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Santa Cruz Regional Transporation Commission Votes To Widen Hwy 1, Others Vow To Fight It
Photo: As good as it gets. The view from a highway isn't the best, but this view of Highway 1 from the Capitola Road Bridge captures the beautiful tree line that has defined the community for decades.
In an 8 to 4 vote, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission voted to pursue funding for three local Highway 1 expansion projects. The projects were brought to the new SCCRTC on their first meeting, January 11th, 2007. The projects include widening the highway from Morrisey to Soquel, From 41st to Bay/Porter and from Bay/Porter to Park. The actual names of each project differ according to type of widening (HOV, Auxillary Lanes, etc.), but they all essentially amount to a widening of the highway.
According to a spokesperson for the SCCRTC who was in favor of the project, the reason why they were bringing about these projects, virtually unannounced to the public, was to take advantage of possible funding from the passage of the statewide bond measure 1B. The spokesperson claimed that they needed to go forward with an approval of the projects in order to meet an end of the month deadline for applications for projects to CalTrans. However, this assertion was later refuted by at least two other officials who had worked with the Transportation Task Force and had knowledge of previous CalTrans funding procedures.
Many members of the public attended the hearing; about seventeen voiced their opposition to the project and three spoke in favor of the project. Members of the public expressed their frustration at the SCCRTC for pursuing this project when the voters turned down a Highway 1 widening bond on the ballot two years ago. Others said that adding lanes for more automobile traffic was not the answer and pleaded with the group to instead focus on working on local streets (for bikes), improving the bus system and installing sidewalks throughout the county. Residents of areas that would be directly impacted by the widening spoke about how the highway widening would put it in very close proximity to their homes, greatly decreasing their quality of life, their property values and putting them at high risk in the event of a vehicular accident.
Members of the SCCRTC, according to their website:
Jan Beautz - County of Santa Cruz
Tony Campos - County of Santa Cruz
Randy Johnson - City of Scotts Valley
Mike Keogh - SCMTD
Dennis Norton - City of Capitola
Ellen Pirie - County of Santa Cruz
Antonio Rivas - City of Watsonville
Emily Reilly - SCMTD
Patricia Spence - SCMTD
Mark Stone - County of Santa Cruz
Marcella Tavantzis - SCMTD
Neal Coonerty - County of Santa Cruz
Rich Krumholz - Caltrans (ex-officio)
There was also a man on the board named Anthony Wynn, who was identified as being with the County of Santa Cruz. I noticed that, at times, he was disrespectful in his gestures to many of the speakers he disagreed with. He voted for the widening.
The discussion surrounding the vote mainly centered around questions of if and why the application had to be done so quickly, without adequate notification of the public and before the Transportation Task Force, led by Fred Keeley, had enough time to finish their report and present their findings to the commission. Mark Stone, Neal Coonerty, Dennis Norton and Emily Reilly raised concerns about the Commission circumventing the process already in place in order to make a grab for the state money. Norton also addressed quality-of-life issues for Capitola residents who would be impacted by such projects. All voted against the motion.
Some other members of the commission expressed hostility toward members of the public who came to speak. Antonio Rivas insinuated that people who don't want the highway widened are unsympathetic to the Watsonville residents who have to commute to Santa Cruz for work and he dramatically (and inaccurately) claimed that it takes people up to 80 minutes to get to Santa Cruz. He presented highway widening as a necessity, a black and white, either-or proposition. Jan Beautz outrightly dismissed the members of the public who came to speak, saying that it is great if "some people have the luxury of being able to adjust their lives to work around the traffic," but other people don't have that luxury. Beautz was directly referring to a woman who spoke against the widening who advocated for people to plan around the traffic. This particular woman commented after the meeting that she felt Beautz's comments were insulting and sexist --- she was a working woman who moved in order to be near her place of work because it required less energy consumption. This was a sacrifice for her family, but they did it because they felt it was the right thing to do, the woman said.
Tony Campos was more diplomatic, but also dismissive. He said that he knew that it would turn out like this --- that there were people on both sides of the issue: some who want the highway widened and others who want everyone to ride on bikes. He then joked that if he tried to ride a bike from Watsonville, he wouldn't make it to the Buena Vista exit. Though he did this in a humorous way, he attempted to reduce all the good reasons for not widening the highway to people making an argument for Watsonville residents to ride their bikes to Santa Cruz. No speaker ever suggested anything like that.
Anthony Wynn talked about how there could be 70 and 80-year-olds dying in their houses because emergency responders can't get to them in time. However, he didn't mention anything about the countless seniors who live in mobile home parks in the proposed widening areas who could stand to lose their only "nest egg" because nobody will want to buy their home that backs up to a freeway. He also questioned aloud why the meeting was held at the Santa Cruz City Council Chambers, as if there were some kind of conspiratorial forces at work and, along with Beautz, struck out at the City of Santa Cruz (Reilly) for passing Measure H before the Keeley report had been released. Both came off as petty and off-topic.
