Photo credit Lookout Santa Cruz
We’ve had a busy couple of months! One thing is clear, rail transit is an increasing priority in our community. Support has grown dramatically, as seen by new endorsements from local Democratic community clubs, local labor representatives, and many business and community leaders, as well as public rallies and a new petition signed by over 1,500 people in just a few weeks. But six of the twelve RTC commissioners aren’t listening to the community.
The Rail Plan was Ready to Go in April
At the April 1 RTC meeting, the staff presented the last element of the Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis, the Rail Business Plan. This document laid out the next steps for implementing passenger rail transit in the rail corridor, and identified potential sources of funding. Commissioner Montesino made a motion to accept the business plan and to direct the staff to seek the grant funding for the next steps. At that time, staff indicated that all 17M needed for preliminary design, engineering, and the environmental impact report were potentially available in grants without needing local matching funds. Shockingly, the motion did not pass. The vote was tied six to six with commissioners Petersen, McPherson, Koenig, Johnson, Bertrand and Commissioner Alternate Mulhearn voting against. Commissioners Rotkin, Gonzalez, Caput, Montesino, Brown and Commissioner Alternate Schiffrin voted in favor of the motion, but were unable to carry the day. No action was taken.
Community Reaction: Tidal Wave of Support for Rail
After the April Surprise, public comments supporting rail transit poured in urging the commissioners to accept the business plan and seek funding. There were letters from the City Council of Santa Cruz, the City Council of Watsonville, the Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Pajaro Valley Cesar Chavez Democratic Club, the Democratic Women’s Club of Santa Cruz County Environmental Committee, the San Lorenzo Valley Women’s Club Environmental Committee, the Campus Democrats at UCSC, and Roaring Camp Railroads. Even the Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial Board weighed in saying “commissioners should vote to accept the business plan for rail.”‘
On April 28 Friends of the Rail & Trail held a demonstration in Aptos village promoting the benefits of car-free transit to the local businesses. The action was covered by local TV news and print media outlets including a front page story in the Sentinel. Also in April we showed up on the freeway overpass at rush hour with a sign that read ‘Clean Light Rail: You’d Be Home By Now’ and were met with an outpouring of positive support from commuters stuck in their cars. It was clear to all observers that the vast majority of the county supports moving forward with rail transit.
The May RTC Meeting
At the May meeting, Commissioner Montesino again made a motion to accept the business plan and direct staff to seek funding for continuing with the rail plan. Staff also clarified that the grant applications for the plan would likely require some level of local matching funds, contrary to what had been stated at the previous meeting. Discussion revealed that none of the commissioners were ready to change their vote, so Commissioner Montesino withdrew the motion. Again, no action was taken.
Where Are We Now, and What’s Next?
Although it was very disappointing that the RTC couldn’t find a way to move forward, there are some positives. The community has spoken strongly in favor of rail. The RTC has confirmed the corridor will be used for both public transportation and a trail. The RTC has also designated Electric Passenger Rail as the preferred public transportation mode for the rail corridor. After the May meeting, the RTC staff issued a lengthy statement about the rail project including, “RTC staff will continue to work to try to implement all projects in the RTC Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and inform the RTC of funding opportunities for such projects, including for rail transit.”
Our Work Continues
While the RTC staff will continue to identify possible sources of rail transit funding, there is no doubt that the staff will need the support of the commission for any serious next steps. We find it unfortunate that representatives from the relatively small communities of Scotts Valley and Capitola are blocking a project that is hugely popular throughout the county.
When rail grant opportunities do arise, will those commissioners continue to block progress? It will be up to the community to apply enough pressure to get the commissioners to vote in favor. We will need an outpouring of support so large that the commissioners will have no choice but to listen.
We don’t plan to back down. We firmly believe that Santa Cruz County needs both Rail AND Trail to thrive. Our mission is to reach every member of the community who isn’t yet aware of this project. And we need your help to do it.
Take Action Today
Here are some things you can do right now to help:
- Donate to help us with outreach events and communication to the community. We are still in our Spring Challenge. Your donation (up to $40,000) will be doubled if you give soon! Click here to donate.
- Endorse the Coast Connect vision. Click here to add your name.
- Volunteer with Friends of the Rail and Trail: click here to sign up.
- Sign the petition for rail transit.
Thank you for your support!
We believe in planning for the future, not hiding from it. It’s clear the Santa Cruz County population will continue to grow.
The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), our regional planning agency, projects that by 2045, another 107,500 people will likely live in the Greater Monterey Bay Area Region*. The region is also forecasted to create nearly 42,000 new homes and more than 65,000 new jobs.
To fund the Sustainable Communities projects, AMBAG projects that about 5 Billion dollars between now and then will be allocated to sustainable housing and transportation in Santa Cruz County. In the long term, this is more than enough to pay for the rail and trail project. In the short term, we are optimistic that the newly-increased federal and state commitments to rail infrastructure will produce opportunities for grant funding. To learn more, go to the AMBAG 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan & the Sustainable Communities Strategy. To see the funding projections for Santa Cruz County Sustainable Communities projects, go to page 16 of the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy Public Workshop Presentation.
Turning a blind eye while more and more private vehicles crowd our highway and streets isn’t sustainable or practical. We need to invest in an alternative. Please donate today to support this work.
* Corrected from “Santa Cruz County” to “Greater Monterey Bay Area Region” on 5/26/2021.