Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian DEMONSTRATION Steve Lawton is joined by dozens of boisterous demonstrators Wednesday at the Santa Cruz County Building to show support of the Coastal Rail Trail Project.

Several dozen protesters descended on the Santa Cruz County Government Center on Wednesday to speak out against a decision by the Board of Supervisors a week earlier not to move forward on a key portion of the Coastal Rail Trail project.

While the supervisors on March 26 approved an environmental impact report for segments 10 and 11—a 4.5-mile stretch of the project that runs from 17th Avenue in Live Oak, through Capitola to State Park Drive in Aptos—Manu Koenig and Bruce McPherson voted no on staff recommendations that the work commence. 

But with a $67.6 million grant for that portion of the project from the California Transportation Commission at risk of being lost, supporters fear the no-votes could also jeopardize future grant applications.

“To refuse the largest ever (Active Transportation Program) grant sends the wrong signal,” said Barry Scott, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail and Trail (FORT). “It sets us up for failure for every future grant application, whether it’s roads, streets, highways, anything transportation.”

The protesters, about 85 of them, wanted to bring the issue directly to Koenig and McPherson to decry their “unprecedented vote,” said FORT Vice Chair Faina Segal.

She pointed out that voters have made their voices heard several times in their support of the rail-trail project.

This includes Measure D in 2022, which would have shifted the county’s focus to a trail-only model. That measure failed spectacularly, with more than 73% voting no.

“Every voter should be up in arms,” she said, “It’s really important that supervisors realize the public has spoken. We want this project to move forward; we voted for them to move forward three times.”

After the March 26 meeting, McPherson said that he was simply seeking more information before moving forward on the project.

Koenig said on Wednesday that he understands that the protesters want the county to move forward on the rail and trail project. The issue, he said, is cost.

“The question is not what people want, it’s what our community can afford,” he said. 

Koenig added that, if sections 10 and 11 go over budget, it could leave stretches of the rail-trail in South County without any funding.

“That means no money for planning these segments, no matching money to win grants, all the money for the 30 year revenue measure spent,” he said. “When you consider that grants usually match local money 4:1, this could deprive south county of $220 million of investment.”

Building a trail-only model, on the other hand, will cost less than half as much, Koenig said.

“We actually stand a chance of delivering the project that we promised voters when they approved the sales tax,” he said.

Koenig said that the county cannot afford to have a train and a trail and fix the highway, all while boosting METRO service.

“We have to focus on what’s achievable, or everything will just be half done,” he said. “I recognize that the failure of Measure D expressed a preference. I don’t think it meant that elected officials should suspend all critical thinking and spend as much money as possible on a halfway completed project.”

With costs for the trail coming in at $24.5 million a mile, the county should carefully consider its moves, Koenig said.

“Ultimately, the Regional Transportation Commission controls the purse strings, and will decide how to allocate funds,” he said. “That’s as it should be, we need all the representatives at the table before deciding how to move this forward.”

But Scott said that many of the concerns have already been addressed. This includes using “value engineering” strategies to cut costs, as well as a pledge by Roaring Camp Railroad to pay for a section of track to be moved. 

“That’s worth millions,” Scott said.

“All of Bruce McPherson’s and Manu Koenig’s concerns that were expressed are now addressed,” he said. “Now we’re expecting it to come back to the Board of Supervisors to be considered again.”

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/


  1. Dear Neighbors
    Here is a California politician in his own words. Remember his at the ballot box
    “The question is not what people want, The county can “afford” many projects being undertaken currently but can’t “afford” what the voters explicitly voted for and directed them to do?

    Voters in Santa Cruz county accept this in overruled at the ballot box.
    Wake up and demand what the voters directed these guys to do!

    Remember these individuals at the ballot box!

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  2. That’s such a pipe dream people.
    Who’s wants to ride a bike next to 20 ton train, Is the even safe ?
    That’s trail is going to full of litter and homeless campsites. Look at the trail in Monterey next to hwy 1.
    Whatever people.

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    • Nick
      You are correct the trail will probably be a 20 mile homeless encampment as you point out The county is broke anyway

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  3. I support the plan to build the trail and leave rail intact for future clean light rail. If We spend $400,000,000 for all phases of the highway and it does not help, what do We do next? 90 minutes to travel 14 miles is impacting Our lives and Our environment. Think ahead!

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  4. The prior executive director of Greenway, Manu Koenig, and his Greenway followers complain now that we’ve been given the money to build the trail. It is not the version they want and so they’re working to sabotage it for everyone else. The ‘Greenway’ trail was a 26-foot wide 32-mile long trail resulting in the most asphalt and most trees destroyed, but it destroys the rail, and that’s their end game but now they’re crying about trees with the trail besides the rail. And McPherson is obviously receiving some sort of friendly bonus if he aligns with Greenway. South County residents support moving ahead with the Ultimate Trail, a 12-16 foot wide trail that ensure we can activate rail as soon as possible. Manu’s plans to destroy our rail and trail claiming equity is one big bogus fib. If he were Pinocchio, he’d have room to hang laundry.

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