Agri-tourist vote may hurt incumbents

Taking a Stand: Sanborn and Samorjai where the parking lot will be built a few yards from their homes. Photo credit: Jaqueline McCool
Rosie Sanborn moved into the newly built Heartland Estates off Hecker Pass in Gilroy just over a year ago. She and her husband had hoped to get out of the hustle of San Jose and fell in love with the greenery and open space at the new neighborhoods just south of Hecker Pass.
However, the Sanborn’s dream home quickly turned into a nightmare. The couple began to hear rumors that the empty field just a few yards away from their home would be turned into a 217- space parking lot.
When the Sanborn’s purchased their home they were aware an agri-tourist development would be built in the vacant lot down the street, but they say they had no idea how big it would be or that it would deviate so much from what had been described to them.
On July 2, the Gilroy City Council voted to approve the agri-tourist development on Hecker Pass. The vote came after the Planning Commission had deadlocked on the plans with a 3-3 vote. Councilmembers Peter-Leroe-Muñoz, Fred Tovar, Cat Tucker and Daniel Harney all voted in favor of the development, and now these votes have fueled campaigning that threaten the incumbents’ re-election.
After Sanborn learned of the agri-tourist development, she says she began to get involved. She reached out to the group Gilroy Growing Smarter, who had been responsible for Measure H and getting the urban growth boundary approved by the residents of Gilroy.
The group helped Sanborn and her neighbors organize, and now Gilroy Growing Smarter has endorsed its own slate of candidates, none of whom voted to approve the Hecker Pass agri-tourist development.
Sanborn and her neighbors have formed their own group as well, Neighbors Protecting our Past and Future. The group has not released its endorsement list yet, but says no incumbents that voted for the agri-tourist development will be on the list.
Sitting at Sanborn’s kitchen table her neighbor, Marika Samorjai, begins to cry. She and her husband had just purchased their home, but had not yet moved in when they found out the agri-tourist development was not what they thought it would be.
Both Sanborn and Samorjai say they were told by Meritage agents and the city that the agri-tourist space would be a small coffee shop, bookstore or fruit stand. Both women say they would have never purchased their homes had they known.
They say their ideal city council members will listen to their concerns. “They are elected to protect us first, the residents,” says Samorjai.
Gilroy Growing Smarter’s motivations are more complex. Carolyn Tognetti, executive committee member, says the group is looking for candidates who will uphold Measure H, the 2016 measure that restricts city sprawl outside city limits. She said Growing Smarter observed what candidates voted in favor of the agri-tourist development and took that into consideration as well when making endorsements.
Dion Bracco is the only incumbent to gain an endorsement from the group. Growing Smarter emailed invitations to all candidates to interview for endorsements, but only interviewed five. The group interviewed Bracco, Tim Renggli, Carol Marques, Tom Fischer and Reid Lerner. Lerner is the only candidate interviewed who did not receive an endorsement.
Planning Commission Chairman Fischer, who voted against the agri-tourist development when it came through the commission, was endorsed by the group. Bracco was one of two incumbents up for re-election to vote against the agri-tourist development. Regnggli had been a public supporter of Measure H.
Carol Marques, who gained the group’s endorsement, is also a member of Gilroy Growing Smarter’s Executive Committee. Tognetti and Marques say she went through the same interview process as the other candidates and was not privy to any questions.
Marques is running against Harney for the two year council seat. Harney was emailed the Growing Smarter invitation to be interviewed, but eventually declined after he says he learned the group had endorsed Marques before any interviews had taken place.
Harney says Marques’ website attacked his opposition to Measure H and support of the agri-tourist development before any Growing Smarter interviews, he also says Marques’ page had the Growing Smarter logo on the bottom prematurely as well.
Marques denies that any endorsement decisions were made before the process was completed and says she does want to speak about the topic. Her website currently reads, My opponent Daniel Harney opposed Measure H (and) voted “yes” to approve the Hecker Pass specific plan agri-tourism project.”
Council member Marie Blankley, who voted against the agri-tourist development, says she was not considered for the endorsement by Gilroy Growing Smarter. Blankley says she replied to the group’s interview request with a time slot selection, but reminded them she had opposed Measure H. She says the group told her there would no longer be a reason for her to be interviewed as they would not support someone who opposed the measure.
“It would appear they’re only endorsing candidates that will carry out their views,” says Blankley.
Gilroy Growing Smarter will hold a forum with their endorsed candidates Sept. 30 at 6:30 at Old City Hall.