In the days leading up to Tuesday’s Watsonville Planning Commission meeting I did several hours of background research on the proposed project at 975-1075 Main St.
The more research I did, the more disappointed I became.
The project is straightforward: 20,000 square feet over three commercial buildings set up for restaurants and retail in the former home of Street Scene, Mi Ranchito Supermercado and Taqueria Mundial.
At first glance, it sounds like a win for Watsonville, which is in dire need of new, fresh dining options. Sure, there are solid establishments around the city that I like to frequent for dinner such as Cilantro’s, Jalisco, California Grill and Bar, El Frijolito, La Perla del Pacifico and Ella’s at the Airport. New restaurants—Zameen at the Hangar and The Farm House, being two examples—continue to move in but we need more, diverse choices of food.
The current proposal from Boos Development Group, Inc., which is handling development for property owner Santa Cruz Seaside Company, and comments from Tuesday’s meeting do not give me confidence that will be the case in the planned redevelopment of the currently vacant lot at Main Street and Auto Center Drive.
The plans call for two drive-throughs. It’s not confirmed but, in the best-case scenario, one drive-through would most likely be attached to a coffee shop and the other to a fast-food business—or fast-casual as they call it.
I’m not going to rant and rave about the environmental impact that two additional drive-throughs would have, because if you’re a believer in science and facts then you already know cars are one of the major air pollutants and a factor in climate change.
What I do want to rant about is this: Watsonville is a low-income community and it’s a community that struggles with obesity and diabetes. Those two things are not independent of each other.
We don’t need more drive-throughs, and we don’t need more fast-food. A coffee shop would be nice, but we don’t need a corporate entity that’s going to require a drive-through in order for it to operate.
This proposal would have been great in 2005, but we’re no longer in 2005, literally and figuratively—more on this later. The current city council and planning commission is full of progressives who want this city to break free from its dependence on cars, build dozens of new affordable housing units and wish small, family-owned cafes, markets and grocers similar to El Valle Produce could populate multiple business centers.
It’s a noble campaign and one that I feel is starting to catch on with residents, but it is ultimately doomed because of one thing: the city’s general plan.
For those that do not know what a general plan is, here’s a quick summary: it is an all-encompassing document that works as a guideline for a city’s future goals by determining what is acceptable development in different areas of the city. Watsonville last decade tried to update its general plan and set goals for 2030, but it was successfully challenged in court by the Watsonville Pilots Association.
As far as I know, a new update to the general plan is on ice.
We might literally and figuratively be 14 years removed from 2005 but not technically. Almost every developer looking to build in the city is still working off a plan from a decade ago, spending their time, money and effort to meet a checklist that is outdated and no longer meets the goals of the city’s staff, politicians or residents.
So while I believe the planning commission made the right decision in denying the project, you could also argue it made the wrong one and overstepped its boundaries of what it legally can do.
That decision will most likely be appealed and the city council will be faced with a decision of whether to vote with its conscience and its residents or stay in line with a document that was drafted when I was still watching SpongeBob SquarePants. A “no” vote would likely open up the city to litigation, and possibly create an ugly, messy yearslong case that would spoil what should’ve been a slam-dunk redevelopment project.
Sure, I’m disappointed with the proposal, but I’m also disappointed that we are still collectively stuck in 2005, even if that year gave us Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”
Contact Managing Editor Tony Nunez at [email protected]