Coastal Rail Trail opposition heats up

ENCINITAS — Opponents of the proposed Coastal Rail Trail’s Cardiff-by-the-Sea segment have launched a website and peppered city, county and regional officials with letters detailing the reason for their opposition.

Spearheaded by Cardiff resident Joe Alkhas, the opponents have created a website “NoRailTrail.com,” which allows supporters of the campaign to email a form letter of opposition to the Encinitas City Council, SANDAG representatives and planners, voting members of the California Coastal Commission and other involved parties.

Local newspapers have also received copies of the form letters. The Coast News has received more than 30 copies of the letter signed by various residents.

The letter demand that the City Council reconsider the approval of the project at the earliest public hearing possible.

“The City Council’s vision of the Coastal Rail Trail on this delicate corridor represents a threat to the natural beauty and character of Encinitas and Cardiff and will significantly and negatively impact the lives of a great many of your constituents while advancing the interests of a very limited few,” the opposition letter states.

“I have been to two of the public meetings on the rail trail, but the fact of the matter is that based on the things we have seen and heard in public hearings, the design of the trail really has no reflection on the vast majority of the public opinion and comment at the meetings,” Alkhas said.

The Coastal Rail Trail is a regional trail that would stretch from San Diego to Oceanside along the North County Transit District’s right-of-way that runs parallel to the train tracks.  Cities along the trail would be responsible for construction and maintenance of their respective segments.

The segment in Cardiff is proposed to run between Chesterfield Avenue and E Street and is estimated to cost $5.1 million, which will be paid for through TransNet, the county half-cents sales tax.

The City Council voted on May 20 to endorse a plan to have the trail and bike paths located along San Elijo and Vulcan avenues as opposed to Coast Highway 101.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the county’s regional transportation arm, has started engineering and planning of the two-mile segment, which should be completed next year.

Opponents argue that the proposal would trigger the erection of a fence along the entire stretch of the railroad adjacent to the trail, effectively blocking beach access for residents east of the tracks. It would also reduce public parking along the corridor, create traffic that could obstruct first responders, add lighting that could attract vagrants and gentrify the current trail that is currently made of dirt by replacing it with a concrete trail, residents said in the letter.

City officials have proposed alleviating the reduction of beach access by construction a crossing at the grade of the railroad tracks at Montgomery Avenue, but opponents fear that the crossing will result in additional noise from train horns.

“Some of us wouldn’t mind seeing a trail on San Elijo Avenue if it was similar to what we have now, but what has been proposed is nothing that they would have envisioned as a more natural trail,” Alkhas said.

Alkhas said that opponents of the project feel that the council majority that voted in support of the trail doesn’t appear to be open to compromise, forcing their hand to take the action.

“They seemed to be pretty entrenched in wanting a very developed coastal trail along this corridor and there is not room for them to consider scaling it back to something minimal and natural,” Alkhas said. “They’ve left us in a position where we don’t feel like we can communicate with our elected representatives in a back and forth, cooperative manner, and they have pushed us into a corner where we have to say it is all or nothing.”

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer along with Catherine Blakespear and Tony Kranz voted in support of the San Elijo option. Shaffer responded to one of the emails this week, reaffirming her support.

“I see the situation differently and continue to support the decision of the Council to work with SANDAG (and SANDAG’s funding, already approved, and grants from the State already received) to build this pedestrian and bicycle trail in the rail corridor on the east side of the tracks, working hard to keep the entire segment off the roadway,” Shaffer wrote. “I am also committed to mitigating the noise impacts from the Montgomery rail crossing through wayside horns, as are used in Del Mar, or a quiet zone. We are working with NCTD and SANDAG and our newly hired consultant to find the best way to make that happen.”

The Coast News has reached out to SANDAG and NCTD officials and will update the story with their comments.

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