.Measure D-railed

Voters choose a future with trail—and rail

Measure D—which was hailed by many as a way to get Santa Cruz County residents out of their vehicles, off the roads and onto a bike-pedestrian path that replaced the rail line—was dealt a crushing blow Tuesday when it went down in a landslide.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Santa Cruz County election results show 21,021 people had voted against it, while 8,580 voted yes.

The measure would have rewritten the county’s general plan with language of developing a trail-only model along the county’s existing rail corridor, a plan that could have included removing the tracks in a process called “railbanking.”

But opponents—many of whom hope in the future to see passenger rail spanning the length of the county, with a trail alongside it—said the measure would have forever removed the rail option. 

It is clear that that is what the people want,” said Mark Mesiti-Miller, Vice Chair of the Friends of the Rail & Trail. “There is no question anymore. The people want a greener, more sustainable, more equitable trans network service to serve the entire community.”

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In a prepared statement, Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission spokeswoman Shannon Munz said that rail funding has not changed as a result of the vote, but that staff will continue to look for future passenger rail funding opportunities. 

“The RTC will be looking to our commissioners and policy makers for their priorities and how they want to proceed from here,” Munz said. 

The commission is also working on environmental impact reports for rail trail segments 8-12, she said. 

Brian Peoples, Executive Director of Trail Now–which was at the forefront of support for the measure–says that the RTC will soon consider the future of work along the rail corridor, with options that could include an interim trail or work on the more expensive rail-trail. 

But it is unclear when such a discussion will occur. Munz says it is not slated for the June 16 meeting, and the RTC will not meet in July.

But the discussion has trail-only advocates concerned. Peoples says that the more costly option of working on both the rail and trail—the RTC estimates that option could cost as much as $250 million—could delay a trail for years.

“I hope we don’t wait another decade to open the Santa Cruz Coastal Trail,” he says. “There are three main transportation corridors: Highway 1, Soquel and the Coastal Corridor. All three need to be open for our community to be mobile, and I hope the vote does not prevent us from opening the coastal trail in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

County Clerk Tricia Webber says that just 30,340 ballots have been recorded so far, representing just 18.1% of registered voters. That number could soon change, however. The office received 35,000 vote-by-mail ballots Tuesday, which could more than double that number.

If that happens, it would make the number average for a primary year, Webber said. 

Mesiti-Miller said the wide margin of the victory also came as an unexpected shock because of the support the measure apparently had–Yes Greenway reported nearly $500,000 in campaign financing, while No Way Greenway raised around $290,000.

“That we prevailed by such a large margin when we were outgunned is pretty significant,” Mesiti-Miller said.

He attributed the success in part to the breadth of people and organizations that opposed the measure. This included businesses, schoolteachers, to labor unions, environmentalists and democratic clubs, he said. 

“Everybody stood together,” he said. “It was pretty surprising.”

Mesiti-Miller also says the measure’s defeat is a win for South County, which did not stand to benefit from a trail-only model.

“We’re not going to favor one part of the county over another,” he said. “Everybody needs to benefit. The idea of a trail only between Santa Cruz and Watsonville was just unacceptable. Despite the many claims, there is no way you can claim that is an equitable use of the rail corridor.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. The salient fact remains that if the railway were economically viable, it would already be in use. The RTC acquired a quaint relic that cannot survive in the current world without the endless life support of public funding. The original line was a functioning product of capitalism; it was a response to an existing need that would pay for its development, and maintenance, at a profit. Whatever is in the works now, is not that same mechanism. I won’t call it “socialism”, but it is the government attempting to develop the railway and hope there is sufficient real need afterwards to pay for it. This is not sound investment; this is pure liberal politics masquerading as visionary virtue, like Newsom’s already crumbling and never-to-be-finished bullet train to nowhere. What “we have” here is simply a mess of abandoned, untenable, liability-generating track the previous owners were savvy enough to unload on the first sucker that came along, the SCRTC.

  2. The existing “Rail With Trail Plan” that prevailed as a result of the resounding, Santa Cruz County super majority voter opposition to Measure D, clearly is the optimal “way to get Santa Cruz County residents out of their vehicles, and off the roads.” Our existing Rail With Trail Plan” provides something for everyone—rail and a trail! (And one of the three epic deceptions of Measure D was that Greenway’s Measure D proposal was the only way to get a trail. In fact, we are getting a multiple award-winning trail along the rail corridor already!)

    As a further point of information, this article offhandedly repeats the 2nd of the three, epic deceptions of Greenway’s Measure D, describing Measure D as: “…a plan that could have included removing the tracks in a process called “railbanking.” In fact, “railbanking is a legal process of protecting and preserving a rail easement on paper. Whereas Greenway’s deceptive Measure D and it’s proponents craftily conflated “railbanking” with literally ripping out and paving over our only railroad. Obviously, doing so would constitute demolition/destruction of our railroad, not preservation! (In other words, the rail and rail easement could be protected via the railbanking process, without tearing out and paving over our railroad (allegedly temporarily only to reinstate it later, per Greenway. However that has never happened in the history of railbanking because foolishly doing so would be cost-prohibitive, unnecessarily destructive, disruptive, and wasteful.)

    Re: “SCCRTC spokeswoman said that rail funding has not changed as a result of the vote, but that staff will continue to look for future passenger rail funding opportunities.”

    Actually, the RTC must actively pursue and apply for funding, which is their job. We should be actively and diligently applying for available funds from:
    • State Transportation Funds into which we’ve paid substantially;
    • Federal & State Gas Taxes that we pay;
    • $1.4 TRILLION Infrastructure funds for which we are well-positioned since we’re further along in the planning process than many competing municipalities.
    Santa Cruz County residents need to let the RTC and our elected officials know we expect them to actually pursue and procure necessary funding per the mandate they’ve been handed in the resounding, super majority voter opposition to measure D.

  3. I’m so glad the Santa Cruz County community stood behind the vision of an equitable, sustainable future for everyone. Funds for rail and trail will be easier to get than trail only, and will allow us to move forward much more quickly than going back to the drawing board for trail-only. We are all on the same side now – let’s get this trail built as quickly as possible, while keeping the rail intact for future use!

  4. Now Brian Peoples admits the truth: it’s not going to, nor ever was going to, cost $1.3 billion for passenger rail and a trail. Now he admits it’s $250 million, way less. And that’s doable. He’s just pissed off that his side lost and now is bellyaching that it will take years for a trail to be completed. First of all, there already are bike paths and sidewalks on many of the streets that parallel the rail road tracks. The $10 million of state money to buy the tracks from Union Pacific were specifically for passenger rail, not a trail alongside it. Where the corridor is wide enough, and for the most part it is, there will be a trail alongside the tracks, and it doesn’t have to be asphalt in all sections. Anyone who has walked the rec trail in Pacific Grove knows that it’s part asphalt for bikes and the walk part is dirt and sand. No one seems to mind, and it has to be cheaper to put in a dirt trail than an asphalt one. The RTC needs to get rail and trail going ASAP, and not waste any more time. The vehicle for rail already has been demonstrated: the Tig-M. Let’s get those Tiggys moving on the tracks sooner than later! Scheduling for passenger rail can start with morning and evening commute hours on weekdays, mid-day to evening hours on weekends. It’s that simple, and the people of Santa Cruz have voted for it!

  5. The political machine of Santa Cruz wins again! Bleh! Now nothing will happen. Now that the election is over, we will now see the needed disclosure of NoWay’s fiscal sponsors. This was the way they hid their outside money that wasn’t apparent before the election.

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