WATSONVILLE—A two-year process to create a plan of action for Watsonville’s downtown got underway Wednesday.
A who’s who of city leaders, law enforcement officials, community program directors, downtown business owners, developers and housing advocates convened for the public meeting — the first of several planned for the committee over the next two years — at the Civic Plaza, hoping to tackle a multitude of issues in the city’s sleepy central corridor.
The plan, called the Downtown Specific Plan, will serve as a blueprint for the future of downtown by setting guidelines for housing, parking, economic development and the look and layout of streets and public spaces, among other things.
Raimi + Associates, an architecture and planning firm based in Berkeley, will lead the committee through the process, which is expected to cost the City roughly $800,000, according to City Manager Matt Huffaker.
Huffaker said the majority of that cost will be covered by grants such as the Caltrans Sustainable Communities Planning Grant — a $416,771 endowment the City applied for earlier this week.
The committee is expected to meet every other month. Every meeting is open to the public.
The committee will not vote on any items. Instead, it will give Raimi + Associates feedback that the firm will use to design the plan, which will also serve as a minor update to the City’s 2005 General Plan and as a companion piece to the forthcoming Complete Streets Plan that will focus on making Watsonville friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclist and public transportation.
As an introduction, each committee member highlighted two issues or goals they would like the plan to address. Traffic safety on Main Street was a recurring topic throughout the two-hour meeting.
Huffaker said city staff had a ‘heat map’ that showed the downtown corridor is “by far” the most unsafe area in the city when it comes to speed of traffic.
Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said officers have stepped up enforcement and written dozens of tickets over the past few months, but the problem has persisted.
“We can do enforcement all day long but I don’t think it’s going to bring the change that we need,” Honda said.
Many committee members said the speed of traffic was not only a problem for public safety, but a detractor to economic growth in the downtown area.
William Ow, of Ow Properties, said commercial real estate in the corridor has traditionally had the lowest price per square foot in the entire Santa Cruz County.
“We’re literally almost bribing people to stay in downtown,” Ow said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”
Committee members said the potential of downtown has not been realized because there has not been a unified effort to find an identity, something the plan hopes to create.
Neva Hansen, of Pacific Coast Development, said that identity should showcase what the entire Pajaro Valley — Watsonville, Freedom, Corralitos, Pajaro and Las Lomas — has to offer.
Other committee members said the plan should also aim to keep Watsonville’s character intact, and not try to become carbon copies of other downtowns.
“We’re never going to be Santa Cruz and I don’t want to be,” said Community Action Board Executive Director Maria Elena De La Garza. “Watsonville is very different. The question we should be asking is, who are we?”