Many Santa Cruz County residents have different visions of a future path along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)
SANTA CRUZ >> After months of campaigns for and against Measure D in Santa Cruz County, the rail-trail ballot measure fell far short of the majority it needed to pass, according to official results posted July 5.
Passage of Measure D would have changed the County of Santa Cruz’s General Plan to promote Greenway’s vision for a trail with two lanes of bike traffic, a divider and a walkway. Current plans call for a shared walk and bike path on the rail line or next to the rail line.
Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin has described Measure D as an advisory vote.
“We think this vote is largely advisory and not prescriptive,” Hoppin said, after speaking with County Counsel Jason Heath on April 6. “The significance of the vote is what the people say: How many people are on one side or the other,” Hoppin said.
Because the County of Santa Cruz and the Regional Transportation Commission are separate agencies — and the Regional Transportation Commission owns the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line — Measure D does not legally decide whether there will be passenger rail on the rail line. That is the legal opinion of leaders and attorneys from the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, the County of Santa Cruz and Greenway representatives who initiated Measure D.
No Way Greenway representatives believe Measure D’s legal effects are further reaching. “It is effectively a poison pill that will effectively prevent passenger rail transit from ever happening in Santa Cruz County,” said Mark Mesiti-Miller, the co-chair of the No Way Greenway campaign committee. “I suspect that a lot of these kinds of issues will be litigated,” Mesiti-Miller said in April.
Measure D’s passage would not stop planning for the rail trail or passenger rail, according to the legal opinion of the County Counsel Jason Heath and Regional Transportation Commission attorney Steven Mattas. Decisions on planning for the rail trail and passenger rail will be made by a majority vote of members of the Regional Transportation Commission, Heath and Mattas said.
The No on D campaign raised $331,476 including its estimates of nonmonetary contributions from January 2021 to May 21, 2022, according to campaign filings. The Yes on D campaign raised $462,724 including its estimates of nonmonetary contributions during the same period. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)
Regardless of whether Measure D passed, staff of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, as well as planners from the County of Santa Cruz planned to continue work on two versions of a rail trail from Santa Cruz to Aptos.
- An “ultimate” plan would build a paved bike and walk path parallel to the railroad tracks and leave the tracks intact for future passenger rail service.
- An optional “interim” plan would remove the tracks and build a paved bike and walk path on top of where the rails now stand. The plan is to eventually remove the path and build the “ultimate” path parallel to the tracks to make way for passenger rail. Building the trail twice with the interim plan is more expensive, everyone involved said. Many rail supporters believe the “interim” plan will make it difficult or impossible to create a passenger rail system because of costs, legal reasons, political will and other factors.
Planners have described an “ultimate” plan with a path next to the railroad tracks. On Segment 9 from the San Lorenzo River to 17th Avenue in Live Oak, the ultimate path is planned about 10 to 12 feet wide because of constraints with trees, hills, legal right-of-way and other factors, engineers said. On Segment 10 from 17th Avenue to 47th Avenue, it is “generally 12 feet wide but reduced in some areas to navigate some constraints,” said Rob Tidmore, Santa Cruz County Public Works project manager, during an April 6 public workshop. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)
Planners have described an “interim” plan with a path on the rail line. On Segment 9 from the San Lorenzo River to 17th Avenue in Live Oak, it is planned to be 12 to 16 feet wide, engineers said. On Segment 10 from 17th Avenue to 47th Avenue, it is “generally 16 feet wide,” said Tidmore. “But just like the other alternative it is reduced in some areas to 12 feet to navigate constraints.” (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)
The 12 members of the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission are expected to vote on whether they want the “interim” plan with a path on the tracks or the “ultimate” plan of a path next to the tracks. A draft environmental impact report on the two plans is due at the end of the year and a final report is due in spring 2023.
Trail designers have said that a path built where the railroad tracks now stand would be about 16 feet wide in many places, compared with a path alongside the tracks that often would be about 12 feet wide.
“We think a full-width trail would be the best way to go,” said Nels Westman, a 79-year-old Capitola retiree. Westman also said he was skeptical that a passenger rail system would be built on the rail line “any time soon.”
Lee Silverglate, a 26-year-old solar project administrator from Santa Cruz, said he voted “no” on Measure D. He said he saw passenger rail as an alternative to driving. “You can take your bike on the train and then just go places,” Silverglate said.
“In general, cars make people poorer, sadder and more unhealthy,” Silverglate said. “If we have an alternative to that that ties into our bike and bus infrastructure, that would be great.”
Versions of a bike and walk path are being designed along the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line from Aptos to Santa Cruz. (Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)
Regardless of the outcome of Measure D, county planners plan to collect input on plans for segments of the rail trail from 17th Avenue in Live Oak to State Park Drive in Aptos through early June.
Text of Measure D
Santa Cruz Local stories on the rail trail and Measure D
Natalya Dreszer contributed reporting to this story.