Guest Column: Gilroy’s Changing Role in Silicon Valley

Dan Harney

Six years ago, my wife and I decided to move to Gilroy from Morgan Hill, to raise our family. Gilroy attracted our young family because of its small town charm, open spaces, the strong park and recreation program, and most importantly, a great public school system for our children.
My wife and I both work in Silicon Valley and the logical decision would have been to move north, closer to our jobs, not south.
Gilroy is different from San Jose and other surrounding cities; there is a better quality of life, such as less traffic, a strong public safety organization, strong volunteerism, and a real sense of community. However, after we settled in we soon discovered Gilroy’s negative perception held by many people in Silicon Valley. For many, Gilroy is a town with higher crime rates, lower income levels and a weak education system in comparison to other Santa Clara County cities such as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Saratoga and Cupertino. Collectively, we need to change this perception by being more engaged in resolving regional problems.
Much like Gilroy, other Silicon Valley cities are changing and facing the many challenges related to growth. Since the great recession in 2008, more than 300,000 new jobs were created and housing has not kept pace. During this same period, Gilroy added many new homes to support the economic expansion and our city has felt the pressures. Moving around Silicon Valley is more challenging than ever, commuters need to plan more time to travel short distances, an experience most Gilroyans dread every morning and evening.
In this same period, Gilroy has lost public transportation services; we have fewer buses and trains serving our residents and there are more commuters than ever travelling through our town to the Silicon Valley.
I recently represented Gilroy at the Cities Association meeting. In attendance were other elected officials from Silicon Valley including Mayors and Vice Mayors. The purpose of the meeting was to elect the city’s representative to the open Local Agency Formation Commission position (LAFCO is a state mandated local agency established to oversee the boundaries of cities and special districts) and other committees that govern agencies and services.
In this meeting, I argued that 95 percent of all Santa Clara County land available for new housing developments to support Silicon Valley growth lies within Morgan Hill and Gilroy and therefore, Gilroy City Councilmember Tucker should be selected for the open LAFCO position. Ms. Tucker has land use experience, understands environmental issues, and has served in this capacity in the past. More importantly, I argued, it is important that Gilroy has a seat at the table in resolving regional issues such as housing for the Silicon Valley workforce.
The Mayor of Morgan Hill, Steve Tate, agreed and provided supporting statements to this end.
There is no doubt that Gilroy does not want to succumb to pressures from Silicon Valley. We want to preserve our green belt and agricultural land, the woven fabric that makes Gilroy, well, Gilroy. We do not want sprawl and we want to preserve our small town charm in order to maintain our quality of life.
While we may debate local dilemmas such as housing projects, location of High Speed Rail station, and local sign ordinances, it’s important to understand our role in solving regional problems and accounting for these in our local decision making process.
It is equally important to ensure that we have strong representation at the regional levels to ensure Gilroy needs are heard. As your appointed City Councilmember, I endeavor to fill this responsibility along with my peers on City Council.
Equally important is for local grass root leaders, such as the UGB and Make Downtown Better and other organizations who are inspired to protect our small town charm, to be engaged in regional problem solving and representing the will of Gilroy in regional discussions. This means our residents need to attend VTA meetings, participate in LAFCO meetings, and other forums where policy decisions are made that impact our quality of life.
Daniel Harney is a Gilroy City Councilman.