Rancho Hills protests: the gap and the yap

The problem is the gap and the yap. The gap is the time between
the initial approval of the 71-home project on 71 acres in
northwest Gilroy
– 2006 to 2011 when grading for the project began.
The problem is the gap and the yap.

The gap is the time between the initial approval of the 71-home project on 71 acres in northwest Gilroy – 2006 to 2011 when grading for the project began. The yap is the typical “urban legend” perpetuated by neighbors and perhaps real estate agents eager for a sale: “The hillside across from here will always be open space …”

Over the five-year period during the Great Recession, the neighbors who are protesting the Rancho Hills project have become accustomed to what they view as their bucolic surroundings. It’s understandably upsetting when the bulldozers show up across street on land where “the deer and the antelopes” play. That’s human nature. But residents shouldn’t blame the developers and neither should the “Great Gilroy Irony of the Great Recession” be lost in the hills.

The developers are simply playing by the rules the city has laid down. Angry residents are going to show up at the City Council meeting to protest Monday and the City Council – though they cannot legally change direction on the project now – should listen up. They have a burgeoning public relations problem that is really a public information problem that isn’t being addressed. Doing the bare legal minimum to let neighbors know about building projects, especially when there’s been such an unprecedented gap in construction, simply isn’t good enough.

That reality should move the city process beyond planning squarely into the public information arena in order for the city to get out in front of these issues that place an unnecessary burden upon our elected officials. Public information should spearhead an effort that would include more notices to neighborhoods, night meetings at a time when it’s convenient for the Average Joe and Jane who work out of town and gentle signage placed by the city on property approved for development with a city public information name and number to call for more information. It’s all about being pro-active and focusing public information on what’s important to the residents.

The Rancho Hills protest clearly proves that point. Residents will be sending the message again loud and clear Monday and they have another, less formal, opportunity to communicate with Mayor Al Pinheiro (who voted to approve the project back in 2007) at his coffee session Saturday, July 23 at City Hall. It begins at 9:30 a.m.

But beyond the protests, the neighbors in Rancho Hills should realize the irony in this story. Building new homes means jobs – lots of jobs for people who really need them. Appliances are sold, concrete is poured, drywall is put up, cabinets are made. The country is in a terrible recession and Gilroy’s unemployment rate, the highest in the county, is in the high teens.

The reality is that the project will, and should, move forward. New neighbors and new flowers will be planted and, hopefully, the city will have learned an important lesson about effective public information.

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