the Harvest, not to mention Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Can anyone name one place where paving over farmland has solved housing problems, reduced real estate costs or addressed homelessness? And that is the way the loss of farmland and the creep of development happens: individual parcels, piece by piece, and the pressure for more, gradually builds, and the fertile ground gets covered with concrete.
Don’t be fooled by the glossy language of Measure S, which promises parks, playgrounds for kids, housing for seniors with disabilities, etc. Those things can be achieved within the limits of Measure Q. Read the language of Measure S: it has a loophole to urban sprawl with “exceptions” that allow the city to break the Urban Limit Line with a single City Council vote.
Measure Q will allow us to go into the future, accommodating our growth needs and protecting our irreplaceable farmlands.
Betty Bobeda is a Watsonville resident. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of The Pajaronian.