WATSONVILLE — Over the past year, Watsonville has made efforts to rebrand itself to the rest of the Monterey Bay as a city on the move.
Those attempts were highlighted Wednesday evening during the second annual State of the City address in the Watsonville City Council Chambers, presented by the City of Watsonville and Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
According to Assistant City Manager Matt Huffaker, the Community Development Department issued more than 1,000 new permits over the past year. Those include more than 320 new housing units currently in the pipeline across the city, as well as a large-scale commercial project on 1715 West Beach St. that will consist of two hotels, restaurants and more.
Over the last year, the city launched a new website, as well as unveiled a new logo.
"Watsonville has a lot to offer, and a lot going on," Huffaker said.
Among a number of businesses that have either moved into Watsonville or expanded in the city, three businesses have moved into the former 62,000-square-foot FedEx facility on Technology Drive that was left vacant after the company moved to Manabe Ow Road: vitamin and supplements distributor Threshold Enterprises, Fox Racing Shox, and Harrell's, a fertilizer supplier.
The city's crime rate has also improved, according to Police Chief David Honda.
Watsonville has not experienced a homicide since late 2015, and overall, the violent crime rate is down 21.5 percent, and property crime is down 9.7 percent. The homicide rate is the lowest since 2002, and robbery is at its lowest since 1985, according to Honda. However, auto thefts did see an increase of 21.9 percent.
He credited a restructuring in the department and the hiring of additional staff, as well as a number of different programs, as the reason for the drop in crime.
"Combined with the hard work of the men and women of the Watsonville Police Department, that has really made an impact on our crime rates," Honda said.
But the "dramatic" rise in traffic collisions that have resulted in injuries and deaths are a major concern for police, he noted. Most recently, a bicyclist was killed after she was struck by a vehicle on Main Street near Auto Center Drive in September.
"It has skyrocketed, and that is unacceptable," Honda said.
The police department recently received a grant of $105,000 from the California Office of Traffic Safety, which will be used for "more visible enforcement," Honda said, as well as DUI checkpoints and programs that teach bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Mayor Oscar Rios said a goal is to make Watsonville a place where tourists stop and spend money, not a city they pass through on their way to Monterey or Santa Cruz.
"How do we get them to stop here, and how do we get them to see the beauty we see every day?" he said. "I think that's the challenge."
Other statistics mentioned by city officials during the State of the City were:
• More than 537,000 visits to the Watsonville Public Library in 2016, with about 370,000 books and materials checked out.
• The fire department responded to 4,700 calls for service in 2016, with 3,600 calls so far in 2017.
• About 2.2 billion gallons of water were generated for use over the last year.
• Watsonville will receive $1.7 million annually for transportation improvements due to Senate Bill 1 and voter-approved Measure D.