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.
This is the Big One: The City Council Meets on March 30 to Reconsider the Cardiff Rail Trail and Montgomery Crossing
Below is a letter sent to Mayor Gaspar and the Encinitas City Council in advance of the March 30 meeting to reconsider the Cardiff Rail Trail and Montgomery crossing projects (which starts at 6pm). We are going wide with our Council input because the Mayor was unwilling to schedule the meeting so that the founder of the Friends of the Cardiff Rail Trail could attend and speak, leaving the group's leadership feeling disrespected and unheard. Even a week's delay would have worked. Our group has over 1,700 supporters at this point, so we don't understand the slight. Another member of the group will speak on our behalf at the meeting.
Please attend the March 30 meeting regardless of how you feel about the rail trail and crossing projects. Anyone who's been following our group knows we are conflicted about elements of the current plan - but the underlying community needs that were answered by the trail and the crossing are still very much there. We want to make sure that the Council hears about these needs and addresses them with any new plan or change to the existing plan. So... go to the meeting. Speak. Tell the Council what you think. If you have any feelings at all about the rail trail, the Montgomery crossing, and the current state of the Cardiff Rail Corridor, then this is the one meeting you should attend.
If you are intimidated by the idea of attending the meeting and speaking, don't let that stop you. The process is not that scary. The City building is across Vulcan from the Encinitas train station (to the east). Simply show up a little early (at 5:30p or 5:45p), ask for a speaker slip, fill it out, and hand it to the clerk before the meeting starts. You'll be called up and will have three minutes to address the Council. Watch some of the video on the City web site from previous meetings if you feel shy... speakers are not always super articulate or polished in their presentations. However, they do speak from their hearts because they care about their community. What matters is that you are there, that you are heard, and that you are on the record.
Below is our official input to the Council meeting, sent to the City Council, press, and a core group of our supporters in the form of personal emails.
Mayor Gaspar and Encinitas City Council:
I am writing on behalf of the 1,700 people who support the Cardiff Rail Trail on the east side of the tracks. We acknowledge the recent issues with the trail and crossing that led to the March 30 Council meeting to reconsider these improvements. However, we need you to understand that any changes to the plans going forward must address deep community needs served by the current projects.
Mayor Gaspar, we know that you and some other Council members have listened to the organized and vocal rail trail opposition who have done a tremendous job of surfacing their own issues and concerns. We urge you to heed those concerns. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the needs of the other half of your community. Hear us as well.
First of all, you must know that we have a big problem on North San Elijo Avenue. The bluff top is a mess with haphazard parking creating an obstacle course for pedestrians and cyclists, forcing them out into traffic. This stretch of road is not safe for walkers and bikers, and it stands between Cardiff and the wonderful pedestrian underpass at Swami’s. We need a better answer, a safe path accessible to all.
To the south we have issues with beach access. People are crossing the tracks and Coast Highway illegally, risking their lives as well as a misdemeanor ticket and a huge fine. A consultant hired by the City recently documented up to 90 people crossing per hour on a busy weekend day. Let’s be clear, this is an accident waiting to happen.
There are other factors to consider. NCTD will fence this rail corridor in the next few years regardless of whether or not there is a rail trail. They’ve gone on the record. There are other projects that may affect access as well, such as a concrete drainage ditch running beside the tracks.
There is ultimately only one answer: A safe and legal crossing at Montgomery Avenue. This needs to happen now and not a decade or more in the future.
Also, we know that many of our supporters are not well served by the current dirt path to the south. A lot of Cardiff residents love this path, but it is not accessible to all pedestrians and is not a good answer for many cyclists. We need a path for people of all ages and abilities that connects the Cardiff market area with the Swami’s underpass to the north. It doesn’t matter if this path is wide or narrow, or runs along the road instead of through the unimproved natural areas. The goal is to get us out of our cars and onto our feet or bikes, to open up and connect our communities.
Finally, we must consider the needs of the larger North County community. The Coastal Rail Trail is a regional project and will eventually run from Oceanside to San Diego. By choosing an alignment for the Cardiff Rail Trail, you are defining the future path for the rest of the CRT through Encinitas. You are making decisions for the Highlands, downtown Encinitas, and Leucadia, who have not had a voice in this rail trail debate. This is not just a Cardiff issue. A hasty, ill-considered, and reactive approach to selecting the CRT alignment will endanger the entire regional project and will not serve the rest of our community well.
Mayor Gaspar, we need leadership. You cannot simply kick the can down the road and ask us to wait for some nebulous rail corridor visioning exercise that won’t bear fruit for years or even decades. We’re still waiting for the underpasses promised in 2009. We’ve gotten one out of four built after seven long years. That’s not good enough. You need to make decisions and get results sooner rather than later.
You cannot unsee the damning information recently presented to you by your own consultant about the number of illegal railroad crossings; you own this now. The inevitable accident won’t happen because an able-bodied resident failed to stop, look, and listen before crossing the tracks – it will happen because someone’s dog or child wanders onto the tracks at the wrong place at the wrong time and the owner or parent reacts instinctively. Situations like this are why we’ve seen injuries and fatalities in other parts of the rail corridor. You put your community at risk if you ignore this issue.
Even if you decide to ignore the safety of your community and punt on the crossing, eventually NCTD will act first and fence off the rail corridor. You’ll find yourself reacting once again to yet another community outcry when it happens. What will be the answer then? Why will it be any easier or cheaper than what we could do now? Think ahead, show some vision, and solve this problem now!
You also should not ignore the mess on North San Elijo Avenue. It’s unsafe, unsightly, and unpleasant.
You should not ignore the deep need for an accessible path that connects our communities.
And you must not compromise the entire regional Coastal Rail Trail project by hastily and reactively choosing the alignment through Cardiff.
These are all hard problems to solve and there are lots of government agencies and interests involved. But you are elected to solve hard problems. Lead us to a better plan quickly, one that serves all of us.
On the heels of Catherine's newsletter with her change of heart on the rail trail comes an update from Lisa (linked below) urging the community, the City, SANDAG, and NCTD to "keep working to come together around a plan based on community values, public safety, fiscal responsibility, and facts". Lisa notes that we don't have all the information or all the answers and shouldn't rush to judgment.
Lisa's letter discusses the prospects for a Quiet Zone that encompasses the Montgomery crossing (maybe not as impossible as we thought), the idea that wayside horns could be configured so that they don't bother the school or nearby neighbors, new flexibility from NCTD around placement of the fence, and a potential compromise for the rail trail route in the south that places it along San Elijo Avenue rather than in the undeveloped natural area.
Here's the link:
Moderators and authors for the Cardiff Rail Trail page come from a group of dedicated volunteers.