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More About Downtown Watsonville
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the area, destroying many buildings either during the powerful tremors or in the demolition that followed. The once bustling commercial district has never fully recovered in some ways since that disaster.
After almost four years of planning, Watsonville's city council unanimously voted in October 2023 to approve a new 30-year revitalization plan for the city's downtown. The goal is to transform the area into a vibrant hub of culture and commerce by adding bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly streets, and opportunities for new development. A key part of this vision is a plan for Caltrans to reduce Main Street from four lanes to two.
Downtown Watsonville Specific Plan, outlines a new land-use strategy.
The downtown plan aims to create an active, vibrant, and walkable downtown by allowing up to six-story mixed-use buildings along main corridors. This promotes private development of residential, office, retail, and restaurant spaces while maintaining historic character. The plan also enhances pedestrian and bike infrastructure on public rights-of-way. However, as Main Street is owned by Caltrans, the state will have to lead efforts to reduce lanes. Though this may increase congestion, city council members believe more walkable roads outweigh possible travel delays.
One appealing aspect of the plan is that the city has already conducted an environmental review for the various uses of downtown parcels. This will enable developers and property owners to bypass the difficult bureaucratic obstacle of conducting their own review, potentially saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars and 6 to 12 months of additional planning work and coordination.
Another goal is to increase affordable housing options and preserve existing affordable units. The city plans to achieve this by limiting condominium conversions, expanding financial assistance programs that aid low-income homeowners and landlords, partnering with nonprofits and affordable housing developers, and creating incentives for new affordable projects. Over the next 25 years, the city projects adding a total of 3,886 new affordable dwelling units through these efforts.
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