The Watsonville City Council at the tail end of its Tuesday night meeting approved plans to reconvene Friday to discuss a resolution in support of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) business plan for construction and operation of a passenger rail line along the 32-mile stretch from Davenport to Pajaro.
The meeting is expected to be set for 4:30pm, though that is subject to change.
It is unclear what exactly the resolution will state, but both Councilmen Aurelio Gonzalez and Lowell Hurst—the former the chair of the RTC and the latter an alternate member—said the proposed document will express support for the RTC’s business plan that failed to pass in the agency’s early-April meeting.
The RTC’s plans for passenger rail, estimated between $465 million and $478 million, have deeply divided Santa Cruz County. Advocates envision a convenient, environmentally friendly transportation alternative. Opponents see an unsightly, expensive untenable behemoth incompatible with the county that is unlikely to reduce Highway 1 traffic congestion.
The move came at the end of the City Council’s regular bi-monthly virtual meeting after a verbal kerfuffle between Mayor Jimmy Dutra and Gonzalez and Hurst.
Hurst tried to add the resolution as an emergency item, but that attempt failed.
Then, Gonzalez said Dutra declined to use his power as mayor to add the resolution to the agenda, but Dutra said that he could not add the item because it came in after the agenda was set on Tuesday.
“There is a process,” Dutra said. “I’m trying to be transparent to the community. If there is something that needs to go onto the agenda, it needs to be done by the rules.”
Councilman Eduardo Montesino, also a member of the RTC, ultimately suggested scheduling a special meeting for the item.
It passed unanimously, though both Dutra and Councilwoman Ari Parker said they might not make the meeting because of prior engagements.
The 66-page business plan gave a 25-year outlook for the rail plan, including costs, which group had oversight and how much ridership was predicted once completed. It called for construction to commence around 2030, with rail service to begin five years later. According to the plan, the project is short $189 million for construction costs and $125 million to run the rail system over the next two decades. The report listed numerous potential state and federal funding sources, but none of those are certain.
If the Watsonville City Council does indeed show support for the RTC’s business plan, it would follow in the footsteps of the Santa Cruz City Council, which earlier Tuesday passed a resolution in favor of passenger rail.