WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution in opposition to Measure D, the divisive June 7 ballot measure that, if approved, would remove language from Santa Cruz County’s guiding planning document that relates to rail services, both freight and passenger.
Watsonville Mayor Ari Parker and Councilman Jimmy Dutra did not vote on the item, which was brought before the council in a special meeting immediately following its regularly scheduled Tuesday night gathering.
The remaining council members all voted to approve the resolution.
Before recusing themselves from the meeting, Parker and Dutra said they did not feel right taking a stance on an issue that should be left to the voters. Parker, who serves on the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) where the fight between the pro- and anti-rail camps has germinated, said that she received more than 700 emails about the measure before Tuesday night’s meeting.
“Twenty-two were from the city of Watsonville and 30 were from South County, outside the city of Watsonville,” she said. “I feel like there’s people out there who want to vote. And as far as I’m concerned, they should not be influenced by me when it comes to this particular [measure] because I’m on the RTC and we all decided not to vote on any definitive plan before the June election, and I will not appear hypocritical on that.”
Added Dutra, who will be vying for the 4th District seat on the County Board of Supervisors on the same June 7 ticket: “As a leader, I will serve the will of the people. For anyone to put words in my mouth that are different than I’m saying right now, tonight, would be wrong and misleading.”
The measure, also called “Santa Cruz County Greenway Initiative,” would change the County’s General Plan—the jurisdiction’s blueprint for meeting the community’s long-term vision for the future—to focus on the development of a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail between the San Lorenzo Bridge in Santa Cruz and Lee Road in Watsonville, while “railbanking” the existing rail line.
Santa Cruz County Counsel Jason Heath’s impartial analysis says the plan would include the removal of the existing rail tracks. Heath’s analysis adds that Greenway’s plans hinge on the approval of railbanking, which is a lengthy process that involves the federal government, freight operators and the RTC. Failing that, Heath wrote, Greenway’s plans would be unfeasible.
“…the General Plan is a planning document and does not mandate that proposed infrastructure be built. Therefore, adoption of the Greenway Initiative does not guarantee that the Greenway will be constructed,” he wrote.
The council joins dozens of local organizations, businesses and elected officials in throwing its support behind the “No on D” campaign. That includes County Supervisor Greg Caput, the Pajaro Valley Cesar Chavez Democratic Club, the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers and Santa Cruz Seaside Company, the owner/operator of the Beach Boardwalk.
The resolution was brought forth by councilmembers Eduardo Montesino, Lowell Hurst and Vanessa Quiroz-Carter.
In answering Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia’s question as to why they were against the measure, all three elected leaders said they believed it was a bad deal for Watsonville residents and businesses and would limit future transportation possibilities.
“I looked at it from multiple issues,” Quiroz-Carter said. “Financially, I looked at it from a sense of community, I looked at it from a sense of equity and none of those things made sense to me. I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote, but I’m telling you what I looked at … I just cannot support this measure.”
About a dozen people spoke during public comment, all of them in favor of the council’s stance in opposition.
Ruby Vasquez, a local educator and community organizer that is part of several local initiatives, said she appreciated the council’s willingness to take a stance on the issue.
“I think you all know that you influence a lot of folks in our community,” she said. “I think that it’s important that I hear about how my council member feels about certain things … It is a shame that not all of the council stayed.”
Proponents—who call themselves Santa Cruz County Greenway—say the 32-mile trail is fully funded and can be built now. It would be accessible to all county residents. They say it would reduce traffic and air pollution while giving residents a safe, healthy way to commute to work and school. It would also preserve the natural landscape of the area.
Measure D supporters also say that long-standing plans to create a passenger rail system are too expensive, and would result in the “industrialization” of the county’s rail corridor, requiring retaining fences and the removal of hundreds of heritage trees.
Opponents—called No Way Greenway—say the measure is “deceptive,” and that railbanking would bring to a permanent halt the county’s existing plans to build a combination rail and trail corridor.
Loss of a future passenger rail would, opponents say, set the county back on its goals of reducing greenhouse gasses and vehicle traffic by taking away a viable source of alternative transportation. They also dispute assertions that the Greenway plan is fully funded, and add that the trail is already under construction. This includes completed segments in Watsonville and in Santa Cruz. The opponents say that Measure D would stop all construction of a trail immediately, with none planned for the immediate future.