Expansion Anxiety

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Week-long poll currently in progress already shows 78 percent of
people are critical of the growth rate in Gilroy
Gilroy – Three out of four Gilroyans think the city is growing too fast, according to an online poll conducted by The Dispatch.

The week-long poll had drawn 202 responses as of Wednesday, with 78 percent of people critical of the growth rate.

In recent weeks, residents learned that officials expect the city to exceed its 10-year growth cap by 30 percent. Several years ago, council members decided to allow 3,450 new housing units through 2013. But they predict that more than 1,000 additional homes will sidestep the cap through various exemptions aimed at encouraging affordable housing and other types of desirable growth.

A number of residents questioned on the topic expressed concern that growth could outstrip city services and over-stress roads.

“I think that the infrastructure has not been keeping up with the growth,” said Judith Kay, a resident and retired school teacher. “I’d like to see some growth from within instead of adding to the outer edges.”

Alan Fichtner, another resident, blamed traffic snarls along the 10th Street corridor on motorists headed for the new shopping centers off Pacheco Pass. He also questioned the decision to build 1,700 new units of housing in the city’s southwestern quadrant. In the next seven years, Gilroy will see a new city rise as part of the Glen Loma Ranch Project, which will include a new elementary school, firehouse and town center to service the additional residents.

At the same time, the city’s historic downtown area has become a construction zone for new buildings, with hundreds of new units planned for the next five years. At a time when the city is growing inward and outward, Mayor Al Pinheiro said he was not surprised by the results of the Web poll.

“Would I rather have a lot less growth? Yes,” he said. “But then reality sets in. If we are going to provide balanced growth, we have to come up with housing numbers. And these are the numbers that made sense to us — 300 and some-odd units per year, on average. As long as we continue to have kids and need places for people to live, we’re going to need to grow.”

Councilman Craig Gartman has often questioned the city’s off-the-books accounting of affordable housing and other projects that qualify for exemptions from the growth cap. He has called on fellow council members for a more honest figure that reflects the city’s actual growth rate. But even he emphasizes the need for new homes and businesses.

“If the city does not continue to grow at a controlled pace, you will see your economy die within the city,” he said. “It’s Economics 101.”

Residents fighting housing projects often lament the loss of the city’s charm. Some who have implored council to oppose a project in their neighborhood have invoked the past, recalling when the city’s borders reached no farther than Miller Avenue. That was nearly 50 years ago. Today, the Eagle Ridge golf and housing community a mile to the west forms the southwest fringe of city development, butting up against the base of the Santa Cruz Ridgeline. Meanwhile, Country Estates and other housing communities have gradually covered the hillsides north of Hecker Pass. In the next five years, Hecker Pass landowners plan to bring hundreds of new homes to the city’s scenic western gateway. Road widening as part of those plans have inspired protest from residents hoping to preserve a row of historic trees along the road, and council members have put the brakes on development so they can re-examine their options.

But while some residents rail against the city’s growth, others with deep roots in the community have come to accept change as a bitter-sweet fact of life.

“I don’t feel that Gilroy’s growing too fast,” said current Gilroy Garlic Festival president Micki Pirozzoli, whose family has lived in Gilroy since 1868. “My worry is that I don’t want to lose the community of Gilroy. I want us still to have the small town feeling, even though I know the reality is that we’re going to have get bigger.”