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July 17, 2024

Watsonville City Council supports acceptance of rail line business plan

WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council at a special meeting Friday evening passed a resolution expressing support for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) business plan for construction and operation of a passenger rail line along the 32-mile stretch from Davenport to Pajaro.

The resolution urges the RTC to accept the business plan that failed to pass in the agency’s early April meeting. The RTC members include various city council members from the county’s four cities, county supervisors and members of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District’s Board of Directors.

The resolution passed 5-0. Mayor Jimmy Dutra and City Councilwoman Ari Parker were absent. Both said they would not be able to attend Friday’s meeting when it was scheduled at the tail end of Tuesday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting.

The vast majority of the dozen or so speakers who attended the meeting voiced support for the resolution, and most said that a passenger rail would be a game changer for Watsonville residents who commute to the northern reaches of the county for work, school or leisure. It would also, speakers said, provide an environmentally friendly transportation alternative.

The speakers included current Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo and former Watsonville City Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez. Both said the project has been overwhelmingly supported by various state transportation entities for several years and that it is a key cog in integrating the Central Coast into other rail lines.

“As a region, we know that Watsonville is a centerpiece to providing greater rail opportunities to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing traffic not only (Highway 1) but on (Highway101),” Alejo said.

The meeting, surprisingly, did not draw many critics of the rail line. A day earlier, Brian Peoples, of Trail Now, a major supporter of a trail-only option for the corridor, in an email to media and county leaders called the special meeting “political theater” and said that he advised his organization’s supporters to not show up.

“The Santa Cruz County (RTC) has already voted not to move forward with a passenger train and the continued public debate is preventing our community from moving forward with real transportation solutions,” he wrote in the email.

The RTC’s plans for passenger rail, estimated between $465 million and $478 million, have deeply divided Santa Cruz County.

The 66-page business plan gave a 25-year outlook for the rail plan, including costs, which group had oversight and how much ridership was predicted once completed. It called for construction to commence around 2030, with rail service to begin five years later. 

According to the plan, the project is short $189 million for construction costs and $125 million to run the rail system over the next two decades. The report listed numerous potential state and federal funding sources, but none of those are certain.

The Watsonville City Council’s support for the business plan, followed in the footsteps of the Santa Cruz City Council, which on Tuesday passed a resolution in favor of passenger rail.

It is not clear what, if anything, the resolutions mean for the upcoming May 6 RTC meeting.

The RTC will hear a report on the business plan’s grant requirements regarding whether it will have to pay back a $100,000 loan from Caltrans that helped pay for the plan, RTC spokesperson Shannon Munz said. But, she added, the item is purely informational and it will not require a vote from the commission.

A commissioner, however, could ask the RTC to reconsider its vote from the April meeting and bring the business plan—and a $17.1 million environmental review needed for the rail plan to proceed—back for a vote at a future meeting, Munz said.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


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