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Santa Cruz Co. rail trolley decision expected Tuesday

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    Published Tuesday, March 2, 2004, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel Rail-trail decision expected Thursday By Heather Boerner Sentinel Staff Writer It comes down to
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2004
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      Published Tuesday, March 2, 2004, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

      Rail-trail decision expected Thursday

      By Heather Boerner
      Sentinel Staff Writer

      It comes down to this: After months of heated debate about a
      possible tourist trolley running from Capitola to Aptos, the county
      Regional Transportation Commission is set to decide Thursday night
      whether to keep heading down this road.

      The commission will vote whether to proceed with an environmental
      report on the trolley, proposed to run between Capitola and Aptos
      with an extension to Seascape. If the commission decides not to, and
      chooses not to explore a tourist line elsewhere in the county, it
      must give up $11 million in Proposition 116 funds the state set
      aside to buy the Union Pacific right of way that runs from
      Watsonville to Davenport.

      Money questions are fueling the debate. Opponents ask whether using
      the state's $11 million and $10 million set aside by the commission
      to buy the branch line is a prudent investment. Depending on the
      speaker, the plan to use the money is a "ruse" or the argument
      against it is a "red herring."

      Longtime plans

      The commission has talked about buying the rail line for years. But
      last year it devised a plan to establish a tourist train with four
      potential routes: Santa Cruz to Davenport, downtown Santa Cruz to
      the city's Harvey West Neighborhood, Santa Cruz to Capitola or
      Capitola to Aptos. At a well-attended meeting in the fall, the
      commission chose Capitola to Aptos.

      The commission is comprised of 12 members, including each member of
      the county Board of Supervisors, representatives of each city in the
      county, as well as the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District and

      So far, the commission has been split on the plan. Capitola
      representative Dennis Norton has been one of the plan's most
      outspoken supporters, while 2nd District Supervisor Ellen Pirie, who
      represents Mid-County, has said she's worried about continuing to
      pursue the state money and is interested in finding other ways to
      fund the purchase.

      If the commission buys the line, it also plans to establish a rail-
      trail that would run the length of the 31-mile Union Pacific line
      and create a bicycle and pedestrian trail from one end of the county
      to the other.

      The proposal calls for a private company to operate the tourist
      train in the summer months with no subsidies from the commission.

      If the commission decides to drop the Capitola to Aptos line,
      transportation planner Karena Pushnik said it could still try to buy
      the rail line with the $11 million in Prop. 116 funds, by using the
      state money to put rail on another part of the line, or by using
      other money to buy it and not employing a train at all.

      Bikes vs. potholes

      It is not surprising that some of the trolley's greatest proponents
      are people who favor rail as well as bicycle enthusiasts and
      activists. They say it's the only way to get a public bike path that
      spans the county.

      The county "can't afford not to do this," said Micah Posner of
      Friends of the Rail-Trail and People Power.

      To that end, Posner and the alternative transportation advocacy
      group People Power have come up with a faux dollar bill, marked as
      $11 million, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's face on it. Below
      Schwarzenegger's face reads, "You don't want the money???"

      The other side sports a picture of a section of the rail line in
      Aptos and the words, "The will of the people." The group has
      gathered about 1,500 signatures from county residents, many from Mid-
      County, who support the rail purchase. Groups including the Sierra
      Club support using the money to buy the rail line.

      Paul Elerick of the Campaign for Sensible Transportation believes
      the Prop. 116 funds should be used to purchase the rail line. The
      other alternatives touted include adding the branch line purchase to
      the list of projects funded by the sales tax measure county
      residents will consider in November. That measure, a half-cent sales
      tax, would pay for the widening of Highway 1 as well as other

      "But that doesn't make sense to me," said Elerick, an Aptos
      resident. "Why throw another $11 million onto a measure that people
      wouldn't have to pay otherwise?"

      But opponents say, given the current financial picture, it doesn't
      make sense to spend the $10 million on a project that isn't
      absolutely necessary.

      Sue Renner, who lives near the proposed train station in Capitola,
      said people need to break away from the idea that "you have to use
      Prop. 116 to buy the line, and that means you have to have a train,
      and that's the only way you'll get the rail-trail." She said that
      has yet to be proven.

      Neil McElwee agreed.

