Can the MB Sanctuary Scenic Trail Master Plan be changed ‘willy-nilly’?, asks reader

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I thought the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission had held a series of workshops throughout the county, complete with contracted facilitators and display ads in this newspaper, to gather input from the public to then be incorporated into the master plan for the rail trail. I thought the plan was finalized and accepted as the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, and was separated into 20 segments to be implemented as funds were made available. Last week the Sentinel ran a legal notice from the commission advising the public that Segment 17 of the rail trail was being revised at their Feb. 6 meeting in Watsonville. The legal notice said the previously adopted Master Plan and Final EIR were at the commission's website, The details of the revised plan are available there when users scroll down to the Feb. 6 meeting and click-on 'agenda.' I was surprised to read that the revisions for Segment 17 were major. The original plan for Segment 17 called for the pedestrian/bike trail to follow along the railroad tracks from Buena Vista Road at San Andreas Road with overviews and vistas of the scenic Watsonville wetland sloughs and ending at Lee Road. The new plan for Segment 17 being considered for adoption at Thursday's meeting calls for an on-road alignment. The Monterey Bay Sanctuary trail will be a bike lane along San Andreas Road, Beach Street to Thurwatcher Road, with another piece to connect from Beach Street along Lee Road so users will be given pavement and vehicle traffic along the existing streets instead of the previously planned vistas of the wetlands along a quiet and vehicle free trail. Even more troubling, the revised EIR for the newly planned route say's 'Because 17b would not place users adjacent to an active rail line or include facilities for pedestrians, conflicts between users and rail traffic and among bicycles and pedestrians would not occur.' I think this means that the commission isn't including any enhancements to improve the walking experience along San Andreas Road and Beach Street. The EIR doesn't identify any conflicts between users and vehicle traffic along the roadways that have 40 mph+ posted speed limits. So my question is: After all the initial fanfare of advertising public meetings to gather input and the adoption of a Master Plan, will the plans be subject to change in a willy-nilly fashion whenever the commission wishes without equal public input? If this to be the process used in implementation of the first two segments, are we to brace for the possibility of something radically different from what was originally planned when all 20 segments are finally built and the rail trail is completed? Peter Stanger, via email A: "Essentially, the proposed revision would add an on-road alignment as an additional option, along with the current rail trail option, to be considered later when there is interest and funding to develop Segment 17," explained Cory Caletti, senior transportation planner. "At that time, the community will be able to provide input through a public process on the trade-offs between the two alignments and any other concerns regarding that segment." When the commission meets at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 in the Watsonville City Council Chambers, 275 Main St. Ste. 400, Watsonville, its discussion and revision will not select which Segment 17 method to be installed, she said. "The action would establish 'a joint planning and implementation task force to make recommendations to the commission and any other implementing agency prior to any trail design, development or construction activities for this segment,.'” Caletti continued, noting that "a fair amount of public comment" has been received.
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