The proposed Artisan’s Plaza mixed-use project sounds like a
winner for San Juan Bautista, a small, history-rich city struggling
with some big financial problems.
The proposed Artisan’s Plaza mixed-use project sounds like a winner for San Juan Bautista, a small, history-rich city struggling with some big financial problems.

The project would include up to 35 residential units – 10 live-work condominiums aimed at artists and between 20 and 25 apartments for senior citizens – plus a bed-and-breakfast inn, an art gallery and a regional visitor center.

But developer Tod duBois has run up against the city’s growth cap, which limits individual builders to no more than four new residential units per year (and allows for a citywide total of just seven new units per year). DuBois said he tried to find a way to make the project pencil out within the limits of San Juan Bautista’s growth cap but that, in the end, he found it simply unworkable.

Even so, duBois didn’t give up. The city’s growth ordinance contains a clause that allows individual projects exceeding the 1 percent growth cap to be put to a vote of the people. Last week, he went before the San Juan Bautista City Council to ask the council to approve a special election in which voters would decide whether to exempt his Artisan’s Plaza project from the city’s growth cap. DuBois even offered to pick up the $10,000 cost of holding the vote.

The request for a special election got a preliminary OK from the council, which has since asked the city Planning Department to prepare a ballot measure. The council still needs to give final approval, but the vote could happen by summer.

The Artisan’s Plaza project has so much going for it – creative housing options for artists and seniors, new tax revenue for the cash-strapped city, the potential to help further San Juan Bautista’s reputation as an arty place and strong community support – that we believe it ought to be built in spite of the city’s growth cap.

But there is something troubling about allowing a developer or anyone pushing a single issue to get a measure on the ballot simply because he’s willing to pay for an election.

Given the city’s dire financial situation – just last week, San Juan Bautista City Manager Jan McClintock was warning that sales tax revenues were in a death spiral because of a prolonged tourism slump and that the city could be flat broke in 12 to 18 months – it’s highly unlikely the question of a growth cap exemption for Artisan’s Plaza would be headed for the ballot if duBois wasn’t willing to pay the bill.

That’s no rap against duBois, for whom the $10,000 election tab is simply part of the cost of doing business. But the city is on an incredibly slippery slope here and we urge San Juan Bautista’s elected leaders to begin looking for a way to find footing on more stable ground.

In fact, the City Council is presently considering changes to the growth control ordinance to bring it in line with state laws that require cities to provide wider-ranging housing options for low-income residents, seniors and others. These changes need to happen.

Beyond that, the historic Mission City needs to become a little more business- and visitor-friendly if it wants to start tourism tax dollars. City government has a role here, but business and property owners also need to sharpen the quality of their services as well as the image they are presenting to the world.

San Juan Bautista’s history is certainly worth protecting. But the city can’t stonewall progress if it hopes to thrive.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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