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Impartial Analysis of Measure D

JASON M. HEATH, COUNTY COUNSEL
Ruby Márquez, Chief Assistant County Counsel

Measure D was placed on the ballot by an initiative petition called the “Santa Cruz County Greenway Initiative” and signed by the requisite number of voters in Santa Cruz County.

The Initiative seeks to change the Circulation Element of the Santa Cruz County General Plan to support the development of an interim multi-purpose trail (“the Greenway”) within the Santa Cruz Branch Line Rail Corridor, which would require a federal process called railbanking.

The Santa Cruz County General Plan is a comprehensive long-term plan that outlines future growth and land use development in the unincorporated areas. One of seven chapters in the General Plan, the Circulation Element must include a description and location of the existing and proposed transportation network, including goals and policies that meet the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways.

If constructed as outlined in the proposed changes to the General Plan, the Greenway would utilize the Santa Cruz Branch Line Corridor (“the Corridor”) as an interim multi-use trail. The term “interim” is not defined.

The Corridor is an existing 32-mile continuous transportation rail line currently owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (the “RTC”), an independent government agency. The RTC’s current plans for the Corridor include developing a trail next to the existing rail line, also known as “rail with trail.”

The Initiative focuses on the segment of the Corridor between the San Lorenzo Bridge in the City of Santa Cruz and Lee Road in the City of Watsonville. As the County’s General Plan only applies to the unincorporated areas of the County, areas of the Corridor located within any city limits would not be impacted by the Initiative.

As proposed, the Greenway would involve the removal of the existing rail tracks and construction of two lanes of wheeled traffic on a paved path, divided from a separate walkway for pedestrians, with a shoulder on both sides. Trail uses may include commuting, active transportation, and recreation by pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchairs, skateboards, and personal e-mobility. Existing bridges, trestles, and other certain existing freight service infrastructure would remain in place.

Construction of the Greenway depends on the approval of railbanking, a legal process involving the federal government, freight operators, and the RTC which preserves railroad easements and rights-of-way for future freight service. If the Corridor is not able to be railbanked, the Greenway as proposed would not be feasible. Moreover, the General Plan is a planning document and does not mandate that proposed infrastructure be built. Therefore, adoption of the Greenway Initiative does not guarantee that the Greenway will be constructed.

Additional proposed changes to the General Plan include adding “Greenway Planning” to “Objective 3.7 Rail Facilities” in the “Transportation Management System,” as well as the modification of policies and program sections for transportation systems goals, commodities movement, recreational system development, and other related items which may include the reduction or elimination of rail-related language. Voters are referred to the full text of the measure for complete details.

These changes to the General Plan would be permanent unless amended by voters in the future, except for minor conforming amendments consistent with the Initiative.

 

What Does A Yes Vote Mean?

A “yes” vote is a vote to change the County’s General Plan Circulation Element to add language that supports the development of an interim multi-use trail in the rail corridor, which, if constructed as proposed, would require removal of the existing tracks. It is also a vote to change the General Plan Circulation Element to reduce or eliminate language that relates to freight and passenger rail services.

What Does A No Vote Mean?

A “no” vote is a vote to keep the language in the County’s General Plan Circulation Element the same as it is now and not make any changes to it.