Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 7, 2010

Holiday wishes for South County

‘Tis the season for making wish lists, so here’s my holiday-inspired list of gifts I’d like for South County:

Complete the Little Llagas Creek flood control project: It’s incredibly frustrating that dribbles of money are spent to keep this decades-old project, known as PL566, on life support, but never enough to finish it. A dusty, more-than-50-year-old plan to fix the chronic flooding of Little Llagas Creek exists, but work stopped at Buena Vista Avenue in the mid-1980s when money ran dry. Unfortunately, parts of South County along the creek north of Buena Vista Avenue regularly flood because this project has been half-finished since parachute pants were in style.

Minimize bedroom community disadvantages: Most employed South County residents commute out of town to work, traveling, on average, more than 60 minutes round trip. That makes that Morgan Hill and Gilroy “bedroom communities” and it means that many residents are less connected to our towns than are people who work in the communities in which they live. Often, the folks who are most involved in volunteering and civic activities are people who live and work in town or are retired.

A fix with multiple benefits is creating more local living wage jobs. It’s good for the economy: A recent Morgan Hill Times editorial stated that every job of this type supports more than two service jobs; it will also reduce sales tax leakage. But even more, it’s good for our community’s quality of life, because increasing the percentage of residents who work locally facilitates more involved, invested residents.

Maximize rural location advantages: South County boasts wild, open spaces, thriving agriculture and classic small-town communities. Let’s take advantage of those unique characteristics — you just can’t find them in metropolitan areas like San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland — by encouraging agritourism and ecotourism.

A 2010 International City/County Management Association report entitled Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities describes successful agritourism efforts in Vermont and Oklahoma. The ICMA reports that in Vermont, agritourism “resulted in an increase of $10 million in farm incomes between 2003 and 2005, and half of all participating farms report making more than $20,000 per year from their agritourism businesses.” We must also think regionally — including our neighbors in San Benito County, for example — to boost agritourism and ecotourism.

Better public transit: Squelch any cries of “socialism” you might find bubbling up in your throat. The roads that privately owned vehicles travel are subsidized. The air travel system is subsidized. Unless you’re crying “socialism” about those, I really don’t want to hear it about public transit. There’s nothing wrong — and there’s a lot right — with subsidizing public transportation.

That said, we sorely need more public transit in South County, specifically better Caltrain service. It’s unreasonable to expect South County’s many commuters to make the switch from highly flexible cars to less-flexible trains given the ridiculously limited schedules that Caltrain currently offers.

Then, I’d like to see the nine-county Bay Area integrate its many transit systems. Bus schedules should take arrival and departure schedules for BART and Caltrain into account. Public transit riders should be able to buy one pass that works on every public transit system in the Bay Area. If officials can make public transit easy, integrated, timely and convenient — all things it currently is not — they’ll go a long way toward encouraging people to switch from expensive, polluting cars to cheaper, eco-friendly public transit.

Establish a four-year university: Gavilan Community College is a great resource, but it’s not enough. I’d love to see a full-fledged, liberal arts university offering bachelor’s degrees (dare I dream of master’s degrees and doctorates?) located in South County. A four-year university would bring innumerable quality of life, cultural and economic benefits to our community.

I don’t have a preference for a public or private university, as long as a private university doesn’t come with philosophical strings that would limit its scope, especially in the arts and sciences.

I’d rather that my wish-list university not be an extension of an existing institution; these are often the poor stepchildren of the main university and the quality of life, cultural and economic benefits seem to me to pale in comparison to the benefits enjoyed by the communities that are home to a university’s main campus.

It’s an optimistic wish list, one that will take years, perhaps decades, to achieve, but one that’s worth working toward.



  1. […] County: That it would become home to a full-fledged college or university. This item was on my “holiday wish list” for South County last December. Agnes Scott College Commencement 2010 from the Flickr […]


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