Above: Local officials and supporters celebrated the grand opening of the 1.3-mile stretch of the Coastal Rail Trail on May 10 in Encinitas. Courtesy photo/SANDAG ENCINITAS — Two years ago, the California Coastal Commission’s decision to build the Cardiff section of the Coastal Rail Trail parallel to San Elijo Avenue was met with boos, jeers and shock from local officials. Today, an elderly woman and her friend walk north along the stained concrete path, crossing paths with a mother and her baby in a stroller headed south. And officials — some who opposed the project — and supporters celebrated the grand opening of the 1.3-mile stretch of the Coastal Rail Trail on May 10, absent the controversy and opposition that dogged the project through much of the planning process. “I’m thrilled with the rail trail,” said Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who in 2016 cast the decisive vote to withdraw the council’s support of the eastern alignment in favor of placing the rail trail west of Coast Highway 101. “It couldn’t be better, it’s beautifully designed, and it’s serving hundreds of people who want to go places outside of their car.” Blakespear said that early in the process, she was concerned with the artist renderings of the project, which were widely panned by residents in Cardiff as being a “concrete highway” paved atop one of the last few undeveloped areas in town along the rail corridor. “I couldn’t visualize it from looking at the engineering drawings, the plans did not make it look like it would fit in,” she said. “It looked like a Soviet air strip, and not fitting into the natural environment at all.” Opponents of the eastern alignment mounted a furious campaign in 2016 after learning that the council had endorsed it a year before. The “No Rail Trail” campaign peppered the inboxes of government officials and media members with petitions and erected signs throughout Cardiff. The City Council in March 2016 reversed course, withdrawing its support of the eastern alignment, which began a sometimes contentious reconciliation process with the San Diego Association of Governments, the planning agency behind the project, which ultimately also recommended support for a western alignment. But in May 2017, the Coastal Commission voted 7-5 in favor of keeping the alignment east of the rail corridor. Blakespear, who after that May hearing said she was “shocked,” by the outcome, said this week that project turned out much better than anyone could have anticipated. “The way it turned out, it’s not straight, and it winds with the natural terrain, and it has the feeling of being connected to the nature that you’re in, not just plopped down on top of it. “It gives me confidence in the professionals at the agencies with which we work and their ability to understand the aesthetic sensibility when it comes to building in our city.” The project still has its detractors, though not as vocal in the past. Julie Thunder, who co-founded the “No Rail Trail” campaign, said she could understand why people like the path, but laments the loss of natural terrain, and the imminent loss of the ability to cross the tracks and directly walk to the beach, a chief concern among opponents. “I can certainly see why others like it — it’s really is a nice walk or bike ride,” Thunder said. “But, like others who live nearby, I will deeply miss being able to walk to the beach — as of today, they have left some of the maintenance gates unlocked, but it’s just a matter of days until they close that access off to us.” “Also, I miss the wild meandering trail that was there for many decades,” she said. “Now there are three parallel roads down that corridor: Highway 101, the Rail Trail, and San Elijo Avenue.” Thunder and others point out that while technically illegal, train crossings haven’t led to an accidental fatality along Cardiff’s stretch of the rail corridor in over 50 years. “But we are all NIMBYs about our homes and hometown and people in Cardiff pay a lot to live here and to be able to walk to the beach,” she said. “I would have liked to have our city representatives stand up for our historical beach access or force SANDAG to build the undercrossing with the rail trail.”
RANCHO SANTA FE — On April 16, the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild in partnership with Warwick’s, welcomed prolific author Frances Mayes to speak at its Author Talk Series regarding her newest work. The talk was held at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. Mayes’ latest novel is again a love letter to Italy. Many know Mayes from her book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which was adapted into a screenplay and released in 2003. She has authored numerous books, and several are dedicated to Italy. Her seventh is titled “See You in the Piazza.” Born and raised in Fitzgerald, Georgia, Mayes knew there was a bigger world than her hometown when she connected her love of travel from the books she read at her local library. When Mayes visited Italy many years ago, the Renaissance architecture and art was an immediate draw, but other characteristics surfaced such as the vivacity of Italian life. “That’s the reason I kept returning — I still love the art, architecture and so forth, but it’s the people that animate the place in such a special way,” Mayes said. “It’s amazing to me how even in places with tons of tourists, they (Italians) often really maintain their humanism and I found that really all over Italy — it’s still such a deeply humanistic country — I’ve always gone back whenever I could because it makes sense.” Her passion for Italy triggered a home purchase in 1990 in Bramasole, Tuscany, based on her novel, “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Conversely, “See You in the Piazza” unveils unique hidden places in Italy which are, for the most part in plain sight, but with a particular genesis in Puglia, Mayes said. “My husband Ed and I were on a trip down there, and we were absolutely loving the tiny towns that we didn’t even intend to go to that we just happened upon,” she said, adding there were wonderful Romanesque churches. “Puglia is no longer an undiscovered place, but we were going to these little tiny coves where there was no one and jumping in the water. It’s that kind of spontaneity in travel that really means so much to me, and we were finding it off the road in Puglia.” She said in a little tiny town, Troia, had an enormous rose window in its church right on the piazza. “You sit there, and you think of all the people since the 1100s who have sat there and looked up at that rose window,” she said. In a neighboring town, Osara, Mayes said she and her husband stumbled upon a bread oven that had been in operation since the 1500s. “They make these huge loaves of bread that weigh 10 pounds, and they throw in a handful of straw just before they put in the bread, so it browns the crust with this burning straw. It was so interesting to realize what bread means in that culture, how all over Puglia they love their bread, and they bring back these old traditions such as the gathering of orzo was what originally made the Puglian bread so good,” she said. It was these discoveries in these out-of-the-way places which fueled a sense of travel which rediscovered a sense of spontaneity that led to the creation of “See You in the Piazza.” Mayes visited and wrote about more than 50 small towns 13 regions in Italy. These included Gaeta, Torino, Trento, Asolo, Parma, Trani, Santadi, Catania and more. On her travels, she asked some of the local chefs if they would consider allowing her to use their recipes in her upcoming novel. She was pleasantly surprised when all of them agreed. “These recipes are not typical Italian recipes — they are what the chef really wanted to represent as his region and what he did with the local ingredients,” she said. “So, if you feel an interest, try some of these recipes, and I promise you’ll learn some new things.” Mayes said the end of her travels for “See You in the Piazza,” confirmed what she already knew: Italy is the most diverse country in the world. “So, travel by all means, but my proposal is to get into some of these little places where you can restore this kind of authentic sense of the place and discover these little things that give the heart to travel,” Mayes said.