Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 13, 2004

Hooray: An elected official who does his homework

Quite frequently, I disagree with Councilman Craig Gartman — his unwavering support of the the new Gilroy Police Station as the price spiraled to stunning levels is a prime example — but I think he’s right on the money when it comes to the Hecker Pass Specific Plan.

Gartman came to a recent City Council meeting with a detailed and extensive list of questions about the proposal.

“I want to make sure I understand this document before I vote on it,” Gartman said.

If only all legislators felt the same way.

This kind of attention to detail is rare in elected officials. Kudos to Gartman for being willing to examine staff recommendations, to ask difficult questions of the prominent citizens who worked on the plan, and to take the time to carefully read the proposal.

Instead of appreciating Gartman’s hard work and thoroughness, some tried to limit his questions or to dismiss his concerns by referring him to city staff.

Gartman was correct to insist that his questions belonged in council chambers, not in staff members’ offices.

“The problem is, these are policy issues,” Gartman said.

City Council’s job is to set policy, city staff’s job is to implement it.

The Hecker Pass Specific Plan will guide the development of what many people consider to be Gilroy’s crown jewel. The highway runs through Gilroy’s beautiful foothills and into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It’s critical to get this plan right. We don’t want Gartman’s worst-case scenario to become a reality: “Thinking as a developer, I could drive a truck through the loopholes in this document. I was on the Planning Commission and I saw people take advantage of the loopholes and not follow the true intent.”

Like Gartman, I believe that the landowners and others who have spent years working on an advisory committee to draft this proposal have the best of intentions regarding the development of the Hecker Pass corridor.

But I also believe that Gartman is right to spotlight any loopholes or inconsistencies in the Hecker Pass proposal so that the community can have an honest debate and City Council can make an informed decision on this important document.

Gartman worries about provisions in the current proposal that he says allow trading of housing allotments between developments in the plan area. He frets about the types of businesses the plan would allow to set up shop. He’s concerned that the document does not support the stated intentions of the landowners – to preserve the scenic beauty of the Hecker Pass corridor. He’s anxious about inconsistencies within the plan.

These are valid concerns and ones that City Council ought to address in detail to make certain that the plan finally adopted for the Hecker Pass corridor is the best one possible for Gilroy.

I also have concerns about the plan — primarily the whopping 530 houses it proposes.

“We’re afraid a minor reduction is simply going to make the remaining units more expensive without creating offsetting benefits,” Hecker Pass landowner and advisory committee chairman Joel Goldsmith said recently when arguing against reducing the number of homes. Goldsmith noted that a reduction in the number of homes won’t improve sight lines, view corridors or open space.

But there’s one benefit from reducing the number of homes that’s notably absent from Goldsmith’s list: reduction in traffic. Fewer homes mean fewer vehicles traveling though the environmentally sensitive region.

Maybe the benefits of a larger number of homes balance the negative impact on traffic, maybe they don’t. But the debate about the number of homes as well as Gartman’s list of concerns is critical. It’s about making decisions and compromises with full understanding of the implications so that Hecker Pass remains Gilroy’s crown jewel.

The years of work and untold sums of money spent by the Hecker Pass landowners to develop a Hecker Pass Specific Plan proposal should be appreciated by everyone in Gilroy and South Valley.

But that well-earned appreciation doesn’t mean their proposal should be exempt from tough questions and close examination.

When City Council meets on Nov. 22 to further study the Hecker Pass Specific Plan draft, let’s hope they remember their duty to all Gilroyans to make sure the best possible plan is adopted.

That’s not possible without asking difficult questions and subjecting the proposal to close scrutiny. It’s a tough and sometimes thankless job, and I’m glad that Craig Gartman is willing to do it.

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