Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

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Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

Measure Q and Measure S would change rules for development in Watsonville. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

In the Nov. 8 election, Watsonville city voters will vote on Measure Q and Measure S.

What is Measure Q?

Measure Q is a voter initiative led by a community group called the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection. The initiative would amend Measure U, which was approved by Watsonville voters in 2002 to establish a boundary for the city’s development. Measure U’s goal was to prevent urban sprawl in surrounding farmlands and wetlands. Some portions of that boundary are set to expire in November. Other parts of the boundary line will dissolve in 2027.

What would Measure Q do?

The initiative would keep the established urban limit lines through the year 2040.

A “yes” vote on Measure Q means the city would keep the current urban line through 2040. Commercial or residential development would be allowed only within those boundaries.

The portion of the urban boundary outlined in green is set to expire in November. Boundaries outlined in orange are set to expire in November 2027. The red boundary line will remain to protect the adjacent wetlands, based on agreements between the city and the California Coastal Commission. (City of Watsonville)

A “no” vote on Measure Q means that the parts of the urban limit line set to expire this November would expire. The areas set to expire in November are outlined in green on the map above. Other parts of the urban limit line would expire in 2027.

What is Measure S?

Measure S is a counter-measure to Measure Q drafted by Watsonville city staff. The measure also preserves the urban limit line, but it provides a path for some future development outside of the boundary.

What would Measure S do?

Like Measure Q, Measure S would preserve the established urban limit until 2040. But the measure also allows the Watsonville City Council to identify areas outside of the limit for potential development during the city’s General Plan update.

A “yes” vote on Measure S means the city would maintain the urban limit line and allow for possible development outside those limits through the 2050 General Plan. Through that process, the city could explore housing and commercial opportunities outside of the current boundaries.

What does a “no” vote mean for Measure S?

A “no” vote on Measure S would keep the status quo. Some portions of the urban limit line would expire in November and other parts of the boundary line would dissolve in 2027.

If Measure S does not pass and Measure Q passes, the city would not be able to annex any new land for development.

If Measures Q and S fail, the urban limit line portion that expires in November would expire. Development possibilities would open along that line. If both measures fail, portions of the boundary line set to expire in 2027 would still expire in 2027. Farmlands and wetlands west of Highway 1 would continue to be protected from development under a 2000 agreement between Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, and the Coastal Commission.

Things to consider

Like other California cities, Watsonville is supposed to meet state requirements for new housing development during the next eight years. Watsonville must plan or build 2,053 homes from 2023 through 2031, according to the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments Regional Housing Needs Allocation Plan.

An impact report on Measure Q commissioned by the city from consultants Economic and Planning Systems concluded that extending the expiration date on the urban limit line in Measure U could prevent Watsonville from meeting those housing goals and stunt economic growth. In the 20 years since Measure U was adopted, 207 of the 1,850 projected housing units have been approved or developed in Measure U growth areas, according to a report from city staff.

In the 20 years since Measure U was adopted, 207 of a projected 1,850 housing units have been built in Measure U growth areas designated for development. (City of Watsonville)

​​The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection has pushed for agricultural land protections since 2018. They have said that the impact report is biased, and have released their own report on the impacts of Measure U and the potential impacts of Measure Q. That report blames low rates of housing development and job creation on city mismanagement. The report’s authors have said the city contains plenty of vacant land for commercial or residential development.

“Saving our agricultural lands is what this initiative is about,” Sam Earnshaw said during a March 8 Watsonville City Council meeting. Earnshaw is a member of the committee and operator of the agricultural business Hedgerows Unlimited. “People of Watsonville don’t want to see their valuable coastal farmlands turned into San Jose.”

The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection found 174 addresses for vacant lots and underutilized spaces in Watsonville. In an interview in August, Earnshaw said the Downtown Specific Plan includes areas that could accommodate about 3,900 housing units downtown.

“Trying to take farmland to build single-family housing is absurd — no one can afford that,” Earnshaw said. “This is not going to solve anything — can anybody name one place where sprawling out on farmland for development has actually worked?”

—Jesse Kathan

Editor’s note: Below is the original story on the Watsonville’s land use ballot measures that was published Aug. 5

Watsonville ballot measures tackle development, farm land

By Grace Stetson

Aug. 5, 2022

WATSONVILLE >> Watsonville voters in November will weigh two ballot measures that help guide where new housing, shops, parks and other development could be built near the city limits.

Some boundaries of agricultural land near the city’s borders are set to expire in November and in 2027. Two competing measures expected on the Nov. 8 ballot will decide how to handle those expirations and what areas can be developed.

  • The first measure, an amendment to the 2002 voter-approved Measure U, would extend agricultural land protections until the year 2040. A community group called the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection gathered more than 2,400 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
  • A “counter measure” that is being drafted by city staff would extend those protections until 2040 and give future Watsonville City Council members chances to identify areas for potential development during the city’s General Plan update. Residents could weigh in on those city council decisions.

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Both measures broadly create a vision for Watsonville’s growth, said new Watsonville City Manager René Mendez. A major difference is that the counter measure would allow the city council to move the urban limit line to allow for development and “create a process for growth,” Mendez said.

