ENCINITAS — The lone opponent of the previous alignment of the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail has resigned from a working group to assist with the creation of a long-term vision a week after its membership raised concerns about the group’s selection process.
“No Rail Trail” member Chris Swanner tendered his resignation from the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group at the July 20 city council meeting. The No Rail Trail Group was the group whose campaign prompted the city to abandon the trail’s original alignment on the east side of the tracks along Vulcan Avenue in favor of an alignment along Coast Highway 101.
Members of the group have protested the formation of the rail corridor vision study working group, in particular City Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear’s creation of an alternative list to the one proffered up by the rail study contractor, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff. The council majority of Blakespear, Tony Kranz and Lisa Shaffer voted in favor of Blakespear’s alternative list.
“We are very concerned with what took place at the meeting,” said Julie Thunder, a principal member of the No Rail Trail Group. “We support Chris’ decision to resign from the working group, and our group is determining what our next step will be.”
The working group is charged with assisting the consultant and city council with developing a long-term strategy for the city’s three-mile stretch of rail, including pedestrian crossings, vehicular access and determining if part or all of the rail corridor should be trenched below street level.
The Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail is piece of the rail corridor narrative and a point of controversy for the community. Most recently, however, the City Council learned that the California Coastal Commission has serious concerns about the proposed Coast Highway 101 alignment and that the state commission’s staff was recommending denying the project.
Thunder said the No Rail Trail group is protesting two actions in particular: the fact that Leucadia resident Kathleen Lees saw Blakespear’s list the day before the council meeting and Blakespear’s inclusion of Judy Berlfein — an ardent supporter of the east side rail alignment — on the alternative list.
Lees, at the July 20 council meeting, told the council during the public comment portion of the meeting that the Leucadia Town Council — of which she is a member — supported Blakespear’s list. This occurred before the council had begun deliberations on the working group.
Thunder said the group has filed a public records request for emails to see if Blakespear had contacted anyone else about the working group list before the council meeting.
Lees, reached Tuesday, said Blakespear contacted her after she had sent out an email to the Leucadia group’s membership about the consultant’s selections for the working group, in particular former Encinitas councilman Jerome Stocks.
“Excuse me, but those who live in Leucadia knew that he did absolutely nothing for us while he was on the NCTD board,” Lees said. “He wanted to get the biggest, fattest freeway he could.”
Lees said she didn’t think that the council was considering only one list, which is why she didn’t see the problem with Blakespear sharing her suggestions with her.
“I thought the mayor would have her suggestions, and I thought there would be a dialogue,” Lees said. “It wasn’t my impression that it would just be one list.”
Berlfein, along with Jody Hubbard, are members of the Yes Rail Trail group that supported the previous alignment.
With Berlfein’s inclusion, Thunder said, the working group’s membership now leans in favor of the east side alignment, despite the No Rail Trail’s membership outnumbering the Yes Rail Trail group.
Blakespear said that Berlfein’s selection was because of her affiliation with Bike-Walk Encinitas, a stakeholder that was missing from the consultant’s suggested list.
“Bike-Walk Encinitas clearly should have a seat at the table, and she was the only one who applied from that group,” Blakespear said. “I am not looking at the 60,000 people in the city and saying, ‘Who is the best?’ I am looking at the 46 people who applied.”
Blakespear, who came up with the idea of the working group, said that her intention was to have a broad-based cross section of stakeholders at the table, and the consultant’s original list didn’t meet that goal.
“The leadership of No Rail Trail doesn’t want their voice diluted by the 12 other civic organizations,” Blakespear said. “In the consultant’s recommendation, they had two seats at the table. I gave every organization only one seat. This is a much more fair approach.
“The consultant doesn’t know our community at all…I started with the 46 applicants and whittled it down to 15 slots filled,” Blakespear said. “In that process there will always be someone or some group who is unhappy about being excluded. In this case it’s the leadership of No Rail Trail.”
With Swanner’s resignation, the group has no member who opposed the east side alignment. Thunder said the group has not decided if it will be involved with the group, despite the city holding a space for a No Rail Trail member.
“It is something that the group’s leadership is going to have to discuss,” she said.
The working group’s first meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 28 at City Hall.