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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 'Yes Greenway' vision for the Santa Cruz rail corridor

Jack Brown of Yes! Greenway standing on his porch in Aptos, overlooking the rail line.
Jerimiah Oetting
Jack Brown of Yes! Greenway standing on his porch in Aptos, overlooking the rail line.

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 Jack Brown, an active supporter of Measure D, at his home in Aptos that overlooks the silent rail corridor.

He explains that Measure D would remove rail transit from the county’s plan and recommend a process called railbanking…

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jack Brown (JB): Rail banking essentially is federally protecting the corridor to say, hey, you can use this for something in the interim but still have the rail rights. And if there's ever a time that we say rail really does make sense, it can always be reactivated as a rail line. It could stay as it is just as an unused train track or it could be paved over and used as a trail in the interim .

Jerimiah Oetting (JO): What do you say to the opposition that brings up that when things are once things are rail banked, it's pretty unlikely that they revert back to rail?

JB: I say it’s untrue, I mean the majority of lines that do go railbank do not return to rail, but they are all 100% eligible of going back to rail if it makes sense. But I think we don’t really have that in Santa Cruz, and a better use would be to use it as a trail.

JO: You know, this would be a great trail for people who can use it. But there are a lot of people who aren't able to bike. Wouldn't having a public transportation option on this corridor help those people as well?

JB: Well one, I think they're making a lot of assumptions for people that have disabilities. Because like even when I ride, you know, in the back of the Santa Cruz Harbor, there's guys on wheelchairs that are using that corridor as well, too. And, you know, I think they're kind of speaking for people who don't necessarily want to be spoken for, to say they don't want a trail.

Yes, there's definitely people that aren't going to be able to use it. There may be times where there's inclement weather where people are not going to want to use the trail. That's why I think we need to do a lot more focus on improving metro.

JO: What would it change for your neighborhood to have a rail public transit option coming through you know, essentially your backyard.

JB: It doesn't really do anything to me. We're fine. I mean, we have more issues because of so much traffic on Highway One that people are diverting on these roads through here. There's been a lot of claims of NIMBY-ism. "We don't want this thing in our backyard." I don't think that's the case. It's, you know, doing something that makes sense.

JO: That's kind of surprising. I would assume that you would have some some feelings about having a constant train back and forth in your yard. But you're saying it's more because you you just disagree with how much it costs and the practicality?

JB: Yeah. And I just think there's there's much better ways that we can, you know, make bus service reliable.

JO: What's the biggest thing you think the opposition to Measure D gets wrong about the issue?

JB: What it's going to do for the environment and what it's going to do for traffic in the area. So, because we only have room for one track here, that only means that five trains could go in one direction any one time. Without an impact on traffic, you're not going to affect greenhouse gas emissions. They're selling people on on a story that isn't going to make it that isn't going to make it to reality.

JO: Is there something that you could admit that the other side does get right?

JB: That's a good question. The only thing I, I guess I would say is that there should be more of a focus on public transit. That I agree with totally. I just don't agree that it's a train that's going to solve our problems.

JO: If the measure doesn't pass, what will that mean for you? Will you accept the results?

JB: The big thing was getting this issue to the public and that's the biggest thing for me. Again, I'll be disappointed if we lose. I know that we've had to deal with a lot of misinformation that's gone out. But no, I definitely plan on accepting it. Because I know, either way, we're not getting a train with this.

We still don't have a train plan. We don't have a budget. The only way it's going to happen is if there's an additional tax on either property owners or another sales tax, which is going to require a two thirds majority of voters to pass.

A rejection of Measure D just means nothing happens. Yes on D means we start really making progress on what to do with the corridor and moving forward from there.

JO: Any final thoughts ahead of June 7th?

JB: I think it's really important that people study the issue. I hope people just don't go based on an endorsement or seeing a sign on the side of the road. That they really look at the issue, try to find non-biased information out there. Be an informed voter and they participate in the vote. I think it's just really important that the democratic process works this time.

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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