Just outside of the city limits of Ukiah there is an empty piece of property formally owned by the Masonite Company. In 2001, the company left town leaving a probably toxic parcel for some entity to swoop down and purchase.
Enter the Diversified Realty Corporation (DDR). After hassling with the county about rezoning the land (it is heavy industrial now, they want it mixed use), they have managed to get a ballot measure to the voters in the November that let’s the people decide about the rezoning issue. The ballot measure is called Measure A.
Needless to say, both sides of the Measure A issue have made plenty of noise. The “Mendocino Crossing” project (DDR) is the name of the “Yes on Measure A” group. They are the “corporate big-box bad guys”. On the other side we have the “No on Measure A” crowd, a group of no-growth advocates, anti-corporate types, and local business owners. It’s over a month away and already I’m tired of both sides’ aggressive tactics in getting people to vote. I’ve been called twice by both sides and been solicited by a “Yes on Measure A” promoter. The media hype surrounding the “No on A” is so annoying and hypocritical that my wife and I are considering voting “Yes” on the measure because we are so turned off by the anti-corporate faux-rage. Here’s a list of arguments from both sides, and why I’ll probably end up voting “yes”.
1) Measure A goes around the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with a loophole regarding the initiative process. My take: It does, although much of the environmental impact studies have already been conducted in a report that DDR released. In addition, the development still has to go through the county for permits, water issues, and still have to pay local impact fees. Mind you, a lot of this would have been taken care of if the county wasn’t such a bitch to deal with. Meaning, this is a growth issue.
2) It will kill good jobs. My take: What good jobs? The town has been losing jobs for the last nine years, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of development spring up that offers high paying positions. While I agree that the box store model of employment isn’t the best, that land has been sitting idle for almost a decade with nothing going on, with no attraction for industry and no job growth. I’ll gladly get some money pumped into the local economy by having locals work there.
3) It will be a traffic nightmare. My take: If it is planned correctly, it won’t be. And if the city and county actually become involved, they could work on being a model for rural public transportation planning. Instead, they backed out of the whole shebang and have left it to the will of DDR. It might not be too late to get involved and make the process work. By the way, the area that will be developed is in strong need for repair. The roads and conditions of the area are sub-par at best.
4) It is big-box urban sprawl that will make downtown Ukiah a ghost town. My take: Most local businesses I’ve dealt with are; A) too expensive, and B) too full of themselves. I’ll gladly shop at Rainbow Ag, Oco Time, Schat’s, Ellie’s, and Dorsey’s Auto Repair. But way too many businesses in Ukiah expect the consumer to feel like they owe the business something by being local, and they become petulant. The perfect example is Dave Smith, owner of Mulligan Books here in Ukiah. I’m sure Dave is a nice guy, but his store is open a total of four hours on the weekend, and his stock of “gently used” books are not as cheap in many cases as a brand new one at Amazon. Oh, and Mr. Smith can’t have many employees, if any. Amazon.com employs around 20,000. And yes, those cheap prices allow me to eat more Oco Time.
5) Public services are crippled due to lack of taxes. My take: If the city got off its ass, it should attempt to annex the land now. If they had a brain, it should have been done years ago. It really doesn’t matter because I don’t see it as true. The city could easily collaborate with the county for tax revenue, and let's remember that the development will attract more people to shop in town, and eat in town, and play in town. The tax revenue will go up. And of course, DDR still needs to pay impact fees.
6) Big corporations don’t need to be in small towns. My take: If the big corporations do better for the small town, so be it. I have no problem with a Costco in Ukiah (the rumor). Small businesses revolve in and out of the downtown area not because of Wal-Mart, but because they aren’t very good. Wal-Mart has helped keep costs down in this town and allowed for people to spend money on other things like going to the evening races, bowling, eating out, or going to the Ukiah Player’s Theater.
I’ll probably end up voting “Yes” on the measure, although I have serious questions about logging haul road that is next door to the development, and the overall aesthetics of the project. This town needs good growth, and people bitching that it needs industry only are the same people that often complain that marijuana needs to be legalized, a major reason that we can’t get industry into the area in the first place. Who the hell wants to raise a family in a town that smells like a pot garden every morning? Fix your social issues and the good development comes. In the meantime I want Costco, I want Best Buy, and I want Barnes & Noble.