A Winters Tale: A landslide victory

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While last week’s presidential election was filled with uncertainty, the very opposite was true here in Winters.

As soon as the polls closed, the results were undeniable. The voters had spoken loudly and unequivocally.

Measure A, which will govern growth in the North Area going forward, was approved by the voters in a landslide.

In a nation of split views, seemingly on everything, the Urban Growth Boundary measure voted upon by the people of tiny Winters can serve as an example of how a community can compromise, and forge ahead in a positive way.

In the beginning it appeared the odds were against such a movement.

Winters seemed firmly on track to create the kind of subdivisions seen in our neighbor towns.

Winters would look and feel very different if that happened.

It took a band of unlikely characters, gathering in homes, tossing about suggestions, debating among one another, to organize Keep Winters Winters.

There was in attendance a former Mayor, an acclaimed planning expert, an ex-school board member, farmers, businessmen, homemakers.

There were members of longtime Winters families and newcomers who had fallen instantly in love with the town’s charm.

Citizens and country dwellers. Democrats and Republicans. 

To be sure, this was possible in large part due to the culture of Winters, what I have referred to in the past as the holy trinity of local values: nice people, hard work, volunteerism.

They knew the job ahead would not be easy.

Even among themselves, there were a few trials.  

The name for one thing was a source of great debate.

To some, Keep Winters Winters sounded like a plan to freeze things as they were.

In the end, however, the membership was persuaded that Keep Winters Winters instead meant keeping true to the community’s values, which included giving citizens power over their own futures.

KWW soon became part of the town’s vernacular, and the work continued in earnest with no one willing to give up.

Opponents who viewed this as civic meddling, seemed reluctant to acknowledge that the very dynamic of the City had evolved over the past 30 years.

The last time an initiative to address the City’s expansion was in 1989.

It failed by a 70-30 percent margin.

This year, by contrast, the initial returns showed Measure A passing by the same margin–a seismic shift.

What happened?

When California redevelopment funding was eliminated, many towns like Winters had to scramble to find money.

Expanding the tax base, and potentially attracting new business through housing development seemed the City’s answer.

But to many, the plans seemed too expansive, and more importantly, seemed to be proceeding largely out of public view.

It forced some uncomfortable discussions, chief of which was: should the City government have the loudest voice in expansion and growth, or should the voters?

If ever there was a grassroots movement to be emulated by other towns, KWW was it–safely securing more than enough signatures in spite of the shutdown.

Finally, although it had accomplished its goal beyond expectations, KWW took one further step.

It agreed to the compromise Initiative with the City, labeled Measure A. In the end both sides achieved their goal. 

In Washington, I believe they call this “crossing the aisle.”

Following this historic vote, there is much work ahead: formation of the new committee, the actual design of the North Area, ultimate approval vote by the people.

The lesson our small town has shown the nation is that it pays to get involved.

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