The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted to oppose the potential abandoning of freight service on the Felton and Santa Cruz Rail Lines at its meeting Tuesday. The vote will have no formal power, but it signals to the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) that the council sides with Roaring Camp Railroads in the battle over the future of the rail lines.
On Feb. 3, the RTC held a public meeting about potentially abandoning the Felton Branch Rail Line, which would deem it “railbanked.” According to a staff report on the issue, this move would allow for the potential to haul freight in the future and would put off the estimated $50-plus million in repairs that the line needs.
But Roaring Camp sees the RTC’s proposal as “an aggressive attack” on the railroad, fueled by lobbyists working to “end rail in Santa Cruz County,” according to a public statement on the matter.
“We are in a deadlock,” said Councilwoman Sandy Brown, who is also on the RTC, at the council meeting. “That’s the reality. We are really stalled.”
All members of the council spoke about the importance of supporting transportation infrastructure when making their vote to oppose abandoning the freight lines. Councilmembers Donna Meyers and Justin Cummings also noted that although the repairs needed will be substantial, both in scope and funding, they aren’t unfeasible.
“This effort to bring rail and trail to our community has been going on since the late 80s,” said Cummings. “Over the past two years, we’ve been seeing segments get built, and the efforts over time are leading us to making rail and trail a reality. We need to do what we can to keep this effort alive.”
Council also discussed the city’s budget, which, according to City Interim Finance Director Bobby Magee, will need to see a cut of $2.5 million during the next fiscal year. At the current rate of spending and if no new sources of revenue are secured, Magee said, projections show the city’s reserves running dry by 2028.
“Our operations are stretched thin,” said City Manager Matt Huffaker. “That’s why a discussion around exploring this additional sales tax measure is going to be important as we [think about] long term financial planning.”
A proposal for a new sales tax is expected to be brought before the council in early March. City staff has been polling residents about a new sales tax, one that voters could see on the June 7 ballot this year. Some 59% of respondents supported a new sales tax according to a January poll, Huffaker said.
“New revenue opportunities will be a key piece of what that rebuilding looks like,” said Huffaker.