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A ballot measure on June 7th may determine the future of Santa Cruz County's rail corridor — probably the most contentious issue in the county. KAZU News spoke with a supporter and opponent of Measure D, and with Guy Preston, the executive director of the county's regional transportation commission.

The 'No Way Greenway' path to rail and trail in Santa Cruz

Mark Mesiti-Miller of No Way Greenway, standing next to the rail and trail in Santa Cruz's Westside neighborhood.
Jerimiah Oetting
Mark Mesiti-Miller of No Way Greenway, standing next to the rail and trail in Santa Cruz's Westside neighborhood.

Santa Cruz County is divided over Measure D, the so-called Greenway Initiative. At stake is the future of the rail corridor that runs from Santa Cruz to Watsonville.

Supporters of the measure are in favor of paving over the tracks with a wide bike and pedestrian path. Opponents support the county’s current plan, to build rail-based public transit alongside a multi-use trail.

KAZU News spoke with Mark Mesiti-Miller, who is firmly against Measure D. He says his opposition is about the "heart and soul of our county."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Mesiti-Miller (MM): Measure D will deny our county the opportunity to move away from an auto-centric culture to a public transit culture. It denies our South County residents the opportunities that are available to North County residents such as a UCSC education, such as the job opportunities that are here in Santa Cruz.

It will increase the number of vehicle miles traveled. It is environmentally disastrous.

Jerimiah Oetting (JO): Can you tell me what your ideal vision for the future of the rail corridor would look like?

MM: Well, my vision is the same as the vision that has been present now for more than two decades, and that is that the rail corridor is transformed into a rail with a trail along side. And that is a multi-modal transportation system that everyone can use.

JO: What is one of the main things you feel the other side gets wrong about this issue.

MM: I think the idea that you could remove the railroad tracks and railbank them is a huge deception. For the last almost 40 years since rail banking was first created by the U.S. Congress, 23,000 miles of railroad tracks have been removed. And not one has ever come back and been restored after being paved over, as Greenway is proposing.

JO: I’ve heard this brought up before and I've actually been told that there are a couple examples in D.C. and in Texas of rail coming back. Do you know of those examples?

MM: I'm aware of those. And the one in Maryland, which is the D.C. one you might be referring to. There was never a formal trail constructed where the tracks were. The one in Texas was in Denton. That trail was basically a gravel trail, eight feet wide. No one in their right mind would call that paving. It's not a paved corridor.

JO: Supporters of Measure D say they do support other forms of public transit, like auxiliary lanes for buses. Some of these buses could be zero-emission. So would that be a solution to this transportation problem that's less expensive and also carbon neutral?

MM: I'm a fan of bus in auxiliary lanes. So there's a bunch of technical requirements that must be met before the buses can use the auxiliary lanes as a travel lane. And while bus and shoulder is a worthwhile thing to do, adding passenger rail to our existing bus system is vastly superior. We should have both.

JO: Is there something that you can admit that the other side does get right about this issue?

MM: The support for the idea of a trail connecting our neighborhoods together, is strong. And I think everyone agrees that built almost everyone, I shouldn’t say everyone. Not everyone agrees, but almost everyone agrees that building a trail is a good idea.

JO: If the measure does pass, are you willing to accept the result or will you continue to fight for rail transit in the corridor?

MM: Will I accept the results? Of course I'll accept the results. Will I quit fighting for equity and environmental sustainability? No. No way. What does that mean? I don't know. I haven't given that any thought.

JO: You haven't given it any thought? If Measure D were to pass?

MM: If Measure D passes, I'll reevaluate what I might do next. I haven't given it any real consideration.

JO: Any final thoughts that you'd like to share with voters ahead of June 7th?

MM: The one thing that people need to remember is that we have a transportation problem that needs to be solved. We're going to have that transportation problem for the foreseeable The state of California is moving away from investing in highways and toward investing in railways. That is our future. Our future is not widening highways. Widening highways doesn't work.

This story is part of a three-part series of interviews about Measure D and the future of the Santa Cruz County rail corridor.

Jerimiah Oetting is KAZU’s news director. Prior to his career in public media, he was a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
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