Council candidates talk housing, transportation

WATSONVILLE — The eight candidates running for the Watsonville City Council voiced their plans for the city during a forum Wednesday.

The forum, hosted by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and the Santa Cruz County Business Council at the Watsonville Civic Plaza, drew a crowd of about 50 people.

Four districts are up for election in November. In District 7, Ari Parker, Lupe Rivas and Steve Trujillo are vying for the seat currently held by Nancy Bilicich, who is terming out.

District 5 incumbent Rebecca Garcia is facing off against Casey Clark, while Francisco Estrada and Jenny Sarmiento are running for the District 4 seat, which will be open as current representative Jimmy Dutra is running for county supervisor.

Lowell Hurst is running unopposed in District 3.


The rail corridor and Highway 1 expansion

The Regional Transportation Commission recently released a draft report of its Unified Corridor Investment Study, which looks at ways to invest in Highway 1, Soquel Drive/Freedom Boulevard and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

Trujillo, Rivas, Sarmiento and Hurst said they support passenger rail with a trail on the branch line, citing the constant gridlock on Highway 1.

Parker said Watsonville’s economy needs the rail line for its businesses to transport produce, but questioned whether people from Watsonville will take the train to North County. She said a third lane on Highway 1 would be more beneficial for South County.

Estrada called a third lane on Highway 1 a “band-aid” for the county’s transportation problems, and said a commuter rail is “fine, if it meets the unique needs of Watsonville.”

Clark said the county should invest in its existing infrastructure, such as repairing Highway 1.

Adding that she had many questions about commuter rail service, Garcia said the county needs more alternative modes of transportation.


On attracting new businesses

• Garcia said the city needs more businesses that develop technology to help the agriculture industry, as well as expand jobs in the medical arena. “The city really needs to encourage these types of businesses to come to Watsonville.”

• Clark: “I want to attract all businesses and maintain a healthy working relationship with businesses that are already in the city. I want Watsonville to have the reputation that it is inclusive and business-friendly.”

• Rivas: “We have to attract as many businesses as we can in this area. We need to work on our reputation and make it a friendly place to be.”

• Trujillo: “We need to appoint a Watsonville renaissance group with people who are interested in giving a rebirth to the business community. We had a first-time homebuyer workshop, why don’t we have a first-time business owner workshop as well?”

• Parker: “It’s not the role of government to create new businesses, it’s our job to create a good business climate. The council must create policies that make sense to make Watsonville more attractive.”

• Sarmiento: “We need to work closely with the small businesses that we have here in Watsonville. That’s not to say that we don’t need to attract other businesses, but we need to provide the technical support of businesses we have locally.”

• Estrada: “We need businesses that highlight the strengths of our community. We love to be in a crowd, we want to hang out, we are full of life and energy. We need businesses that will let us linger.”

• Hurst: “We need to respect the private industry. Jobs that pay a livable wage, generate sales tax, that’s what I would like to see.”


Out of land?

All candidates agreed that Watsonville is out of usable land for major residential developments, and most mentioned that annexing agricultural land is out of the question.

They offered some ideas to help house the growing population:

• Hurst: Streamline the permitting requirements for accessory dwelling units.

• Clark: Construct high density infill projects, “slow and steady.”

• Garcia: More mixed-use developments on Freedom Boulevard and downtown, and streamline the permitting process for developers.

• Parker: Build up downtown, with residential units above commercial businesses.

• Trujillo: Residential areas on the upper floors of downtown, and experiment with a tiny home community on a vacant Freedom Boulevard lot.

• Rivas: Look at accessory dwelling units, such as caretaker units in senior neighborhoods.

• Estrada: Mixed-use, high density, build up.

• Sarmiento: Consider smaller units, duplexes and triplexes.


The forum will be available for viewing online starting today on Youtube at It will also be available beginning Monday at


Pajaro Village is hosting a candidate forum for Watsonville City Council District 7, and the candidates running for Santa Cruz County Supervisor District 4, on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. at the Pajaro Village Clubhouse, 739 Bronte Ave.

District 7 candidates Ari Parker, Lupe Rivas and Steve Trujillo are invited, as are supervisor candidates Greg Caput and Jimmy Dutra.

The public is invited.


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