When the 15 month-old LandWatch of Monterey County organization this week announces the hiring of Planning and Conservation League (PCL) General Counsel Gary Patton as its first-ever executive director, the organization will be putting friends and foes alike on notice. Clearly, the hiring of Patton--a 20-year Santa Cruz County supervisor and author of one of the most controversial land use ordinances in the state--is an indication that the neophyte nonprofit means business about having a real voice in the future of Monterey County planning.

"People who know something about me will think ''great''," says Patton. "People who are worried, I think they will think LandWatch is serious about their concerns about land use."

Patton has also served as PCL board president and on the board of close to 20 state and local agencies, among them the California State Association of Counties board of directors, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. He''s also been honored with awards from almost as many service organizations, including the NAACP, the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood. Clearly, he''s a political heavy-hitter with all the right sorts of liberal connections one would expect an agency concerned with proper land use to value.

But beyond Patton''s credentials is a certain directness, a cut-to-the-bone approach that neatly exposes the essence of an issue. It''s an approach that allowed Patton to politically survive in Santa Cruz County, where two other supervisors who had insisted on a review of county planning policies were recalled by voters in the late 1970s. It may also have helped secure the passage of Measure J, which in June of 1978, banned conversion of prime ag land in Santa Cruz County, directed growth to existing urban areas, mandated the construction of low-income housing, and required an annual public hearing to set the county''s annual growth goals. The 20-year-old ordinance is still in effect today.

"I have always felt it''s very important to try and get people focused on what you stand for, rally them around and really make that part of the electoral thing," says Patton.

But there are those who feel Patton''s style may have cost him the 27th Assembly seat, a race he lost in 1993 to the more affable Bruce McPherson, a one-time Santa Cruz County newspaper publisher who himself went on to become Monterey and Santa Cruz County''s first Republican state Senator since 1980.

Patton, for his part, insists that his political record speaks to his ability to build the coalitions needed to get things done. As for his fiery reputation--Patton says a lot of that was simply a means to an end. "We play roles that are assigned to us," he explains. "A good part of making an organization like LandWatch run is not really an elected role. It''s meeting, greeting, talking and working together and informing people. The fiery aspect, I think will probably not be called for really very much, if at all."

As executive director of LandWatch, Patton will be working with LandWatch staff--so far, the $150,000-a-year organization employs a fulltime coordinator and a part-time assistant--on building memberships and setting up the nonprofit as a clearinghouse of local planning information. Patton will also be working with representatives from county government, Fort Ord and parts of the agricultural community to develop what he describes as "key" to the future of Monterey County in the next decade, such as ag land conversion, traffic congestion, affordable housing and water conservation.

As a newcomer, Patton is careful not to apply the specifics of Sacramento and Santa Cruz policies to Monterey County policies and politics. A Measure J-type ordinance "may not be the answer to everybody''s problems," says Patton, although "Monterey County is ready to confront the need to protect agricultural land." Monterey County may not be ready to increase sales tax revenues to fund public transit as is the case in Santa Cruz County, but Patton says locals might be willing to reduce their single-car commute by one day a week.

The way Patton sees it, no one wants to live in a community snarled by gridlock and unbridled, uncontained growth, and that''s as good a starting point as any for this new job. "We all agree about what we''d like to see as an outcome," says Patton. "Let''s see if we can find ways to work it out." cw

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