Welcome to the City of Watsonville
Watsonville’s colorful history spans many thousands of years, having first been inhabited by the Costanoans, a hunter and gatherer Indian tribe. Remnants of their tribal campsites have been discovered on the Pajaro Dunes and along many coastal valley streambeds.
Explorers with the first Portola expedition in 1769 reported seeing a large straw-stuffed bird at one river’s mouth and decided to name the river after the Indian symbol: Rio Del Pajaro, or River of the Bird.
Many European expeditions followed the first and by 1847, 40 people held claims to ranchlands where large herds of cattle grazed. Still, it wasn’t until the 1848 gold rush in the Sierra Mountains that dramatic changes occurred. Land came cheap. The new settlers were the first to engage in large scale farming and ranching in the Monterey Bay Area.
Watsonville was incorporated on March 30, 1868, and came under a city charter in 1903. Watsonville derived its name from Judge John Watson, who came to the valley in 1851 Watson moved to Nevada in 1861 and died in 1882.
Growth in the Pajaro Valley flourished as the Southern Pacific Railroad linked the area to the Santa Clara Valley in 1871. Churches, schools, newspapers, libraries and major businesses appeared as electricity and telegraph lines worked their way into the lives and traditions of the Pajaro Valley.
Today, agriculture and food processing remain the mainstay of the Pajaro Valley economic structure. Yet in keeping with recent trends, a new breadth of opportunity has opened for residents and businesses, including light industry, manufacturing, tourism and service oriented businesses. Watsonville is a rich agricultural community (the Pajaro Valley is one of the world’s largest agricultural centers) famous for its strawberries , apples, and cut flowers, and for its ethnic diversity. Nearly 70 percent of the population in Watsonville is Latino. Watsonville ranks as the 21st largest Hispanic market in the United States. Watsonville is also a young town, with almost 34 percent of its population under 18 years of age.
Watsonville is also famous for being close to the epicenter of the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The earthquake destroyed 850 dwelling units and 100 commercial and industrial buildings. The earthquake caused over $35 million in damage and more than 1,400 people were recorded as unemployed immediately following the earthquake. Watsonville has made great strides in recovering from the earthquake with new housing, commercial and public buildings replacing those damaged in 1989. Some of the earthquake recovery projects include: the Henry J. Mello Performing Arts Center, the Gene Hoularis and Waldo Rodriguez Youth Center, the Porter Building, the Romo Building, the Petroutsas Building, the Watsonville Discount Mall, the Beach Street Parking Garage, La Posada multi-family residential project, and St. Patrick’s Church.
The City of Watsonville utilizes the city manager form of government. Seven City Council members are elected by district for staggered four-year terms. The mayor is elected by the City Council members. The City Manager, appointed by the Council, supervises all heads of City departments and makes recommendations to the Council, which meets twice monthly. Watsonville is a full-service city with is own airport, landfill, wastewater treatment plant and water system.