By SILVIA MORALES
An acute racial divide has historically separated North and South County. Decisions made by the Regional Transportation Commission as it stands will adversely impact residents of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) for decades. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, low income and minority communities are negatively impacted in many ways by inadequate transportation planning.
Currently, 43 percent of Santa Cruz County’s population lives within the limits of PVUSD. According to Kidsdata.org, 82 percent of the PVUSD population is Hispanic/Latino. A quarter of these families have income levels that fall within the poverty range. In addition to the county’s unbearable gridlock that disproportionately affects Watsonville residents, according to a study conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2015, Watsonville is ranked as the least safe city for pedestrians compared to similar sized California cities.
Only three of 12 Regional Transportation Commissioners (RTC) represent the PVUSD community — the largest and most negatively affected group utilizing the Santa Cruz County transportation system. Two of the three commissioners representing the PVUSD community reside in Watsonville and one in Aptos. No member of the commission is Hispanic/Latino.
The U.S. Department of Transportation refers to PolicyLink for recommendations on equitable transportation policy:
“Healthy, equitable transportation policy understands the importance of ensuring equal representation. All community members, regardless of race, gender, or geographical location should be equitably represented and involved in making decisions which impact their communities, their infrastructure, and their options for travel.”
The Watsonville City Council, Board of Supervisors, Metro Board, and RTC should work together to ensure that the membership of the RTC accurately reflects and represents South County’s underrepresented and underserved population.
We need South County to speak up now!
The RTC is currently pushing for a rushed approval of the Unified Corridor Study that will steer our county’s transportation options for the next few decades. They are on track to make this decision by Dec. 6.
The UCS is promising equitable transportation solutions. However, it fails to offer viable ways to address the real needs of South County. Rather than focussing on realistic achievable solutions that could offer South County commuters hope in the near future, the study focuses on rough goals for 2035.
Also, the study fails to consider a serious transit option for the Highway 1 corridor, instead promoting passenger rail on the existing rail corridor despite evidence that it would fail to provide equitable transportation or alleviate gridlock.
We need to protect Watsonville businesses who rely on freight rail. However, the RTC has failed to fully assess the impacts that new freight rail industry could have on the surrounding community or the new transportation options that may be sacrificed as a result of the Progressive Rail contract signed on June 14. If the 10-year contract is extended to the entire 32-miles it could impede all trail and commuting options for the rail corridor, prevent highway improvements involving the Aptos rail bridges, and lead to continuous rail car storage in our beautiful sloughs within the city of Watsonville.
Please come to the Unified Corridor Study Public Workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 6-7:30 p.m. at Watsonville Civic Plaza Community Room A, fourth floor, 275 Main St., Watsonville.
The RTC needs to hear from South County. Let’s fill the room on Oct. 16! We need equitable, achievable solutions now and more equitable representation on the RTC going forward.
Silvia Morales JD, Watsonville resident, is a Santa Cruz County Greenway Board Member, a member of Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism and former regional director of League of United Latin American Citizens. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.