      "I think our position is best summed up as, `You're spending time,
      effort and money in the wrong place,'" said McElwee, head of the
      community group Santa Cruz Coalition Against Recreational
      Rail. "That money can be better spent filling potholes, building
      sidewalks. There was a sound wall that was supposed to be built 10
      years ago. Where are the bike lanes? In these times of real economic
      strife, don't put money where we don't need it."

      Pushnik said in order to spend the money on other things, it would
      take an action of both the county and state transportation

      Payback question

      Another issue is whether, if the tourist train fails, the commission
      would have to repay the state funds. Last year, Commissioner Jan
      Beautz sent a letter to the California Transportation Commission,
      which distributes the money, asking under what conditions the money
      would have to be repaid.

      The local commission has yet to receive the Prop. 116 funds, and if
      the commission decides not to do any rail on the line, it would not
      receive the money. If they decide to do rail and the project fails,
      commissioners such as Beautz and Pirie have gone on the record
      saying they're worried they'd have to return the funds.

      The letter the commission got back from Assistant Deputy Director
      Kathie Jacobs stated, in part, that the commission
      requires "projects that consist of state funding to be kept
      operating for its useful life of the capital equipment, which could
      be between 40 to 50 years."

      That triggered McElwee and others to assert that not only is it
      frivolous to buy the rail line, but it could actually be fiscally
      dangerous. They say it could lead to either the county having to
      sell the line to repay the state or subsidize the rail line with
      money that would otherwise go to the county's bus system or other
      transit projects.

      McElwee points to a staff report showing the Capitola to Aptos line
      is not expected to be a big moneymaker. The bigger moneymaker would
      go from Santa Cruz to Capitola.

      But Posner and other supporters of the project call the concern
      a "red herring."

      "For us to have to pay that money back, the county would have to be
      in collusion," Posner said. "We'd have to want to give back the

      He points to the letter from Jacobs, which, in addition to saying
      the state would like the train to run for 40 years, explains that
      the state Transportation Commission "typically looks at each
      particular project at the time we're notified that a project that
      included state funding will be sold or cease to exist for its
      intended purpose. At that time, a determination is made regarding
      whether any payback, if any, would be necessary."

      It's unclear whether the state would force the city to pay back the
      money. Supporters of the Aptos-Capitola train say this proves that
      the fear over returning the money is just that -- an irrational

      Elerick said the state has yet to demand a return of Prop. 116 money
      for any reason.

      Jacobs was unavailable for comment Monday.

      Phil Dow, who helped write the guidelines for the use of Prop. 116
      funds, said he'd be shocked if the state asked for the money back.

      "I don't see that anyone has contemplated ever reimbursing anyone
      for an honest and good faith effort to run rail on the line," said
      Dow, now head of the Mendocino County Association of
      Governments. "If they intended to put rail on the line, I don't
      think they would come down on them. Probably, they'd just want to
      make sure it was a good purpose."

      The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Board of Supervisors
      chamber, 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz.

      Contact Heather Boerner at hboerner@...

      [BATN: See also:

      Letter: SCruz Co. rail line upkeep will be costly

      Letter: Don't risk SCruz rail ROW for Hwy 1 widening

      SCruz Co. Supe candidates differ on Hwy 1, rail ROW

      Letter: Stop "tourist trolley" rail project now

      Letters: Widen Hwy 1 now; buy & preserve rail line

      Letter: Suggestions on Santa Cruz rail plan

      Letters: Make wise investment in Santa Cruz rail ROW

      Letters: Santa Cruz Co. trolley opposition ridiculous

      Letter: Santa Cruz Co. RTC trolley "irresponsible"

      Letter: Santa Cruz Co. rail stance misrepresented

      Editorial: Santa Cruz Co. trolley idea is half-baked

      Santa Cruz Co. rail trolley project may stall

      Santa Cruz trolley proponents launch media campaign

      Column: SCruz Co. trolley an issue in Supes race

      Letter: SCruz Co. trolley NIMBY website misleading

      Santa Cruz area NIMBYs blast rail trolley plan

      Santa Cruz Co. RTC to hold meeting on trolley EIR

      Capitola-Aptos tourist trolley report presented

      Santa Cruz RTC to give bus, rail report the brush-off

      Editorial: Santa Cruz trolley idea irresponsible

      Santa Cruz aims to buy rail line for trail, trolley

      Santa Cruz Co. eyes Capitola-Aptos tourist train

      Santa Cruz Co to seek Prop 116 cash for rail line
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