WATSONVILLE—Watsonville’s voters have spoken.
And their message was clear: keep our police and fire departments strong.
Measure Y, the renewal of the half-cent public safety sales tax, passed with a little more than 76 percent of the votes from Tuesday night’s primary election.
The measure will take the place of Measure G, which has raised roughly $4 million per year for the City of Watsonville’s police and fire departments since voters approved it in 2014.
Measure Y will also support the City’s Parks and Community Services Department, as 8 percent of the money raised will be used to repair and create safe places for young people. Police will receive 54 percent and fire will take in 38 percent.
It needed two-thirds approval. It jumped out to a large lead in the early results and rolled to victory overnight.
Campaign co-chair and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput at a Measure Y watch party at Jalisco Restaurant Tuesday night said the early results were a good start, but was not ready to call the race just yet.
“It’s not over but it’s a very good sign,” Caput said.
But by the time the second round of results rolled across a flatscreen TV at the Main Street restaurant, campaign organizers had already placed “Thank You” signs—one in English and another in Spanish—at the Main Street and Freedom Boulevard intersection.
“I think the people have shown that they believe in our police department and our fire department,” Caput said. “I think they see the results [of Measure G] over the last five years.”
Roughly four dozen local leaders gathered at the restaurant to watch the results trickle in. A loud cheer and several claps could be heard as the initial results rolled in. Many in attendance stuck around until the second round of votes, released around 10:15 p.m., solidified the initial count.
Fellow campaign co-chair Francisco “Paco” Estrada, a Watsonville City Councilman, said the result was a product of a wide-reaching campaign that began in early January.
“I think we tried to be as honest and transparent as possible with the community,” he said. “We were out there. We met with everyone and we went to them…The voters are always right. We should always trust the wisdom of the voters.”
Funds raised through Measure G over the last six years have reinvigorated Watsonville’s police and fire departments. The fire department has hired eight employees—seven firefighters and an administrative assistant. And WPD has hired 14 people via the measure—seven officers, two police service specialists, a crime analyst, a property and evidence specialist, a youth employment specialist and two Police Activities League employees.
The funds have also allowed both departments to purchase new vehicles, tools and tech, make much-needed renovations to their stations and stabilize their youth programs.
WPD, for instance, has expanded and improved its locker room to accommodate its female officers, purchased body-worn cameras and updated its record management system. The fire department has purchased a new tiller ladder truck and a new storage container with its Measure G funds.
Additionally, crime rates have steadily dropped—they fell by 9 percent overall last year—and Watsonville has slowly become statistically one of the safest cities in the Monterey Bay.
“People didn’t want to go backwards,” Caput said. “I think people in Watsonville were saying, ‘hey, maybe it worked.’ They didn’t want to go back to what it was.”
Measure G was set to sunset in 2021, but the new measure will stay in place until it is repealed by voters.
That longevity will allow the City to take on more long term endeavors, such as possibly building a new fire station. Those larger projects will be determined by an independent third-party assessment of community fire and police needs set for June. That assessment will recur every decade under Measure Y.
Estrada said the parks and youth component sweetened the measure. He said he has been in talks with City Manager Matt Huffaker and Parks and Community Services Department Director Nick Calubaquib to use the funds, roughly $320,000 per year, to help families afford the City’s youth sports leagues and afterschool and summer programs.
“I want us to help our families who can’t afford our programs,” he said. “[Measure Y] gives us some flexibility to do all that, and I’m really excited about that.”
The special election cost the City $40,000.
For complete results visit votescount.com.