More than 100 people spent their Saturday morning in the community room of the Watsonville Civic building, where they joined the City Council and other officials in discussions about Watsonville’s General Plan.
The council made no official decisions during the informal meeting, which was one part of the multi-year process of updating the city’s General Plan, which when approved in 2025 will be a comprehensive blueprint for development through 2050.
“Today is a workshop with the council to look at potential growth scenarios for the future,” City Manager Rene Mendez said. “The real goal is for the council to really connect with some of the folks that are here. that is so hard to do during the council meetings, because they are a lot more structured.”
Mendez said the city will likely schedule additional public meetings, where residents can again give their input.
Much of the conversations during the event focused on development in and around Watsonville Municipal Airport. Many people voiced their concerns about the crosswind runway.
The city is mulling either shortening the runway or closing it entirely to shorten the safety zones and open up development potential.
Ron Fryn, who owns Innovated Control Systems, Inc. in Watsonville, says he frequently uses his small plane to attend meetings.
“By doing that, I get customers, I sell more, Watsonville where my company is based, makes more money,” he said. “And I’m not the only one that does this.”
The runway offers a safe alternative to landings during windy conditions, he said.
“I find it irritating how they just talk about it like it’s not an issue,” he said.
Councilman Jimmy Dutra said that he hopes the city will address the zoning restrictions that limit growth.
“If we’re being prevented every single day from moving forward with certain projects, that’s a problem,” he said.
Dutra also spoke to the need for middle-income housing in the city.
“The East Lake area really does offer us an opportunity to build single houses where people can have a backyard and move forward with that type of dream,” he said. “I do support the idea of building housing that will address everybody, because I feel like we are leaving people behind.”
The discussions also touched on the need to improve the city and allow new businesses to take root here.
Councilwoman Ari Parker agreed, and pointed to Ford’s Department Store, which closed not long after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
“I still wish for that store every day,” she said. “Because it gave us something here that we couldn’t find.”
Parker said doesn’t want Watsonville to become a “bedroom community,” where people travel elsewhere to shop.
“We have great needs for the people of our city, and the only way we can support that is to have revenue and the only way we can have revenue is to have economic development.
Councilman Casey Clark said that the city needs to improve its infrastructure before considering development.
Watsonville Principal Planner Justin Meek community development said the city must, in its quest to create its general plan, consider such aspects as flooding risk, climate change, downtown revitalization, rail and other transportation.
City officials will also consider infill development along the Freedom Boulevard and East Lake Avenue corridors, as well as developing the existing trail system.
Other potential development mentioned Saturday is bringing in big-box companies such as Costco, and using agricultural land for a 40-acre sports complex, all part of the city’s overarching goal to generate tax revenue and attract business.
“It’s not only about housing, but economic development,” Councilman Eduardo Montesino said. “Because we don’t have enough. As you can see, nobody is coming to Watsonville to go shopping. Nobody is coming to Watsonville as an attraction.”