Opinion: Vote no on Measure D: Transportation justice demands a no vote

A man cycles on a trail alongside a light rail train and train tracks in Watsonville
(Via Friends of the Rail and Trail)

Measure D is inequitable and environmentally short-sighted. We believe Measure D will forever cut off North County and South County from alternate transportation and will reinforce disparities between north and south. Using the rail corridor for both rail and trail will unite us. Removing the tracks will pull us apart forever.

Santa Cruz and Watsonville commuters have one big problem: the ever-congested Highway 1.

South County leaders, like us, hear this complaint regularly from our community. People cannot get to jobs, see friends, visit family or easily move between our two communities, and that is both ridiculous and inequitable. We are separating ourselves and making life harder for those with lower incomes.

The answer is simple: We need to invest in a new way to connect our cities.

Our rail corridor already exists. It runs parallel to Highway 1 for nearly the length of our county. It’s the right answer, and it’s one we need to finance and support true transportation equity and environmentalism in our community.

Measure D wants to eliminate the tracks — and all chance of ever building a train.

That’s crazy, short-sighted and elitist. A trail-only option helps only some. Rail and trail benefits everyone.

Measure D supporters insist they can “railbank” the tracks — tear them up today and bring them back some other day, after they build a trail. It’s just not true. The mere word is deceptive, implying they will be held in a “bank” for safekeeping.

No one should fall for this proposal.

We’re already getting a trail — we have 1.5 miles already, on both ends of the county, with more on the way. Once we pull up the tracks, they will never come back. We need to keep building the popular trail and keep the tracks so we can bring badly needed rail transit to South County.

For Watsonville and South County, the rail corridor is much more than a recreational path. It is a potential lifeline for seniors, students and workers commuting to North County for school, health care and public services.

We have to defeat Measure D so this lifeline is not cut, but is used to provide clean, green, efficient and equitable public transit alongside a trail.

Since the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission purchased the rail line in 2012, every analysis has pointedly demonstrated that a rail-with-trail serves everyone, not just a few. After completing the 2019 Unified Corridor Investment Study (multiyear, head-to-head analysis), the RTC rejected Greenway’s trail-only scenario in favor of using the rail corridor for both a trail and high-capacity public transit. After the RTC finished the 2021 Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis, it selected electric passenger as the best high-capacity public transit system to build alongside the trail.

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Rail-with-trail will do the most for our fragile climate and for equity. It is the most reliable and efficient. It is best for public health and well-being. It will cut commute times in half. It will improve the overall efficacy of our investments in public transit and active transportation. And it will connect Santa Cruz County to the state rail network, opening the way for statewide, low-carbon, stress-free travel.

Measure D is a direct attack on Watsonville and all South County residents. Our community is made up of hard-working families with per capita income half that of Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Capitola. Our families include immigrants laboring to feed America while providing opportunities and livelihood for their children. Twenty miles separate us from the more affluent areas of the county, where jobs and higher education opportunities abound. Light rail will help level the playing field for our residents. Rail will serve low-income populations in the county; 91% of proposed stations will be in tracts identified as transportation-disadvantaged. Rail will provide faster travel times and greater reliability.

Residents who live in or near jobs centers might not understand what it is like to sit in traffic for 90 minutes morning and evening, or the high cost of such commutes. The possibility that uninformed or unaffected residents can kill the possibility of adding faster rail transit to serve our community is unjust.

All of us, countywide, share the risks of climate change. Santa Cruz cannot claim to care about the environment if it does not act responsibly toward it. Rail with trail does that. Trail-only does not address climate change. Greenway’s trail-only proposal is not “green.”

The most recent rigorous transit analysis, completed and approved by the RTC just last year, found that fewer cars and more public transit use will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,482 metric tons every year.

Please don’t be fooled by misleading promises. We need to stick with the current plan for rail-with-trail. We need to think about the greater good for our whole community.

That requires a no vote on Measure D.

Ann Lopez holds a Ph.D. in environmental studies from UCSC and is a nationally recognized advocate for the human rights of migrant workers. She authored the 2007 book “The Farmworkers’ Journey,” and serves as an emerita professor at San Jose City College.

Rebecca Garcia is currently in her eighth year on the Watsonville City Council and served 20 years on the Cabrillo College board of trustees. Rebecca is a native of Watsonville.

Vanessa Quiroz-Carter is a Watsonville City Council member and adjunct professor at Hartnell College. A native of Watsonville, Vanessa is committed to empowering her community and serves on several boards and commissions.

Gina Gallino Cole is the City of Watsonville’s representative on the RTC’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, is past executive director of Bike Santa Cruz County and is a lifelong resident of Watsonville.

Natalie Olivas is a climate justice organizer with Regeneración - Pájaro Valley Climate Action, where she uses her California State University Monterey Bay environmental studies degree to fight for transportation equity.

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