A fourth-generation Gilroyan and small business owner who worked his way up from the bottom, Gilroy City Councilman Dion Bracco is a plain-spoken local leader with a real passion for his community. He has seen Gilroy grow from a small agricultural town into a commuter hub impacted by the growth of Silicon Valley. Instrumental in the founding of the Compassion Center and the South County Youth Task Force, Bracco believes issues like homelessness and gang suppression are best solved regionally. He has been a council member since 2005.
DISPATCH: You were a founder of the South County Youth Task Force in 2012, how effective has it been in addressing gang activity in Gilroy?
BRACCO: It started from the Gilroy Gang Task Force. We didn’t feel that we were achieving our goals as just the Gilroy Gang Task Force. Gangs are regional. When you see most gang problems it could be someone from Morgan Hill, Hollister, someone from Gilroy, so we thought it would be better to use a regional approach.
We met with the mayor of San Jose on their mayor’s gang task force, and we modeled our program after that. Working with folks from San Jose we brought together the cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill, both school districts, the county, the sheriff’s department and the DA’s office. When you get all those folks around the table, you can get something done.
Before, when police would have contact with a young person that had gotten into some really bad stuff, well, they were barred from informing the school district, and vice versa. By forming the task force, all the people that need to be there—the chief of police, school superintendent—those folks are in a room and can discuss these things. It’s not so much about punishment, but to bring all the resources you have to bear, on the problem. If a student or their family need certain services, give it to them, before they get into a lot of serious trouble. It’s a whole lot cheaper to try to catch these kids before they get into trouble than it is to rehabilitate them later.
The Compassion Center is moving to a smaller location in Gilroy, while strategies like “tiny homes” are gaining traction among homeless advocates. How do you see Gilroy’s effort to address homelessness in the region?
It’s tough in Gilroy because of funding. We are the red-headed step-child of Santa Clara County. There is money available to help the homeless and fund programs, but most of that money stays up in San Jose. We have a hard time getting it down here.
What it is going to take is a united approach from Gilroy, and I believe we have that now with our new city administrator, Gabriel Gonzalez. He’s really good at working with other officials in solving problems.
Our county leadership has changed some in recent years and I believe with the leadership at the county right now, we stand the best chance to get something going down here. The whole tiny homes concept is something the county can look at and use as a pilot project, put some funding toward it to see if it will work. It is going to take everyone from the city, the county, and nonprofits together to solve this problem.
The first houses for the 309-acre Glen Loma Ranch are now up for sale. Work on the roundabouts and street improvements are well underway. What are your thoughts on this development that has been nearly 20 years in the making?
That project was started a long time ago, perhaps even 30 years ago! It goes to show you how long a big project like this takes. They had houses approved to be built each year, but because of the recession, they are building now. It feels like they are building a lot of houses, when really they are catching up.
What’s important to know is that developments like that pay for everything. All the street improvements, the roundabouts, that’s all paid for by developers. That’s where the money comes in for our public facilities, our streets, everything comes from the impact fees they pay.
When they do a big project there’s a lot of other stuff the city requires them to do. Normally on a big project, the city comes with a laundry list of projects they want to get done: it might be bigger sewer lines, or widening streets, and they negotiate with the developer to get the projects done without costing the taxpayer anything.
The homebuilding partners of Glen Loma Ranch held an open house last month where visitors could check out the model homes available. Prices start in the high $700,000s and can run to nearly $1 million, depending on layout and features. Do these prices blow your mind?
Yes, they do. I don’t know who buys them, because that is a lot of money for a house. But it is supply and demand, and people are buying them.
Affordable housing, a cluster of rental units to be constructed in the Glen Loma Ranch Town Center, are coming. However, the majority of the estimated 1,600 units will be market-rate, single-family houses. Is Gilroy producing enough affordable housing for current and future residents? What can the city do?
I think we do a lot, we have requirements that developers build a percentage of affordable housing. But in our area, people get mixed up on what “affordable” is. We are a part of the San Francisco Bay Area, so if you are making $100,000 a year, you are considered low-income! So affordable here is a lot different than what affordable is in Hollister and Salinas.
What are your feelings on the Urban Growth Boundary Initiative that will be on the ballot in November?
My worries with the UGB [if it passes], are that it’s good until 2040. When it expires we may be so far behind because we hadn’t expanded our sewer treatment plant, we hadn’t put in bigger water lines, drilled new wells. So it will take a huge investment just to accommodate more growth.
The City Council approved up to $150,000 for an independent report of the proposed initiative, was it worth the money?
It addressed some things that were good to know. Like how developments affect the city financially. Right now we have hardly any commercial space in Gilroy. If we wanted another UNFI to come to the city, we could not do it.
We are at the crossroads of Highway 101 and Highway 152, and we need to capitalize on that. Warehouses, distributors—we are a perfect location for them. This is a gateway for them and we need to be able to handle that if it comes up, and with an urban growth boundary, we won’t be able to.
If you get a company like UNFI, they are not going to wait for an election to see if they can come here, they will just go somewhere else and build. That is one of the contradictions in the ballot measure, you want good jobs, but you don’t want the growth that will provide those good jobs. Also, because you are not building new commercial spaces, there will be more people commuting out of Gilroy and commuters passing through Gilroy.
People are moving from the Bay Area to Gilroy because it is cheaper. They can sell their house in the city and pay cash for a home in Gilroy, instead of financing and they are done. If they can’t come here, where are they going to go? Salinas, Los Banos, Hollister—other areas.
Well, that is still going to add traffic to Highway 101 that we pay for in Santa Clara County. There are all these unintended consequences.
I actually agree with a lot of the stuff in the urban growth boundary, I’m not for just growing—that’s why I voted against the 721 acres. But again, the developers of that project would have probably spent billions of dollars in improvements for the city and houses would not have been built for 15 years. But ultimately, the system worked—the project was shelved and the mayor resigned over it. We also have LAFCO. We can’t even get a sports park in the city, so the chance of the 721 acres getting in was probably zero.
I believe we need to plan for our future, 40 years in advance. We need to know where we are going to build and how we are going to build. Personally, I would like to see the boundary move out to Day Road in the north and Santa Teresa Boulevard in the south. To me, that’s smart growth. We are still staying compact and Christopher High School was built for growth in that area.