06 Nov AiroAV Antivirus Announces: Transportation commission OKs eminent domain option – Santa
SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission Thursday morning voted to empower legal counsel to utilize eminent domain to secure land for the rail trail in north county if an agreement with the landowners cannot be facilitated.
The board passed five resolutions of necessity authorizing and directing RTC attorneys to prepare, commence and file proceedings in eminent domain for five separate properties adjacent to RTC-owned rail trail land from the city of Santa Cruz to Davenport. The sole dissenter was Scotts Valley Mayor Randy Johnson.
The discussion, meant to be focused on the idea of reaching a solution to accumulate land needed for any kind of trail in North County, was dominated by what transportation options on the corridor would benefit the most demographics in the region — not just those with privilege.
Eminent domain, or the right of a government agency to seize a resident’s private property for public use after compensating them for the loss, could be used in this situation to purchase parcels and remnants between RTC and privately owned land to connect the area for the trail, senior transportation planner Grace Blakeslee said.
Though negotiations are underway with property owners, the purpose of the public hearing was to receive a presentation on the property acquisition process, hear public testimony and consider the adoption of the resolutions.
Whether a train, or rail, would be incorporated in the stretch known as “Segment 5” or anywhere else on the coastal trail was not on the agenda. In fact, several members of the commission called it a future conversation.
A handful of members of the public commented after Blakelee’s presentation that they were not in favor of the commission using eminent domain, some commenting they were not in favor of the commission acquiring land and preparing it for pre-construction activities with consideration of both rail (a passenger train) and trail (for those walking, biking and any other forms of active transportation).
Out of all the comments, recently reelected District 2 Watsonville City Councilman Aurelio Gonzalez that a public comment from Brian Peoples, Trail Now’s executive director, disturbed him.
“We are spending money, time and legal fees at the end of the day for a future amusement park train,” Peoples said, referencing Santa Cruz Boardwalk and other tourist crowds in just one part of his statements. “I don’t understand why our community has to battle this. The community is reaching out to you and asking you all to be a little more respectful to us.”
Gonzalez audibly connected Peoples’ organization’s viewpoint on the rail trail to his “white privilege” after the item’s public comment period. He apologized for speaking out of frustration but not for his analysis of the anti-rail group TrailNow’s stance and resulting actions.
Gonzalez said that Peoples’ understanding of who the train would serve and desire to want the trail immediately “smelled of white privilege.” Gonzalez said Thursday afternoon that he was not singling Peoples out. Instead, he was referring to the entire pedestrian trail only crew that he felt was not considering all local communities and was trying to halt the progress of a mission to accumulate land and solidify the foundations of the trail that had been in motion for a year.
“What about handicapped folks who can’t go on the trails (or) ride a bike?” Gonzalez asked. “What about seniors that can’t afford a $10,000 trail bike?… It’s disheartening because (Trail Now) continues to push a (pedestrian) trail only, but that’s only for a limited amount of people… What about common, hard-working folks that struggle to make ends meet? They’d like to be able to get on a train and travel or get on a bike and travel. We need to give them the options.”
Later, when Capital Edge political consultant Chris Giglio was giving a legislative update, Peoples demanded a public apology from Gonzalez for what was said approximately a half-hour prior and cited his years of involvement with transportation projects in Santa Cruz County.
Peoples has demanded Gonzalez, the vice-chair of the commission, be removed as Watsonville’s rep in emails to the Watsonville City Council and the media. Peoples claims in the email that Gonzalez called him a “white elitist” and that he told the advocates to “check their white privilege.” He described the commentary as hate speech.
A recording of the meeting reflects Gonzalez said that he “heard white privilege” and did not use the word “elitist.”
“I was actually very saddened by Mr. Gonzalez’s racist comments to me at the RTC board meeting,” Peoples said in an email after the meeting’s conclusion. “Racism by our public officials is unacceptable.”
“Somebody could tell me, ‘You’re racist’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, that’s your point of view,’” Gonzalez said. “Unless you know me personally. Then you’ll know who I am.”
The greater good
Gonzalez said he became frustrated during public comment because he feels as though the commission should be investing in infrastructure in its community now in ways that benefit all populations in an equitable way. The future is now, he said, and it’s not waiting for anyone.
“Can you not see the future?” the councilman said he wanted to ask them. “For me, that’s what it is — giving options to everybody in the community, from the most disabled senior to underprivileged communities. Removing an option because you feel like it’s not the best thing for them (is) acting like a privileged individual.”
Fellow RTC commissioner Trina Coffman-Gomez too highlighted the importance of considering especially the low-income community in North County.
Commissioner alternate Andy Schiffrin also stressed consideration of what is the greatest good for the greatest number of…