gmhTODAY 14 gmhToday May June 2017 - Page 27

South County is home to some 100,000 people living in a 40 square mile swath of land . People here often say there is nowhere else they ’ d rather live . Our two cities , Gilroy and Morgan Hill , are growing up side by side , adapting to change while working to preserve the qualities that make our region so desirable . Recently , gmhTODAY invited Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate and Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco to weigh in on regional thinking .

At the top of the conversation , Mayor Velasco made the point that there is an expectation in Gilroy and Morgan Hill that the mayors will take care of issues over which they have little influence . The housing market , utilities , water management , public transportation , to name a few . These issues are not defined by the boundaries of either Gilroy or Morgan Hill , they are regional , and their impacts are significant .

Santa Clara County is the fourth largest county in California and the most populous in the Bay Area with 1.8 million people . Of the county ’ s 15 cities , 13 are clustered in the north , Gilroy and Morgan Hill represent the south . Together , Gilroy , Morgan Hill and San Martin represent just 6 percent of the total county population . Unlike most of our northern neighbors , we ’ re surrounded by greenbelt .
And we are being discovered by our northern neighbors . They like what we offer and are often surprised to find that normal travel time between San Jose and Morgan Hill is about the same as it is between San Jose and Milpitas , Palo Alto , or Los Gatos .
“ To some , there ’ s still a perception that Morgan Hill is ‘ way down there ,’” Tate noted . “ To others , we ’ re part of Silicon Valley … twenty minutes from downtown San Jose . When people come here , do the wine trail , eat at our restaurants , and attend events like the Granada Theater opening , they say , ‘ Wow , I ’ m coming back .’”
“ We have to keep driving home the message , ‘ Come to South County , it ’ s not that far ,’” Velasco agreed . “ One visit , and people get it . For example , last year ’ s Lumination event at Gilroy Gardens drew people from all over … and of course the Gilroy Garlic Festival is the granddaddy of food festivals .”
When asked , “ Do we need to think and act more , or less , as a region ?” both mayors agreed that it depends on the issue at hand .
“ While people want us to think regionally , we each have to make decisions based upon what ’ s in the best interest of our local community ,” Velasco said .
“ Our first responsibility is to our cities ,” Tate said , “ but it ’ s going to evolve naturally that we ’ ll do more regionally . Regional Initiatives are among Morgan Hill ’ s strategic priorities for 2017 . Along with economic development another likely area is the environment , including green building , clean energy and water conservation .”
“ What I ’ ve seen over the years , is that people are thinking more and more about what neighboring cities are doing ,” Tate added . “ We see regional impact in other areas including public safety , healthcare , education and transportation .”
Public Safety
Both mayors emphasized that public safety is a top priority . Criminal behavior is not defined or confined by city boundaries . An ongoing collaborative regional effort is essential to crime prevention and intervention , and to reduce youth violence and gang membership .
“ We get together regularly with our police teams , the District Attorneys and our County Supervisor , Mike Wasserman , who chairs the Public Safety and Justice Committee and sits on the Board of the South County Youth Task Force ,” Tate said .
Public Transportation
Public transportation is an increasingly hot topic in South County . Velasco noted that while Gilroy and Morgan Hill have not always been given a full hearing by the VTA Board , the local communities are working hard to get their message heard .
“ One example of a longstanding regional organization is the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority ,” Velasco said . “ The VTA is governed by an independent board of elected officials . The VTA is looking at potentially changing its service model , trying to shift buses to highest traffic areas , which may result in a service reduction in South County . Our cities and residents have called on the VTA to more fully serve the needs of our community , including seniors , people with disabilities , and people who rely on public transportation to get to medical appointments and shop for groceries . We need to partner and stay engaged with policy makers .”
Right now , we ’ re grappling with the mother of all transportation issues — the High-Speed Rail ( HSR ).
“ The High-Speed Rail Authority is just that , the authority ,” Tate said . “ We have to accept their decisions . Their original plan was to begin construction in Southern California , but they shifted to Central Valley . It ’ s a moving target . Going through Morgan Hill , HSR narrowed the route to two alternatives — at grade along the existing railroad tracks , or along the west side of Highway 101 . Our position is , look at all alternatives , including an alignment along 101 using existing right of way . We ’ ll go to the Central Valley to see the construction that ’ s underway , and we ’ ll go to Sacramento to make our position known to the HSR board .”
“ The High-Speed Rail Authority wants Gilroy to make a recommendation ,” Velasco explained , “ but our City Council needs more information from the Authority . I believe some downtown business owners who were pro-alignment
GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN MAY / JUNE 2017 gmhtoday . com
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