The City Council held a special meeting on March 30, with two agenda items. The first was a collection of actions to support the @Home in Encinitas housing plan ballot measure. It passed unanimously with no discussion. People were there for the second item - the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail and update on other rail corridor projects.
The Council voted 4-1, with me as the "no" vote, on a single motion that included direction to:
- discontinue our support for the Coastal Rail Trail alignment on the east side of the tracks,
- move forward with the Highway 101 alignment,
- form a Rail Trail Working Group,
- continue design efforts for a crossing at Montgomery (I support this)
- continue reconfiguration of the Chesterfield interchange (I support this too).
Most of the 30+ speakers acknowledged that it's not safe to cycle or walk on San Elijo Ave. The action taken by the Council does nothing to address that. NCTD confirmed that a fence is coming regardless of a trail. The action taken does nothing to change that. SANDAG has made significant efforts to accommodate the community's input on the design of the trail and the fence, and has only reached the 30% design stage, so the interaction was ongoing. But it seemed clear that many minds were already made up, and not really open to considering any alternate ideas. There were many speakers who expressed support for the current plan, but many more affirming their well-organized campaign against any change to their current usage of the NCTD right-of-way and unauthorized rail crossing.
My position was presented in the powerpoint linked here
The Council majority's action assumes that it's a simple matter to switch gears and build a bike path on Highway 101. In fact, the SANDAG staff will have to present this to their management and ultimately seek agreement from the SANDAG Board for a significant change to the project. It is not clear if the $1 million grant from the state will be transferable. It is not clear if environmental and Coastal Commission approval will be forthcoming (the San Elijo alignment already has Coastal clearance and environmental documents nearing completion). In other words, it's not a done deal. And we do not have a clear concept of what happens north of this segment on Highway 101. I don't think the Coastal Rail Trail can continue through downtown Encinitas on 101 because of traffic and parking constraints. Among the letters supporting the San Elijo alignment were Cardiff 101 Main Street and the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce. So much for our business-friendly Council members and Mayor!
It is abundantly clear that many local folks are concerned about what's planned, and confused by sometimes contradictory statements describing what will happen. So I'm glad we took the time to bring everyone up to date. I hope people were paying attention to the bigger picture, beyond where segment 39C will be located.
There was good news: despite some hesitation on the part of some Council members, we were able to save the contract already in place for the design of a crossing at Montgomery and pursuit of approval from the CPUC. I pushed for expedited demonstration of wayside horns at the specific location where a crossing would require them, so we can start getting real data and understand what the impact would be if we aren't successful getting a corridor-long quiet zone. And maintaining our commitments at Chesterfield will be an essential part of the quiet zone planning.
So I feel very disappointed, but not surprised, at the outcome tonight. I appreciate everyone's contributions and involvement, and I just have to accept that my colleagues made a different assessment than I did.
Despite all my "book learning," the real world continues to teach me important lessons. It takes a lot of time to dig deeply into plans and budgets to understand the full picture of what happens in a locality. While we control our local budget, we are also part of a region within a state, and we don't have full control over what happens here. Like it or not, Encinitas has an interstate highway and a rail corridor cutting through our town, and the agencies that have responsibility for those facilities have their own budgets, plans, and authority to work in their corridors. Yes, we have representation on the SANDAG and NCTD Boards, but decisions require broad regional consensus and don't always match any one city's specific preferences.
So we find ourselves with major construction projects about to begin in Encinitas, and we are only just beginning to realize their impact. The I-5 widening project was presented last week. In addition to continuing the HOV lane in each direction to Oceanside, it will provide a much needed lane for bikes and pedestrians under the freeway bridges on Encinitas Blvd and Santa Fe, by digging into the slopes and putting in retaining walls, similar to what was done in Solana Beach on Lomas Santa Fe. I'm looking forward to the improvements, but not to the traffic impacts during construction.
In Cardiff, the rail corridor is getting a second track and a new bridge over the lagoon. We only learned within the last week that part of this project includes a sizable concrete drainage channel alongside the tracks. You can see the area of the drainage channel in yellow on the diagram below.
I hear complaints that there hasn't been enough public outreach and information about the proposed Montgomery rail crossing. Well, guess what - it takes time, always more time than anyone wants, to get things done. When we agreed to hire a consultant, there's a process to put together a request for proposals and advertise and receive bids and get someone under contract. That's been done. But the consultant can't hold a public meeting on day one - they first have to do their homework, conduct some studies, and develop some conceptual designs. That's been done. And the first public meeting is scheduled for April 19.
Similarly, SANDAG didn't hold a bunch of public meetings after the initial sessions at Cardiff School because they were doing their work - among other things, they had to do geotechnical studies to understand what retaining walls would be needed and how much they would cost. They worked with City staff to understand what opportunities there are to work in the City's right-of-way, and with NCTD to coordinate with the double-tracking. The intent has always been to continue public outreach when there is new information available, and we have only just arrived at that point. In the meantime, the social media efforts of local residents intensified and so here we are.
I know the facts are sometimes inconvenient. I often hear from people who want to preserve Encinitas as it was when they arrived. It's not possible. Change will happen. What we must do, in my view, is manage that change, engage constructively in the process, and anticipate future needs in our planning. I'm disappointed that we have rejected what I think was a well-conceived component of a larger program that I am confident we would use and appreciate if it were built.
That's it for now.