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Daniel Dodge picks up the certification of the Sakata annex petition from Watsonville city clerk Beatriz Vazquez Flores Tuesday. Next step is to put it on the ballot for a popular vote. The Property encludes 80 acres of berry fields and the new Chevron station and Redmon House property on athe West side of Highway 1. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel)

WATSONVILLE -- A diverse group of interests has found common ground in opposition to Measure T, a ballot initiative that would open the door to annexation of 95 acres of farmland into the city.

The newly formed Committee to Save Jobs and Farmland counts among its members a former Watsonville mayor, an environmentalist, a retired labor leader, the president of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, and an owner of the property in question.

The committee has put its name to the ballot argument against the measure, which is scheduled for a June 4 election.

Backers, who collected more than 2,000 signatures to put the question before Watsonville voters, filed an argument in favor of the proposal. To read both arguments, visit www.votescount.com. Rebuttals, due Thursday, must be filed with the city clerk, 275 Main St., Suite 400.

Amy Newell, a veteran union organizer who represented labor during past discussions about Watsonville growth, is co-chair of the committee opposing the measure, and promises the group will run a robust campaign.

Time is short. Early voting will start May 6.

"Our group is going to be coming up with a campaign of phone calls, walking neighborhoods, community meetings," Newell said. "We'll do our best to educate people about the value of our farmland and the need to get into smart growth policies."

Newell said smart growth means concentrating urban development within existing city limits and on properties already sanctioned for annexation by voters, particularly in the Buena Vista Road area and on Manabe-Ow, land slated for light industrial development in the southwest corner of Watsonville.

Backers say the farmland in question -- the 80-acre Sakata-Kett property on Riverside Drive as well 15 acres west of Highway 1 at West Beach Street and Lee Road -- has fewer challenges to development and its proximity to the Riverside Drive interchange with Highway 1 makes it ideal for retail.

City Councilman Daniel Dodge, who first proposed the annexation more than year ago, argues such retail development would bring jobs and tax dollars to a city with high unemployment and diminishing resources.

Supporters have a head start on the opposition after spending six months on a door-to-door campaign to gather signatures, and plan to continue their outreach to the community. Dodge said he sees the opposition as "out of touch with the opinions and feelings of a lot of folks in Watsonville."

"A no vote is a no vote on change and a vote for the status quo, and the status quo is not working in the city of Watsonville," Dodge said.

The ballot argument in favor, signed by Dodge and two others, acknowledges the importance of agriculture to Watsonville but says only a tiny fraction of available farmland would be developed. Further, the city needs new sources of revenue to fund police, fire, library and recreation.

In their ballot argument, opponents say the proposal is "based on empty promises about speculative future economic gains" and threatens not only some of the most fertile farmland in the world but also existing local businesses that could be forced to compete against corporate retailers.

Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS

Measure T


WHAT: Ballot initiative amends Watsonville's urban limit line to allow for potential annexation of 95 acres of farmland for retail development.
WHEN: June 4 election