Eye on Watsonville, CA - City’s future takes shape through residents’ visions

Sentinel staff writer

WATSONVILLE, CA— A more vibrant downtown with restaurants, boutiques and places to hear music, more bike paths and pedestrian-friendly roads linking neighborhoods with upgraded shopping areas, and lots more open space throughout the city.

Those were among the ideas that emerged Sunday at Watsonville Vision, a nearly four-hour city-sponsored event that drew about 75 participants, eager to share their views about how the city should develop.

The event was aimed at prompting community dialogue as the city updates its general plan, a document that will guide development during the next two decades.

"It’s a fantastic opportunity to get a taste of what’s coming and to get to participate," said participant Jennifer Berry, a soon-to-be Watsonville homeowner.

With maps and square, colored "game pieces" representing various kinds of development — housing, retail, industrial, parks, lodging — participants were given the task of designing their ideal city. Quiet discussions, both in Spanish and English, soon gave way to lively exchanges as participants pushed their particular visions.

Berry, who with husband Nathan Bach has purchased a home under construction in a new neighborhood near Struve Slough, joined a group that focused on the downtown area. Although the downtown has historic charm, it lacks attractions that would make it a destination, Berry and others said.

Participants plunked down red squares, denoting multi-story buildings with shops on first floors and housing above, along Main Street between the Pajaro River and the city plaza, and squares in shades of blue for small shops and boutiques along side streets. Then, they took their vision further, using a green marking pen to draw landscaped walkways along the Pajaro River and West Beach Street and penciling in a fountain at the intersection of Freedom Boulevard and Main Street to serve as a gateway to a revitalized downtown.


Rafael Lopez, a former City Councilman, said the plan reflected the creative energies of the age group gathered in the group.

"All of us are young, and we want places where we can live, work and play in Watsonville," he said.

Other groups considered the Atkinson Lane and Buena Vista areas, both slated for annexation, and Freedom Boulevard.

Buena Vista proved to be the most controversial area. In a nod to opponents of annexation, one group eliminated the area from consideration. Another group covered the map with squares of yellow in varying shades to denote housing in differing densities. A third group came up with a compromise plan that called for maintaining the current zoning of one home on 5 acres on the outskirts, increasing housing density closer to the city’s existing borders, and leaving plenty of open space.

John Fregonese, a consultant hired by the city to facilitate the general plan update, said Sunday’s event was a beginning that will inspire further planning.

Lorenzo Huizar, a resident of the Martinelli area who worked on the plan for nearby Atkinson Lane, said he was relieved that professionals will come up with the actual plan.

"I kind of feel like we’re dreaming everything," he said.

But he said found the process interesting and looks forward to monitoring developments.

"You never know, I might wind up buying a house in that area someday," he said.

Contact Donna Jones at djones@santacruzsentinel.com.



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