Opinion: Vote no on Measure D

A light rail train on a segment of track in Watsonville
(Via Friends of the Rail & Trail)

Measure D will hurt our community by permanently ending the rail + trail plan connecting Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Measure D undermines decades of public planning and hurts commuters, the environment and our future economy. That’s why numerous elected officials and more than 30 local organizations oppose Measure D. It deserves a no vote.

Greenway’s Measure D is detrimental to our community. It destroys decades of forward-looking, climate-friendly planning and community agreement to establish a trail alongside the rail between Watsonville and Santa Cruz.

Measure D rips the tracks out. Forever.

Removing the tracks closes the door on ever having light rail service connecting Santa Cruz and Watsonville. If that sounds like a really bad idea, it is.

Worse, Measure D “does not guarantee that the Greenway will be constructed,” according to the county’s impartial analysis.

For decades, voters have supported a trail and future rail service to alleviate Highway 1 traffic and mitigate climate change from cars. We already have a wonderful glimpse of how this can work because three popular trail segments already exist — two in Santa Cruz and one in Watsonville — next to the rail line.

Two more trail segments totaling 6 miles are about to break ground, one in Santa Cruz and one north of Wilder Ranch State Park. Another 9 miles will be shovel-ready by 2025. This is an unfolding success story, and Measure D will stop it.

Carefully read Measure D’s fine print, and you will see that D changes the general plan to halt planning for, even study of, any public transit use of the rail corridor by the county. No trains, no buses, no nothing.

Greenway, Measure D’s author, makes a lot of promises it can’t keep. Even the name “Greenway” is dishonest, as its trail-only plan is much less environmentally friendly than the rail + trail plan.

Greenway claims a trail-only plan will be good for the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Regional Transportation Commission’s 2019 Unified Corridor Investment Study concluded that a trail-only scenario will cause increased greenhouse gas emissions when compared to the rail + trail plan. That’s one reason the RTC unanimously voted in favor of the trail + transit plan in 2019.

That’s also why the Sierra Club, Regeneración Pájaro Valley Climate Action, Santa Cruz Climate Action Network, Youth for Climate Justice and others are opposed to Measure D. If Greenway is “green,” why has it failed to secure the endorsement of any environmental organizations?

Greenway insists Measure D will protect Roaring Camp and its beloved Beach Train. If this were true, why is Roaring Camp so strongly opposed to D? Why did over 7,000 people send emails in February 2022 to the RTC objecting to plans to pull up the tracks and railbank the corridor?

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Here’s why: Measure D will cut Roaring Camp off from the national rail network. Slowly but surely, the Beach Train will die, jobs will disappear and Roaring Camp’s business will be gravely harmed.

Greenway claims it supports public transit. But Measure D doesn’t make a single reference to public transit, even in its fine print. In fact, the 2021 Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis found that electric passenger rail was the best choice. Yet Measure D prevents the county from even considering this option or any other public transit use of the rail corridor.

Greenway claims Measure D has broad community and organizational support. That is not true.

Just look here, at the official ballot arguments and rebuttals. Asterisks next to a person’s name indicate they are authorized to sign on behalf of the listed organization. How many asterisks for Yes on D? Zero. How many for No on D? All 10 possible.

Greenway insists D saves or “railbanks” the tracks for future use. But all across America, railbanking has never resulted in rail service returning once tracks are ripped up and replaced by a paved trail.

Another reason to vote no on Measure D is that it disproportionately favors those who have cars and those with the time and ability to bike for leisure or as part of a commute.

The 2021 TCAA study found that adding passenger rail would reduce commute times, especially for South County workers forced to spend hours stuck in traffic every day.

The TCAA also found that adding passenger rail will increase public transit ridership by 150%, an increase of more than 20,000 rides every day. That’s a lot fewer cars on the road, making our air cleaner and our streets safer.

If that is not enough to convince you, the arguments against Measure D have compelled an unprecedented number of local officials — including the entire Santa Cruz City Council, a majority of the Watsonville City Council and of the Cabrillo College trustees and more than 30 local organizations — to oppose Measure D.

Measure D deserves your no vote.

Mark Mesiti Miller is the No on Measure D campaign co-chair. He is a civil engineer with decades of experience engineering projects such as the Walton Lighthouse, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. A husband, father and grandfather, Mark volunteers his time to expand affordable housing, improve public transportation and fight climate change. Mark has made Santa Cruz his home for the past 39 years.