From Watsonville Forward to initiatives you plan to pursue, how are you planning to foster economic development and opportunity as the new mayor of Watsonville?
It is an incredible honor to serve as the mayor of the City of Watsonville in the New Year. This is a city of great possibility and opportunity because of its hard-working families, its rich agricultural heritage, and the fact that it is an emerging hub for entrepreneurs and businesses from various industries.
Watsonville Forward started with the idea of bringing together professionals and entrepreneurs that live, work and contribute to strengthening our community and local economy. Our long-term goals for this initiative include expanding economic opportunities for college graduates returning to the region or those choosing to live in Watsonville for the first time. Our proximity to UC Santa Cruz, California State University Monterey Bay, and Cabrillo College provide many opportunities for collaboration with the city. Networking opportunities are important but only the beginning of building a stronger economy.
With the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, critical tools for economic development, job creation, and affordable housing are no longer available to local municipalities. For economically disadvantaged communities like Watsonville, this has resulted in a much slower recovery from the national recession. As a board member of the Latino Caucus of the California League of Cities, I am involved at the state level in helping to develop and implement post-redevelopment tools that will help our community. Watsonville, with the support from the Governor’s Office for Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) and the reformed Enterprise Zone program, can offer a number of incentives to businesses seeking to invest and expand in the Pajaro Valley.
Within the context of limited state resources, our downtown revitalization committee of community and business leaders has been meeting regularly for the past year to identify key areas to spur economic development. Specifically in the coming year, the emphasis will be on supporting local businesses and facilitating the development of a downtown merchants association. Part of our downtown revitalization also includes the possible relinquishment of Highway 152 that runs through the center of our downtown. Still under negotiations, the relinquishment would allow for greater local control of our downtown, including traffic control, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and providing businesses greater use of the outdoors for entertainment and dining purposes.
I will work to develop a stronger partnership with the agricultural industries and associations in our region to address labor shortages by advocating for comprehensive immigration reform as a local issue. The need for workers is currently putting a major strain on our agricultural industry and hurting jobs in the Pajaro Valley. A stronger collaboration is important to attracting additional ag-tech businesses and innovation that promote 21st century jobs and careers in agriculture. Cabrillo College’s Solari Green Technology Center could facilitate training for local workers to fit the needs for employers looking to invest in Watsonville.
What will be your other top priorities for Watsonville as you embark on your first year as mayor?
Public safety continues to be a top priority in our community. Because of our commitment as a city to safe and healthy neighborhoods, we have been able to maintain a high level of service with our police and fire departments, as well as neighborhood services during some of our most difficult financial times. However, as costs continue to rise and our economic recovery remains slow, we need a temporary solution. A citizens committee of community members and business leaders has examined the necessity and feasibility of a revenue-generating measure to raise funds for police, fire and prevention services. This could be brought forward to Watsonville voters in 2014 to help fund our public safety. I would support bringing this measure with community consensus. As always, I will continue to work for a strong and vibrant community. I look ahead with excitement and optimism.