A segment of the old branch rail line in Santa Cruz County.
A segment of the old branch rail line in Santa Cruz County.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

Greenway announces plans to gather signatures, put interim trail-only game plan to vote on next June’s ballot

To be considered in the June 2022 election, the committee will have to receive at minimum 12,000 signatures. But the group has been touting support in recent months from a diverse group of environment- and health-conscious community members.

It appears longtime supporters of a trail-only option along the county’s dormant rail corridor — even just an interim version — will finally get to put their vision to a vote next June.

On Wednesday, the YES GREENWAY committee announced its plans to begin gathering signatures for the initiative, calling for an amendment to the Santa Cruz County’s General Plan to support an interim trail, or “greenway,” down the center of the unused rail corridor.

The trail from Watsonville to the North Coast would offer one lane in either direction for commuting and recreation and another for pedestrians and wheelchair access. The group has been touting the recent support of surfers, healthcare professionals and even railroad engineers.

To be considered in the June 2022 election, the committee will have to receive at minimum 12,000 signatures. If approved, the initiative would use existing funds available through Measure D, passed by voters in 2016 to impose a 0.5% sales tax for 30 years to fund transportation infrastructure, maintenance and improvements.

According to Greenway, future use of the corridor for rail would be preserved through railbanking, a federal program that allows an existing rail corridor to be used as a trail and leaves certain infrastructure, including bridges and trestles, for future rail use. The current Roaring Camp railroad from Felton to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk will be protected and preserved, as will the current freight service in Watsonville.

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Proponents for the measure include native and multi-generation Santa Cruz County residents such as Buzz Anderson, himself a third-generation Capitola native.

“[The Greenway] will be the spine of an ecological transportation and recreation network that will be used by a wide cross-section of people,” Anderson said in a public statement.

Some local residents and county leaders disagree, believing Greenway’s plans are illusive. Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail & Trail (FORT) released a statement by board president Faina Segal in response to the updates.

“The really key thing is that Greenway has come out and is very publicly trying to rip up our tracks,” Segal said. “We as a community have so many issues we need to solve today — this plan simply doesn’t help us move enough people. It offends me so much when they try to pull public services like this.”

A map of a preliminary proposal
A map of a preliminary proposal of a light rail transit route from a draft of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s Urban Transit Alternatives Analysis.
(Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission)

Segal and FORT instead say they hope community members will join in the Coast Connect vision, which has been in the works for nearly 20 years. This plan — supported by Santa Cruz City Council, the California Coastal Commission, and the Sierra Club — starts with a 32-mile Coastal Rail Trail ranging from Davenport to Watsonville. The plan would additionally add a rail transit service from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, with synchronized buses connecting with rail stops and a network of safe pedestrian and bicycle routes.

With each of these parts working in tandem as a larger transportation infrastructure, Segal said the plan would help reduce neighborhood traffic, lower emissions, and generally “make people happier.”

“This is part of the county’s vision and the county’s climate action plan,” she said. “I would question if we could afford not to do it.”

The plan is also already in motion, with Segal saying that there could be zero-emission vehicles running as soon as next week.

As she noted, the system would best benefit the community if all aspects worked together — and it’s necessary to question why the YES GREENWAY committee doesn’t believe the same.

“Pay attention to the fine print and what’s going on behind the scenes,” Segal said. “Greenway is actually trying to prevent public transportation.”

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