The bizarre events of December 2015 will be long etched in Gilroy’s political history. Mayor Don Gage stunned the city by resigning without warning a year before his term ended, effectively handing the reins to his political ally, Perry Woodward. The handoff allowed Woodward to run as an incumbent—but not before the duo pushed through approval of a massive farmland annexation that would have, along with other planned developments, made Gilroy one of the Bay Area’s biggest cities—a sprawling urban mass of 120,000 residents, more than double the city’s population today.
The annexation showed disregard for the will of the citizens as expressed through the general plan process and the Planning Commission. It was a land grab and a power grab. Gilroy got sued by the county agency LAFCO, an unprecedented and embarrassing turn of events, as well as by property owners to the south. A petition drive quickly gathered steam. Not only did the annexation fail, famously, but now Gilroy’s elected representatives may lose their legal authority to manage growth—because many residents don’t trust local politicians to act in their best interests.
Citizens should be able to trust their elected officials to be ethical and transparent. But that is not what was happening when Woodard duck hunted with the project’s developer and cut political deals behind the scenes.
Mayor Woodward touts his experience in serving on the boards of regional agencies and his relationships with officials around the county in his pitch to be allowed to continue as an elected Gilroy official. His professional experience as a real estate lawyer should presumably make him even more astute. So with all of his knowledge and connections, how could Woodward not have realized that in flouting the general plan, Gilroy was breaking the law and exposing the city to an expensive lawsuit?
The speed with which Gilroyans lined up to put an urban growth boundary initiative on the ballot signals that the city’s population is changing the way it thinks about the future. Many residents have expressed a preference for infill development over sprawl, for rebuilding the downtown over constructing more retail strip centers, and for not stretching city services over a larger territory while putting more commuters on U.S. 101.
As the champion of the failed 721-acre annexation, Woodward cannot be trusted to represent Gilroy residents who want sensible, cautious growth instead of bold ambitions, along with secret deals that will just get the city into more trouble.