Opinion: Understanding What We Lost as a Community in the Fire

Plus letters to the editor

Local musician Yuji Tojo lost the Ben Lomond home he had built by hand in the fire.

Editor's Note

Steve Palopoli Profile Photo

We know hundreds of homes were lost in the CZU Lightning Complex fire this summer, after tens of thousands of people in the Santa Cruz Mountains were evacuated. Even on their own, those are huge numbers to wrap our minds around. But they only scratch the surface of really understanding what we’ve lost as a community—and why it’s so important for all of us to stay engaged with the long recovery process that’s barely begun.

As Aaron Carnes writes in his cover story this week, the Santa Cruz Mountains are home to countless local artists, who are drawn there by the promise of creative space—both physical and mental. So we shouldn’t be surprised that so many musicians lost their homes in the fire. Carnes profiles a few of their stories in his piece, and I have the feeling that no matter what era of local music you most relate to, you’ll be familiar with at least one of them. In an area that so values its music scene, it’s shocking and disheartening to read what they’re going through. But I, for one, was relieved to read how dedicated they are to staying here and rebuilding. Like nature itself, creative expression abhors a vacuum.

As for keeping the effort to help these fire victims front-of-mind, we are lucky that there are some amazing people leading that charge. First among these is no doubt Community Foundation Santa Cruz County—its Fire Response Fund is the best thing we have going to help those affected. The Love You Madly: Artists for Santa Cruz Fire Relief campaign has been working to encourage donations with weekly videos and now a livestream on Dec. 5; you can read my story about the latest developments with that on page 30, then go to to donate.

Another way to help fire victims—and everyone in need in our county—is to support one of the 40 nonprofits in this year’s Santa Cruz Gives campaign. I can’t believe that after just two weeks we have raised more than $436,000, but we want to do so much more to help these groups that help those in Santa Cruz County who need it most. Go to page 14 to read Jacob Pierce’s story about several of the groups participating in Santa Cruz Gives, then visit and donate today! 



Letters to the Editor

Why Passenger Rail is Best

GT’s recent article failed to adequately explain why Electric Passenger Rail was chosen over Bus Rapid Transit as the locally preferred alternative for public transit on the rail corridor. The latest study from the Regional Transportation Commission tells the rest of the story.

Consider people: Rail will be twice as fast as bus, saving South County users 40 minutes of commute time each way, 1 hour and twenty minutes every day. Rail will also be twice as reliable so folks can get to work on time, every time. Rail guarantees level boarding at every stop, while only 24% of bus stops offer same. Rail will also accommodate far more bicycles and have far more ADA accessible seats.

Consider planet: When it comes to fighting climate change, rail just can’t be beat. Rail will reduce both vehicle miles travelled and GHG emissions 31% more than bus, be 23% more efficient in using energy and have 86% more passenger capacity during peak travel times when needed most.

Consider prosperity: Rail will be four times safer, produce 29% more permanent jobs, cost 21% less per passenger mile, offers more than three times the potential to create affordable, car-free transit oriented developments and is the only option that guarantees the entire rail corridor will remain intact speeding completion of the Rail Trail now under construction.

Mark Mesiti-Miller | Santa Cruz


Tig-M Will Be a Winner

I think the Good Times did a disservice to its readers by having, on the lead page of the transit article, a photo of a light rail system that would probably not be used by the county, mostly because of costs.  Next year, when the pandemic ends, a demonstration of a Tig-M will occur on the tracks, already approved by the SCCRTC last year. Tig-M is a Chatsworth, California firm that makes light rail vehicles that carry either 30 or 50 people, and are self-propelled using electric batteries, much like an electric car.  There would be no need for a third rail or overhead wires, then, which would greatly decrease the cost of running a light rail system on the proposed rail line between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. When citizens see that Tig-Ms are quiet and have no CO2 emissions, it’s sure to be a winner. Also, the profile of a Tig-M is somewhat lower than a bus and isn’t much wider than the width of standard rail track. The largest cost of running Tig-Ms would be the upgrade of the tracks to class 2, and that cost would be a fraction of adding more lanes to the freeway.

Perhaps the Good Times needs to contact Tig-M and get permission from them to actually print a photo of what one looks like, as well as present some information on how they work and where they already are in use: Aruba and Dubai and a few places in Los Angeles County. The prospect of having the county contract them to run a light rail service is, I believe, the best way to run a passenger rail service in this county, one that will certainly be needed when the pandemic ends and business returns to normal. Short of that, I encourage anyone to visit the Tig-m website. 

