Through the evening air on the Michael’s on Main patio, the voice of Santa Cruz Transportation and Public Works Commissioner Kyle Kelley—an opponents Measure D supporter—rang out.
“We’re way in the lead!” he exclaimed, he said as the initial results of the primary election popped up on a big screen inside the restaurant. The earliest returns showed 68% percent of voters rejecting Measure D.
The trail-only backers of Measure D sought to pave the way for a greenway on the old freight corridor along the Monterey Bay, but the ballot results suggested that many locals questioned the wisdom of removing references to rail from the Santa Cruz County General Plan.
“Are you serious?” asked Sally Arnold, a No on D coordinator, when told of the numbers. “Fabulous.”
Until that moment it had been unclear which way voters were leaning.
After all, Arnold noted they’d been behind in another key aspect of the campaign.
“We’ve been outspent from the get-go,” she said. “We were always scrambling to raise the money that we needed.”
But she said there’s been an upwelling of support for rail-and-trail during the campaign.
“It’s been really encouraging,” she said. “The volunteers have been just phenomenal.”
One of those boosters was 16-year-old Santa Cruz student Luke Lindroth, who made a video to promote preserving the rail line.
“If my money’s going to ripping up the train tracks, I’m not going to be happy with that,” he said. “You’re eliminating the options for future transportation, but you’re also erasing history.”
Mark Johannessen, an attorney for TIG-M, the company that recently brought a light rail demonstration to the boardwalk, said their battery powered vehicles wouldn’t be as expensive as the ones factored into the current $500 million estimate for passenger rail on the line.
Melani Clark, CEO of Roaring Camp Railroads, a key force behind No on D advocacy, said she was humbled to see how so many people rallied to their cause.
“They’re just an amazing group of people,” she said. “It’s amazing to me how many different people have come from all corners of the county.”
And while the overwhelming support for the No on D side could rally support for restoring the link between their business interests in Watsonville and Felton, she says it will also help promote solutions to climate change by encouraging the construction of public transit.
“That to me is really more important than the railroad,” she said, adding she hopes the Regional Transportation Commission will take this as a sign residents want both a rail line and a recreational trail.
The sentiment was echoed by Mark Mesiti-Miller, co-chair of the No on D campaign.
“The Santa Cruz County voters have spoken,” he said. “The RTC needs to listen.”
Over at the pro-Measure D watch party at Shadowbrook Restaurant, David Date, a self-described internet troll and passionate trail-only supporter, looked dejected.
By that point his side was losing badly—by 6,668 votes to 15,704. But he downplayed the significance of the results.
“It doesn’t look good, but ultimately this campaign really had no teeth,” he said. “This was just a straw poll.”
He still held out hope that the people who first learned about the issue during the divisive campaign would eventually warm to the idea of a greenway.
“A ‘no’ vote on D does not fund a train,” he said.
Bud Colligan, leader of the Yes on D side, wasn’t conceding defeat just yet.
“I’ve very pleased that we ran a positive and educational campaign, and we’ll live with the results of what voters say,” he said, adding the ball is now in the court of local transportation officials. “The RTC will need to figure out what trail is fundable, feasible and doable in a reasonable period of time.”