Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 3, 2012

A look back, a look ahead for South County

2011 held both disconcerting and promising changes for South County. On the disconcerting side, a California Supreme Court decision came at the end of the year that allows the state of California to kill redevelopment agencies. The decision means that the Morgan Hill Redevelopment Agency, which is responsible for many projects that improve the quality of life for city residents, will cease to exist on Feb. 1, 2012.

getting ready for new years from the Flickr photostream of summerbl4ck

The much-used Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center, Centennial Recreation Center, Aquatic Center, and Morgan Hill Library, and many improvements in the lovely Morgan Hill downtown: These are just a few examples of the assets the RDA helped to bring to Morgan Hill. A comparison of the downtowns of Morgan Hill, which launched its RDA in 1981, and Gilroy, which never created one, shows the power of RDAs to help alleviate blight and improve quality of life for residents.

On the positive side, state Senate, state Assembly and US House of Representatives districts were drawn for the first time by people other than state legislators. At the behest of California voters, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission took over the job from legislators, who had huge and insurmountable conflicts of interest in creating districts that protected their seats rather than promoted the interests of the people they represented.

Under the new system, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and San Martin are in the same state Senate district, 17, and state Assembly district, 30. Gilroy is split between two congressional districts, one of which includes Morgan Hill and San Martin (District 19) and one that instead includes Hollister and points south (District 20).

The Los Angeles Times has a useful interactive tool that shows the districts that were drawn by legislators the last time they had the job (2001) compared with the new districts created by the Citizens Commission in 2011. The maps are a visual justification of the wisdom of redistricting reform. I predict that we’ll just begin to see the effects and wisdom of California voters’ decision to relieve legislators of their redistricting duties in the 2012 elections.

Morgan Hill Congressional district after 2001 redistricting (left) and 2011 redistricting (right)

But I’m not just looking back; I’m also looking ahead to 2012 and asking: What would I like to see happen in South County this year? Setting aside pie-in-the-sky dreams (like attracting a full-fledged, not-hamstrung-by-religious-dogma university to the region) in favor of a more practical, achievable goal, I’m still hoping that South County can find someone to create better marketing of the region as a local tourism destination. I’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating: People in the Bay Area need to know how close Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Gilroy are to the rest of the Bay Area, and they need to know more about the treasures that await them if they visit South County.

I’m frequently reminded of the misperceptions that many people who live north of Blossom Hill Road have about how far away South County is. Meanwhile, they don’t hesitate to drive much greater distances to visit other regions. I’d love to see a campaign that corrects that misperception while also reminding folks of the great wineries, restaurants, recreation opportunities and more that abound in South County. Getting more people to visit will help not only those businesses, but related businesses as well, including gas stations, restaurants and local governments (by increasing sales tax revenue). If more people are aware of South County’s many charms, it will eventually have a positive affect on property values. It will also help great local non-profits that host events like Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest and the Poppy Jasper Film Festival.

I’m quite aware that government funds are limited, and thus would like to see a public-private partnership come together to fund a marketing campaign to let our Bay Area neighbors in on the much-too-well-kept secret that is South County.

A new year presents us with the illusion of a new beginning, a fresh start. In reality, we’re burdened with the consequences of our past mistakes and blessed by the fruits of our past successes. Let’s work together in 2012 to minimize the former and maximize the latter.

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