LD Freitas | Aptos




  1. Jack Brown

    December 14, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Tig/M and FORT – The Theranos of Santa Cruz County Transportation – Anyone remember the story of Theranos. The Silicon Valley Unicorn from Elizabeth Holmes that promised to simplify blood testing and conned quite a few companies, investors and board of directors out of billions of dollars? We have the same thing going on here with Tig/M, a maker of bespoke, hand-built trolleys and trying to sell them as a commuter tool. Tig/M has only deployed a handful of their street cars in 2 locations, a hopping center in Qatar and a cruise shop port in Aruba. Neither vehicle travels greater than 9 miles per hour and only travel on one to two mile loops, not on a single track with only 3 sidings like we have here. They have no experience with a large number of passengers, virtual coupling or even large scale implementations of hydrogen fuel cells that they are marketing to Santa Cruz.
    The RTC and shill green-washing groups such as Friends of the Rail Trail (FORT) are attempting to market this company as well-established and ‘shovel ready’. Although they are running over a year late, taxpayers are on the hook for emergency temporary repairs along the line to have a week long demonstration through Capitola and another static display in Watsonville next year. Expect lots of misinformation by Barry Scott, Mark Mesiti-Miller, Sally Brown and the rest of the usual suspects as they try to justify a billion dollar plus investment by taxpayers to take decades to implement.
    In Mark Mesiti-Miller’s comments, he fails to state that Bus on Shoulder in the latest TCAA study was faster than a train and Barry Scott fails to mention that the current plan of streetcars on a single track with 3 sidings can only support 8 vehicles operating at any one time. Rail simply cannot provide any relief from traffic and hence no relief to green house gas emissions and in fact may help contribute to more as neighborhood traffic gets snarled with crossing gates and slow moving trolleys.
    The current mode of rail with a trail is incredibly expensive and a poor design. Segment 7 phase 1 came in at over $10,000,000 for a little over a mile of trail. a narrow 12 foot wide trail shoved to the side of a 75 foot wide corridor and it just gets worse from there. Trail construction jumps to $45,000,000 a mile in south county and the overall average of $25,000,000 a mile. Meanwhile if we went with a trail only design, costs would be under $2,000,000 per mile.
    We can do better than this Santa Cruz!

  2. Don Honda

    December 8, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    On a side note, just to showcase the incompetence of our local RTC: There will be a virtue ribbon-cutting of segment 7 of the “Trail” of the rail trail D3c. 10. Check it out on the physical site itself. It will show poor design, poor execution, and unsafe conditions for more than two cyclists at a time. They have to go off Trail and on Street, have to negotiate curbs that are obstructing their pathway, and are in danger with entangling with the fence barrier. Just think. This is the future of the Branch Line. Wasted time and money. This project came in at four times the cost for about a 1.2 mile section (6.4 million dollars).

  3. Don Honda

    December 4, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    FORT is still pushing the SMART train (Sonoma Marin) as an example for use here. Uh, three times the population, more wealthy residents and it’s still failing and a money pit. We can’t afford to perpetually finance a failing 19th century mode of transportation:

  4. Don Honda

    December 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    Barry Scott neglects to mention that any rail transit in the corridor is one of the more expensive options, won’t put a dent in Hwy 1 congestion, is one of the least effective and efficient during rush hour. Would take the longest to build.

  5. Barry Scott

    December 4, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Clearing up some common misunderstandings I hear regarding rail service:
    Single tracks for two way travel is typical and trams use passing sidings and dispatch systems to sync operations.
    SMART, San Diego Sprinter, and most other systems operate on mostly single track with passing sidings.
    Metro doesn’t go to your doorstep either, rail will be like a long main Metro route and create a network with Metro lateral connections.
    An investment in rail transit IS an investment in Metro as it will bring $ and ridership to the system.
    The cost projections have never included a battery electric light rail system, let’s see what the numbers are.
    The rail line passes through more dense and underserved areas than highway one.
    Bike-friendly low-entry trams will greatly expand cyclist’s range while reducing their travel time over long distances.
    All weather safe rail transit connecting all of our city centers on a traffic-free dedicated corridor is something that brings 100% equity to every neighborhood it touches.
    See what LD Freitas is talking about here:

    • Don Honda

      December 7, 2020 at 8:43 am

      ” Traffic free” is another misconception. There are numerous intersections that the branch line crosses and depending upon the alternative transportation decided upon, if ever, will have to negotiate these intersections. The disinformation keeps coming!

  6. Don Honda

    December 3, 2020 at 11:18 am

    Mark Mesiti-Miller is being disingenuous. RTC has NOT decided on any alternative transportation option. They are quite a ways from deciding. He presents other mis/dis-information. Perhaps the Old Guard of FORT should heed the New Guard (Freitas) of new and developing technology. I thought Mark is an engineer. Maybe it’s perhaps he and others of FORT are in love with a choo-choo?

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