“It doesn’t mean that the city can just grow — it means we have to follow the General Plan and all the processes and procedures,” Mendez said. “It’s very challenging and difficult to grow, but this would just eliminate the boundary.”

Areas in green show an urban limit line that started in 2002 and is set to expire in November. Areas in orange are set to expire in November 2027. Areas in red are wetlands that will not be developed based on agreements between the city and landowners. (City of Watsonville)

The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection has pushed for agricultural land protections since 2018. They spoke with city council members and the previous city manager, Matt Huffaker. 

“There are many vacant and underutilized lots within city limits — this is a major category for the city’s housing element,” said Sam Earnshaw in a March 8 city council meeting before the council’s initial vote on the ballot initiative. Earnshaw is a member of the committee and operator of the agricultural business Hedgerows Unlimited.  “Saving our agricultural lands is what this initiative is about.”

Earnshaw said, “People of Watsonville don’t want to see their valuable coastal farmlands turned into San Jose.”

The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection found 174 addresses for vacant lots and underutilized spaces in Watsonville. In an interview this week, Earnshaw said the city’s Planning Department and developers are doing great work, but it’s the city council who has “their heads in the sand.” He said the Downtown Specific Plan includes areas that could accommodate about 3,900 housing units downtown.

“Trying to take farmland to build single-family housing is absurd — no one can afford that,” he said. “This is not going to solve anything — can anybody name one place where sprawling out on farmland for development has actually worked?”

Like most California cities, Watsonville already has a challenge of meeting requirements for housing development over the next eight years. According to the AMBAG’s draft regional housing plan, Watsonville must plan or build 2,053 homes from 2023 through 2031

Development limits

Debates about where to develop in Watsonville are decades old. In November 2002, Watsonville voters approved the original Measure U with about 60% of the vote. It set an “urban limit line” that separated agricultural land from land that could be developed on the city’s borders.

There are three main sections of the urban limit line. 

  • Areas for agriculture set to expire in November.
  • Areas for agriculture set to expire in 2027. 
  • Other areas where city agreements do not allow development. 

In June 2021, Amy Newell, Betty Bobeda and Peter Navarro filed a notice of intent with the city that aimed to amend the city’s General Plan and urban limit line through 2040. The Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection submitted required signatures for the November 2022 ballot.

This year, city council members worked with the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection to change the group’s ballot initiative to allow for development at 320 Lee Road. However, at the July 7 council meeting, Watsonville City Council could not agree on the settlement for the 13.6 acre parcel, denying the plan 3-4.

The council agreed to have city staff draft a counter measure for the Nov. 8 ballot — unless a new agreement is reached with the community group. Aug. 12 is the deadline to put measures on the November ballot. 

City staff also proposed possible annexation sites in the counter measure during the July 7 council meeting. Those sites include:

  • A 77-acre property near Wagner and East Lake avenues. Watsonville planners said the land could accommodate at least 860 housing units. 
  • Areas of Freedom Boulevard for commercial development.
  • Areas of West Beach Street for commercial development.

What does a “yes” vote mean on the Measure U amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot?

A yes vote means the city would keep the current urban line through 2040. Commercial or residential development could only be within those boundaries. 

What does a “no” vote mean on the Measure U amendment?

A no vote means that the parts of the urban limit line set to expire this November — outlined in green on the map above — would expire, said Watsonville Assistant City Manager Tamara Vides. Other parts of the urban limit line set to expire in 2027 should expire in 2027.

What does a “yes” vote mean on the counter measure?

A yes vote would mean the city could move forward with a slightly different plan, maintaining the urban limit line as it is now, but allow for development conversations through the 2050 General Plan. Through that process, the city could explore housing and commercial opportunities outside of the current boundaries.

“We will be able to engage the community and stakeholders across the board to plan together,” Vides said. “It’s through the General Plan conversation, that’s what’s very specific about it. It’s community input.”

What does a “no” vote mean for the counter measure?

If the counter measure does not pass but Measure U passes, the city would maintain the status quo, said Vides. The city would not be able to annex any new land for development.

“Development is not in our hands, we just provide the tools. Not having the urban limit line would give property owners the option to annex land to the city, but only if they’re interested in development,” Vides said.

If both measures fail, the urban limit line portion that expires in 2022 would expire and open development possibilities along that line. 

If both measures get more than 50% of the vote, the measure with the most votes wins, Watsonville’s city attorney said during the July 7 council meeting. 

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Grace Stetson is a Santa Cruz County freelance journalist who covers housing, homelessness and development. Stetson is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism master's program. Stetson has worked for Dateline NBC, Walt Disney Publishing Worldwide, Metro Silicon Valley, the Six Fifty, Good Times and Lookout Santa Cruz.

Contributing reporter | + posts

Jesse Kathan is an environmental journalist and a graduate of UC Santa Cruz's science communications program. Based in Berkeley, Kathan has contributed to the Mercury News, Monterey County Weekly and KSQD-FM.