Guest Column: Why I do not support the KWW initiative

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In December of last year, I like many people, viewed a very professionally produced video on Facebook. The video while very well filmed and edited was void of any specifics and, like many people in our community, I wanted to know more about this new group calling itself Keep Winters Winters (KWW). Visits to their website in search of information and further explanation left me with more questions than answers. I was disappointed to see there is very little information about who is behind the organization or the rational for their ballot initiative. In the subsequent months I have tried to gather information and sort out fact from spin. I too share in the goal of “keeping Winters from growing too big too fast,” however, I have not been convinced by the group KKW’s simplistic messaging that their initiative will be good for our community. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to simplistic social media messaging, on point and light on details. However, the issues are complex and nuanced and the KWW campaign has fallen well short of providing substance to address these complexities. Currently, I believe that the initiative carries more potential risk for Winters than any potential benefit. My concern begin that the intent of the initiative is to set aside over three decades of planning replaced by a new “Urban Growth Boundary.” Numerous City Council and Planning Commission members and hundreds of active and involved community members have spent collectively thousands of hours over the past few decades addressing the complexity of city planning. These dedicated individuals have poured over details and issues ranging from zoning, transportation, economic development, housing densities, affordable housing, flooding, utilities, bus and bike connectivity, traffic, parking, schools, design guidelines and climate change. Now we are being asked to set all that public input and planning aside and adopt a new vision through an initiative who’s drafters are unknown which has not been publicly debated, or had public comment from all corners of our community. If there is ever a fitting circumstance for the term NIMBY…this is it. If KWW leadership were aware of obvious specific problems with in our general plan, it would be to the benefit of the community to share those specific concerns. If this initiative was truly necessary it should be introduced only after a comprehensive critique of our current general plan. If there are problems with the current zoning the group should provide detailed and specific comments to inform the community about potential issues. As an example, the economic development committee in 2019 spent months in open public meetings working on several recommendations on improving the zoning in the general plan area. These recommendations should be put forth to the City Council, not thrown out along with the general plan for a new initiative outlined in a matter of weeks. The general plan and underlining zoning call for a maximum of 354 acres that could be added to the city if needed, not the 800+ acres the KWW group is saying. These 354 acres is a very sensible plan and size. If those 354 acres were to be added to the city the underlying zoning would require 126 acres or about 35 percent to be designated open space/parks/recreation, again very sensible and reasonable. Currently the land is not open to the public and does not have any recreational value to the community. The fundamental question for me boils down to: Why is KWW drawing their “Urban Growth Boundary” line at the current city limit boundary and not at the General Plan Boundary? Rational people look at our general plan and say this is a sensible plan for limited growth, this is not a wild plan for unfettered growth. The obvious position for KWW would be to use the general plan line for their initiative boundary. Using the general plan line accomplishes the mission of allowing Winters to grow but “not too big too fast,” is this not the goal? This General Plan Boundary choice would have no current impact on the City or its residents; it does not open the door to litigation on any side. Additionally, it would protect the community from unlikely, but often feared “what if” scenario of a rogue city council and/or city manager. This seems like a logical solution that addresses the concerns of the KWW, while not jeopardizing the future of our community. If KWW actually wants to help the community they would use the General Plan Boundary as their Urban Growth Boundary. My belief is if the KWW initiative was drawn at the General Plan Boundary the entire community could rally behind the cause. I bet we would have unanimous approval from the City Council with such a change. KKW could then turn their efforts and energy into helping craft and shape the specific elements of the general plan to help keep our “small town feel”. As well as to help hold the city council and city staff accountable for enforcing existing codes. Something that at times has slipped though the cracks. Currently, there is not a single City Council member who publicly endorses KWW, this should and does say a lot. The City Council is working as intended. We (residents of the City of Winters) vote for fellow citizens to represent us. They are tasked with doing the difficult and time-consuming work of addressing the complexity and nuance of running a city. Our City Council understands this initiative is not just a simple bumper sticker with a nice logo. There are real life consequences to this initiative and many of them are not good for our community. I applaud the entire City Council for not rushing to endorse or dismiss KWW. To the KWW leadership: Do you want to help our community or prove a point? If you are interested in improving our community do not open us up for massive liability over a rushed decision to pick a boundary. The KWW leadership needs to recognize they picked the wrong boundary line and that mistake could jeopardize the financial stability of our city. The KWW initiative in its current state is frankly reckless and rushed planning but thankfully, it is fixable. Adjusting the KWW Urban Growth Boundary to mirror the current General Plan Boundary accomplishes what I understand to be the goals of the KWW group, while keeping intact the many good features of the general plan and still limits large growth out into the County. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water in this situation. We can have a healthy, vibrant city that still retains its agricultural heritage and small town charm. I am promoting that we step away from the fear mongering and look at the reality of our city. The freeway fast food was vehemently fought over but it did not change our social culture or our city character. We lost agricultural land when the PG&E facility was built but it did not negatively affect our city. The round about and stoplights were going to be the end of our small town when they were first proposed. Winters is better today than it has ever been and we still have plenty of room for improvement. We should not be risking stability and sensibility for fear of the future. Winters has never and currently does not have a fast growth culture. With current world and economic conditions with regards to COVID-19 we are going to have enough work as a community to pull through this current crisis, let’s not create a self-inflicted crisis of our own.


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