WATSONVILLE -- If Tuesday's City Council meeting was any indication, an election to decide whether Watsonville should annex farmland for conversion to a shopping center will be hotly contested.
The only issue up for debate Tuesday was whether to hold a special election this year or wait until the next general election in November 2014. That was enough to draw dozens of people to either urge the council to wait or to forge ahead.
The council decided on a 5-2 vote to hold a special election June 4.
"We cannot waste another day," said Councilman Daniel Dodge, who spearheaded a successful petition to get the issue before voters. "This is a movement of struggling working-class people and desperation for jobs. We're not waiting for anyone to save us. We're taking our future into our own hands to create jobs and tax revenue to pay for city services."
Many of the speakers agreed, saying the city's high unemployment rate and large population of young people needing jobs required action now.
"Watsonville is a great agricultural community," said hip-hop artist Eric Munoz. "Everywhere I go I brag about our strawberries. I brag about our apple cider. But at the same time, we need progress. We need to bring all the revenue we're taking to Santa Cruz and other cities. We need to bring more jobs for young people."
But many in the agricultural community urged the council to wait until 2014 to give the community time to sort through the issues. The 80-acre Sakata-Kett property near the Riverside Drive interchange is prime farmland, they said.
Nursery owner Dave Cavanaugh said every acre of strawberries planted on the property yields $25,000 in profit. That's $1.9 million injected into the local economy, he said.
"Ag offers more jobs than ever before and in a wide range of jobs, not only entry level but to degree professional," said Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau President Cynthia Mathiesen.
Councilwomen Nancy Bilicich and Trina Coffman-Gomez were prepared to wait instead of spending up to $80,000 for a special election. More time for research would be better as well, they said.
"Someone might come forward with another more beneficial proposal," Coffman-Gomez said.
But others on the council noted it had been more than year since Dodge first raised the issue, and the conversation had been ongoing during that time.
"I'm not sure what more time would provide," said Councilman Felipe Hernandez. "No one's brought up a viable solution to our community to deal with the unemployment rate."
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS