Big news today: The full SANDAG Board voted this morning to approve the additional funding required to build the Cardiff Rail Trail on the east side of the tracks as approved by the California Coastal Commission in early May.
The SANDAG Board approval follows a unanimous Transportation Committee vote on June 2, 2017 to recommend that the Board provide the additional dollars. While the Transportation Committee vote was an important step, the Board meeting was for all the marbles and was not a sure thing given SANDAG's diverse group of elected officials and cities. Our group turned out in force for both meetings with several speakers going on the record supporting the trail.
Now that the funding is approved, SANDAG will move quickly to secure all the final design and construction approvals and permits required to get started. This project is closer than ever before to becoming a reality. It's now fully funded (with enough money in the budget even if the ATP grant goes away), has been approved by the Coastal Commission, and has been endorsed by the City of Encinitas. With the alignment issue settled by the CCC, the City of Encinitas has graciously stepped back into the role of SANDAG partner.
This was the last of the high-stakes public meetings and votes. After many, many years of twists and turns, leaps forward followed by huge reversals, a whole bunch of hard work, lots of waiting, buckets of angst, some good luck, and a tidal wave of goodwill from those of us who fought for it... the Cardiff Rail Trail is on its way.
We have been asked why we put effort into the Coastal Commission meeting (organizing, getting people to write thoughtful emails to the Commissioners, and speaking at the hearing). The reasons are actually pretty simple.
First of all, we had an obligation to the thousands of people who want the trail on the east side of the tracks and have been relying on us to champion their cause. We wanted to represent them well. We take that responsibility very seriously.
Second, we know that Encinitas desperately needs a network of safe/legal RR crossings and pedestrian/bike trails in the Cardiff rail corridor. However, we don't believe we'll see fundamental progress in that direction without the momentum generated by a regional infrastructure project like the Coastal Rail Trail. We were not optimistic that a City-funded improvement of San Elijo Avenue would happen in the foreseeable future given potential concerns about loss of parking and fencing (which would have to be built wherever the trail/sidewalk/path got close to the tracks). We have seen this movie before. We were also not convinced that the pedestrian crossing at Verdi Avenue or Montgomery Avenue would get built any time soon without the impetus of the impending CRT project. With a Coastal Commission mandate, the east-side CRT will make our network of trails and crossings a reality.
Third, we believe the east-side alignment is the right answer for the region, not just Encinitas. The Coastal Rail Trail will run along the east side of the tracks - in the rail corridor - through Leucadia and along Vulcan. The Cardiff section of the CRT belongs in the rail corridor as well. The pedestrian under-crossing at Santa Fe with its stairs and narrow ADA ramp (which has a switchback) is just not designed to handle the traffic moving from a west-side Cardiff CRT segment to the east-side trail that will run along the tracks by necessity. The Chesterfield intersection will be built for that purpose.
We are hopeful that money tentatively earmarked for San Elijo improvements in the City capital budget can be re-purposed for the under-crossing at Verdi or Montgomery which will integrate with the CRT when it's finally built.
We look forward to working with the community and with SANDAG to get the CRT project moving as expeditiously as possible.
The California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 to reject SANDAG's proposed west-side alignment and then voted 12-0 to accept their staff recommendation to put the Coastal Rail Trail through Cardiff on the east side of the tracks. This is a dramatic development.
The plan for an east-side alignment of the Cardiff Rail Trail was left for dead after the Encinitas City Council bowed to the demands of a well organized opposition campaign in March of 2016, voting to endorse a west-side alignment along Route 101 and stranding Cardiff residents who wanted to walk, run, and bike along San Elijo Avenue.
The east-side alignment is now back from the grave. The rail trail alignment issue will go before the California Coastal Commission in early May. Correspondence between Commission staff and SANDAG during the latter part of 2016 indicates that Commission staff are opposed to the west-side alignment.
If the Coastal Commission votes against the west-side alignment, then the original plan for running the trail along the east side of the tracks may be resurrected.
We are in favor of nixing the west-side alignment and revisiting the alignment issue. Since the City Council vote in March of 2016, there have been a number of developments that mitigate in favor of giving the east-side alignment another shot:
1. The City Council has expressed a new openness to building a pedestrian undercrossing at Montgomery Avenue or Verdi Avenue instead of an at-grade crossing as originally contemplated. The undercrossing is desirable because of reduced regulatory delays and the elimination of noise caused by wayside horns and/or train conductors blowing their horns in front of an at-grade crossing. A safe and legal pedestrian crossing with no regulatory hair and no noise issue gives us confidence that any loss of beach access from a trail-side post-and-cable fence can be mitigated in a timely fashion. The need for this crossing is more acute than ever and the explicit linkage between the east-side trail and the crossing - because of the need to avoid or minimize a gap in beach access - will bring this project about sooner rather than later.
2. The delay in the San Elijo double tracking project has opened up an opportunity to sequence the construction of the trail and the new crossing. The current project to build a new bridge across San Elijo Lagoon and double-track from Chesterfield to Solana Beach will take at least two years. Trail construction will likely be another two years beyond that. That gives us four years to approve, design, permit, and build our new pedestrian crossing.
3. The temporary fencing around the staging area for the double tracking project has already disrupted access for those who wish to cross the tracks illegally and that will continue for the next two years. The community reaction to the disruption in illegal access has been muted. Those who currently choose to cross the tracks illegally are routing around the staging area... and the most traveled route across the tracks is now at the same place that the new pedestrian crossing would be built. This gives us heart that a new undercrossing will solve for beach access over the long haul.
4. Several months ago, SANDAG gave indications that they were open to changing the design of the trail between Verdi Street and Chesterfield Street to reduce its footprint and impact. Changes could include a narrower paved cross-section of the trail and a correspondingly wider deconstructed granite component. There were also some preliminary discussions about routing the trail closer to San Elijo Avenue in some areas (and avoiding some natural features like the mud/sand formations). If SANDAG is pushed back into the east-side alignment by the Coastal Commission, then the Encinitas City Council and the community will have the opportunity to come together and work with SANDAG to make changes in the design. We'll have leverage at that point that we haven't had up to now.
5. We have heard from many residents who feel regret that the east-side alignment was killed by the City Council. There is considerable latent support for the original plan. We know that the alignment issue divided the community and pitted neighbor against neighbor, but the eventual outcome simply disenfranchised one group instead of another. The east-side alignment served some very deep community needs including accessibility and safety along San Elijo and the rail corridor. Those needs are still there.
We await the results of the Coastal Commission meeting with anticipation. If the decision is made to kill the west-side alignment and thus push SANDAG and the City of Encinitas to reconsider the east-side alignment, then we stand ready to work with the community, the City, and SANDAG to shape the best possible plan for a rail trail that works for all of us and a safe pedestrian crossing at Montgomery Avenue or Verdi Avenue.
COUNCIL MEMBER TASHA BOERNER HORVATH NEWSLETTER: UPDATE FROM THE COASTAL MOBILITY AND LIVABILITY WORKING GROUP
COASTAL MOBILITY AND LIVABILITY STUDY: Public Workshops
The Coastal Mobility and Livability Study is a City-sponsored visioning process that invites residents, businesses, and other community members to work together to create a new vision for mobility connections and quality of life improvements along the coastal corridor.
Cardiff: Cardiff Elementary 1888 Montgomery Avenue
Thursday, October 6, 6-8 p.m.
Old Encinitas: Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive
Saturday, October 8, 3-5 p.m.
Olivenhain: Olivenhain Town Hall 423 Rancho Santa Fe Road
Saturday, October 15, 3-5 p.m.
New Encinitas: Flora Vista Elementary 1690 Wandering Road
Monday, October 17, 6-8 p.m.
We have obtained emails that were sent from the NoRailTrail leaders to members of the group confirming Paul Gaspar’s deep and “intimate” involvement with the group. We have no objection to the idea that Paul mentored the leadership of NoRailTrail on effective advocacy. However, it is absolutely not cool that the leaders of the group then hijacked the cause of the 1,000 people they represent to launch a strident, ugly, partisan campaign to elect a Republican mayor and two Republican council members.
The political endorsements, Facebook posts, letters, comments on various web sites, and other recent communications from NoRailTrail give the impression that all 1,000 members of the group stand behind the highly partisan positions of the small core leadership team. But we don’t think the people of Encinitas that signed the original petition about the rail trail alignment actually agreed to enthusiastically back a slate of Republicans for mayor and for City Council.
It seems clear in hindsight that Paul Gaspar has cynically used NoRailTrail as a pawn on the political chessboard.
Dear NoRailTrail: We have re-activated this web site in order to respond to recent attacks on City Council members and the spate of negativity around the composition of the new rail corridor working group (the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group). While we had empathy and respect for your fight to move the Cardiff Rail Trail to the west side of Highway 101 earlier this year, we feel like you've now gone off the tracks. Remember that you won the fight over the rail trail alignment. The City Council made that decision in March.
We're deeply troubled by the allegations you've hurled at Catherine Blakespear and other members of the City Council over the last few weeks about vague and unsubstantiated "shady dealings" related to the composition of the rail corridor working group. The kerfuffle over the composition of the group seems less about real issues and more about making trouble for Catherine Blakespear during election season and trying to get Paul Gaspar elected as Mayor. Did the broad group of people in Cardiff who rallied to your cause (the rail trail alignment) really sign up for a nasty and fiercely partisan campaign to elect a Republican Mayor? We feel like you've hijacked their cause in order to force a Republican majority on the Council. You've taken something pure and non-partisan and twisted it. This is very unfortunate.
Catherine gave you everything you wanted with her change of heart and change of vote in March. We would expect you to be grateful and gracious as a result. Instead, you are leveling serious accusations based on minor perceived slights. You are impugning the integrity of people who made a difficult decision to support you. Your "evidence" for any malfeasance is truly weak sauce.
The core of your main complaint is that the composition of the rail corridor working group was decided in "secret meetings" and somehow favors or benefits those of us who wanted an east-side alignment of the Cardiff Rail Trail. What's most ridiculous about these allegations is that the most active leaders on the "yes" side - who you would expect to be at the white hot center of this crazy paranoid conspiracy - didn't even bother to call or email the Council about the initial draft working group membership list that was subsequently modified by the Council.
We didn't have a huge charge on it because the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group is not a forum for re-litigating the alignment of the rail trail. We never saw it as such nor did we ever intend to try to use it that way. The group's mandate is much broader and deals with how the entire city interacts with the rail corridor in all parts of the community (including pedestrian crossings, road crossings, parking, and the use of land). Not only that, but the alignment issue has already been decided by the Council.
So... if the leaders of the "yes" side couldn't even get worked up enough to lobby the Council about membership, then how on earth could there be some grand conspiracy?
The answer is that there isn't a conspiracy. That's just patently silly. It's nonsense. Instead, there is a lot of noise being made by a very small group of people who are the unwitting tools of Kristin and Paul Gaspar in an attempt to flip the City Council majority from Democrat/progressive to Republican/conservative. That's it. That's all.
Encinitas, don't fall for it. Regardless of your political leanings, don't allow partisan politics to hijack and hide behind a non-partisan cause that started with pure motivations and a broad base of support.
The council voted 4:1 to move the rail trail to the west side of the tracks. Lisa Shaffer's newsletter with details of the meeting is below:
We have very mixed feelings about this outcome but the dominant emotion is disappointment - because important community needs are not being served.