Not one single member of the commission talked about personal responsibility and transportation issues. Not one of them mentioned global warming and the urgent need for everyone to cut back on their personal output of CO2. Not one mentioned the loss of the tree line that is so integral to our community and the adverse health effects people will face without them. Only Emily Reilly, to her credit, questioned the fact that these proejcts, if funded by state bonds, would still require local matching funds. The cost then, she asserted, would mean that they really wouldn't be "free" and they might take away funding from other alternative transportation projects, such as the Rail Trail.
Transportation organizer Michah Posner of People Power spoke eloquently to the Commission and said that the widening would be decided by ballot if the Commission voted to go ahead with these widening projects. Another transportation organizer who was against the widening of Highway 1 expressed her pleasure with the four dissenting votes. "A divided vote doesn't bode well for the application," she said.
About The Projects
-A map of the proposed projects can be found here: http://www.sccrtc.org/packet/2007/0701/0701-27c.pdf
Notice how they title it "Highway 1 Projects" as if it is already a done deal.
-Random data was thrown around as to how long commutes are, etc. However, there were no scientifically-based studies presented which determined accurate traffic data. As a worker who travels frequently during rush hours throughout the county, I found their data to be grossly exaggerated. Especially when traveling to and from Watsonville, the actual driving time from one exit (129) to another (41st) is extremely fast. It is usually driving on the local roads of Watsonville or Santa Cruz that slows people down. Local roads in other parts of the County are rarely a problem.
-A very important aspect of this plan is that all the land used in the widening would be "CalTrans Right-of-Way." This means that this is publicly-owned land that CalTrans exercises control over. The bad part about the widening is that this plan would maximize nearly every square inch of this land, eliminating the tree line and leaving inadequate room for any greening projects remotely similar to what we now currently enjoy. It's difficult to envision now, but if these projects are implemented, they will leave our community looking like L.A. instead of the image that everyone associates with Santa Cruz County. Not only that, but today's Sentinel reported that the county is trying to deny the Pasatiempo Golf Course their usual water supplies because of an extended draught. Without adequate water supplies, how is the county going to grow enormous trees to replace all the ones they are proposing to cut down? (See photos for stark examples of this.)
For more information, see:
SCCRTC Meeting Agenda for 1/11/07 - http://www.sccrtc.org/packet/2007/0701/TCAgenda0701.htm
Approved Motion - http://www.sccrtc.org/packet/2007/0701/0701-27b.pdf
Proposed Widening Map - http://www.sccrtc.org/packet/2007/0701/0701-27c.pdf
People Power - http://www.peoplepowersc.org/
Ecology Action's Transportation Solutions Page - http://www.ecoact.org/Programs/Transportation_Solutions/index.htm
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They also provide a noise barrier, physical protection from vehicular accidents, clean air and they provide aesthetic pleasure. This in turn creates a higher quality of life and -- what all the capitalists care about -- higher property values.
The trees at the end of this road in a mobile home park off of Soquel Avenue in Soquel naturally camoflague the freeway behind them. If the highway is widened, they'd all be gone.
This view at the end of another street off of Soquel shows how beautifully this small ring of cedars are protecting residents from the unpleasant effects of being close to the freeway.
Should this neighborhood be punished just because people want to have their "dream home" in Santa Cruz County and then expect to have fast commute times, too?
Look at this mess. It is not apparent in the picture, but the only barrier between the house that this was taken from and the freeway on-ramp are those tiny white cement blocks. This is what their view is like. It is completely stark. Like the following pictures, there is nearly no land left as a buffer between her house and the freeway, so there really is no potential for any sort of tree cover.
Pictures don't lie. People on this street would probably have been much better off if the County took their property from them under Eminent Domain and paid them for their homes. Now these people are completely stuck in these houses. No one would likely want to buy them, the surroundings are hideous and the owners have likely lost a significant portion of their investment.
There are prisons that have better views than this. What is the point in living in Santa Cruz if you are forced to look at this every day? One lady who came to speak in favor of the plan said that people who lived nearby the freeway will be THRILLED to get a wall by their house. Obviously. That must be why the contractors have had to put up barbed wire and these signs, offering a reward to anyone who sees someone damaging the wall.
Several residents of this resident-owned mobile home park came to speak at the meeting. They recently went through a long battle to purchase the land so they would not be subject to rising lot fees and have greater control over their community. If this passes, so much for that. Though it is unclear, you can see how some homes back up to the top of hill that slopes down to the highway. Why this County commission didn't respond to the concerns of these residents, when, very recently, the County halted plans for the Par 3 multi-unit housing development in Rio Del Mar when neighbors complained is deserving of an explanation. It begs the question: why are some residents' concerns acted on while others' are ignored?