Gilroy Dispatch: Last Woman Standing: Cat Tucker for Gilroy City Council
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Gilroy Life Newspaper: Cat Tucker
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The Issues Facing Gilroy: Cat's View
Below is a recent Q&A with the Gilroy Dispatch, Tucker talks about how LAFCO decisions impact South County cities and how Gilroy can maintain its identity as it continues to grow.
DISPATCH: So far, the City of Gilroy has approved up to $150,000 for an independent analysis of the potential impacts resulting from the proposed urban growth boundary (UGB). Is this money well spent? What are you hearing from people in the community about the UGB proposal?
TUCKER: Actually most public people I talk to haven’t heard of it and out of my close friends it is about 40/60 for and against. Yes, I feel the money is well spent as the city needs to understand the impacts that the UGB will have on our community, the “9212” report will do a thorough analysis and give us the data we need to prepare. If this initiative passes, then the City Council will have to make policy decisions to deal with the consequences both intended and unintended. The budget will have to be looked at long term to adjust for any possible depletion of impact funds (traffic, parks, schools) along with reviewing staffing needs at City Hall as well as other policies that will need to change. In my corporate background experience, I’ve found that data-driven decisions are usually better in the long run.
DISPATCH: On March 11 at LAFCO you voted to approve the Morgan Hill annexation, while the executive director of LAFCO came out publicly against it, saying that the proposal to expand Morgan Hill's urban service area (USA) to include 229 acres in the southeast quadrant was “at odds” with the LAFCO mission. What merits did you see in this proposal? Why did you support it?
TUCKER: The Morgan Hill project was the best alternative for preserving ag lands as it included preserving 100 acres of land. The project was not building houses, it was building recreational fields as well as a much-needed Catholic high school. Morgan Hill showed their willingness to compromise by scaling down their original application. They scaled it down from 1,200 acres in 2013 to 229 acres today, and they also created an ag mitigation policy which LAFCO commissioners had asked for previously. I feel sometimes government agencies are too rigid in trying to accomplish their objectives, it seems like the director was going by the “letter of the law” without taking into consideration extenuating circumstances or the intent of the LAFCO charter. For example, the Santa Clara County planning department has issued permits to allow building “monster” homes on the land that LAFCO said they were trying to preserve. The landowners have a right to build a 10,000-square-foot building every 10 acres, and if you drive out there now you will see three of them being built. How is that not also “at odds” with LAFCO’s mission of preserving ag lands? It seems like the two county agencies don’t talk to each other. As a LAFCO commissioner I felt that common sense should prevail and all the factors should be considered. This project would have met the objectives of LAFCO (preserving 100 acres of ag Lands) while allowing Morgan Hill to meet the needs of its community youth programs and a high school.
DISPATCH: Both Gilroy and now Morgan Hill have been subject to pushback from LAFCO. What is the agency not getting about growth in these two South County cities?
TUCKER: I really cannot speculate as to why the LAFCO commission is against South County, other than the heavy influence of lobbyists. Our city councils need to be concerned when special interest groups have so much power that they can influence LAFCO to take away local land use decisions. In the last 20 years Gilroy has had only one project approved by LAFCO. Based on that history, I will predict we can expect the same treatment in the next 20 years. In the case of Morgan Hill, instead of ball fields for their youth programs and the preservation of ag lands they will most likely have monster homes every 10 acres.
DISPATCH: There is a possible half-cent sales tax increase on the table in order to help fund transportation projects across the county. Should Gilroy residents support this measure if it’s put on the November ballot?
TUCKER: One thing all Gilroyans will agree on is the traffic congestion on Highway 101 and the terrible road conditions of our streets. Silicon Valley Leadership Group along with VTA have come up with a solution.
This half-cent sales tax will benefit Gilroy as well as the rest of the county. Let’s be clear, Gilroy just doesn’t have the money to fix the roads. This tax will send some money to us so we can begin to tackle the problem. I usually don’t support raising taxes, but sometimes there is no other solution, especially when there are millions of dollars in unfunded road liabilities. I do urge citizens to support the sales tax measure.
DISPATCH: Is Gilroy a bedroom community to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area? How can Gilroy maintain its identity while accommodating growth?
TUCKER: Gilroy is not the small town it once was and the identity would be different depending on who you asked the question of—the young family that just moved here in the last five years or the retired people who have lived here all their lives. I would say that they would possibly have differing opinions. I moved here 32 years ago, my children were born and raised here, they are now 28 and 32. They often come home to Gilroy and enjoy running into old friends and classmates at the store or coffee shop. They still feel connected because Gilroy is a community of diverse people who can walk their dogs around the block and know their neighbors by name. We are a community of people who volunteer to do fundraisers for our youth organizations and other excellent programs. We are a faith-filled community with over a dozen religious churches.
Four thousand of us volunteer every year at the Garlic Festival to help our churches and favorite organizations and charities. People move here because we still have affordable housing compared to the rest of the county and once they start getting involved they see that this is a wonderful place to raise children.
I could go on and on but let me point out that these quality of life characteristics don’t change because of new R1 housing being built bringing in new people. Our identity in Gilroy is maintained through the community organizations, events, programs, schools, recreation, etc., and the best way to maintain the identity and community we love is for our city and its citizens to continue to support these programs.
People move here because we still offer a sense of real community that is lacking in many other cities. However, we need to keep a balance of growth and services. We can accommodate growth by using our existing policies to control it such as the Residential Development Ordinance (RDO). In the past this policy limited growth to 350 units per year but we never reached that number. The RDO is on the list of ordinances that will be reviewed when the general plan update has been completed. Currently we have built between 250 and 300 units per year. If citizens feel this is too many units then let’s look at changing our development policies.
DISPATCH: Do you have any regrets or feel there were any missteps taken in the handling of the 721-acre Rancho Los Olivos development proposal?
TUCKER: The Rancho Los Olivos project was intended to be a long-term planning project over the next 15 years and it would have paid for new roads, new school and provided mixed affordable housing for seniors and families. I support this overarching goal, but the project went too fast through the process and side-stepped the general plan update committee. I voted “no” because it seemed too rushed and the EIR did not address all the issues adequately. Hindsight is always 20/20, so I would hope the city will take heed of lessons learned.
DISPATCH: Anything else you’d like to add?
TUCKER: I say our identity as a community is our people; all ages, all ethnicities, and all faiths. I wholeheartedly embrace it and am ready to brainstorm solutions to issues that we will face in the future. I love the community that we have here in Gilroy, I am honored to be on the City Council and to do my part to maintain all the things we love about our city. At the same time I am not afraid of growth and I believe we can grow as a city in a smart way without endangering the fabric of what makes our community wonderful.