By CHARLES MONTOYA, Watsonville City Manager
Dear Watsonville Community,
As we embark on Watsonville’s 150th birthday, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what the City Council, staff and community partners have accomplished over the last two years and look forward to the year ahead.
We have much to celebrate, as Watsonville continues to grow, adding much needed jobs and housing, and ensuring a bright future for our community. I assumed the leadership role of an organization in a moment of great transition. The city was finally overcoming its earlier fiscal troubles, while the nation and region had already begun their recovery from the Great Recession.
Today, we are a stronger organization, with a strengthening tax base, stable political leadership, and strong local and regional partnerships committed to achieving the community’s tremendous potential.
The past few years have been a success in many ways, but there have been challenges as well. We have changed the way the city responds to community residents, businesses and the agricultural industry. As we look back on the last two years, the City Council, staff and community partners have made significant investments in rebuilding our infrastructure, expanding economic development efforts, and streamlining our development process.
What has been accomplished in the last two years?
• Replaced more than four miles of aging water infrastructure pipes (over 50-80 years old)
• Completed school crossing upgrades; 31 intersections near 13 middle/elementary schools
• Installed red curbs in residential areas to enhance pedestrian safety
• Approval of Army Corp of Engineers to enhance the Pajaro River levee
• Successfully treated Pinto Lake Park from toxic green algae
• Approved over 380 additional new housing units, many under construction
• Opened the new 190,000-square-foot FedEx facility
• Approved three new hotels that will bring new visitors and sales tax to our community
• Opened premier Kaiser Permanente medical offices on Main Street
• The community approved three new voter initiatives by over 75 percent each to help the city diversify resources
• Established new community events, such as Fire in the Sky, Christmas Train on Main, and Music in the Park
• Elevated the airport to a department and created a new economic driver by adding Watsonville Diesel, United Flight Services, and expansion of additional restaurants and venues — new square footage of over 150,000
• Expansion of Nordic Naturals, 75,000 square feet — all businesses adding over 300 new jobs
• Re-branded the city logo and presentation to bring forth a more vibrant reflection of who the community is — bringing new investment and jobs to the city that were not previously interested
• Completed Downtown Beautification Project, including new landscaping, intersection and crosswalk improvements
• Overall crime is down 11.3 percent, violent crime is down 21.5 percent, and only one homicide by gangs in two years. Homicides are the lowest since 2002, robbery lowest since 1985
• Increased funding for nonprofits for first time in a decade
• Employees across the board received a raise for the first time in a decade
What do we need to work on?
• Public pensions are struggling to recover after the Great Recession. As a result, the city’s pension costs will increase by $7 million over the next seven years. The city needs to develop a long-term plan for addressing this serious issue.
• We had a handful of pedestrian deaths over the last few years; traffic safety must be a priority for the city in 2018
• Homelessness is a growing challenge throughout Santa Cruz County, and Watsonville continues to struggle with the effects of this chronic challenge. Over the next year, the city will be working with community partners and Santa Cruz County to develop comprehensive solutions to this challenge
• While our financial situation has improved, we are still left with some large deficiencies, including significant deferred infrastructure with facilities, parks and transportation.
• Working more closely with the school district to complete PVUSD expansion plans
• Develop a stronger, more integrated program for children between Parks, Library, Police Activities League, and the school district
• Continue to work on the expansion of the airport for safety and economic development
• We need to find ways to provide affordable housing to the many households that are still looking; and grow with a balanced approached, while not displacing the people that made this community who we are
The Council, staff, our community partners and myself are working extremely hard to continue to provide a bright future of services, programs and community events; while enhancing public safety and roads.
The way the city is doing business has changed, the results are self-evident as we are finally growing and providing more resources into programs and services; there is more business and investment into the community. Without the continued new influx of revenue and growth, it would not be possible to continue increased funding to nonprofits, programs or the employees that are the ones who interact with the public every day.
Thank you to this community, former Mayors Bilicich, Hernandez, Rios, and now current Mayor Hurst — we could not do this without you.
In closing, if you have any questions or concerns, please let us know. We all work for you and want the best for this community.
Charles Montoya is the city manager of Watsonville. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.