Cardiff rail trail supporters start counter-website

It’s yes versus no.

Supporters of the Cardiff rail trail — a biking and walking path planned along San Elijo Avenue — launched yesrailtrail.com on Nov. 22 as a response to the recently created norailtrail.com. The “no” website includes a petition that has generated a flurry of opposition emails to the Encinitas City Council and transit officials, renewing a debate over the rail trail five months after it won city approval.

“People are gratified there’s a movement to spread the benefits of the rail trail and dispel some of the myths,” said Mike Verdu, who took the lead on yesrailtrail.com, in a phone interview.

“Walking on San Elijo Avenue right now means dodging cars, and the rail trail will give people a safe path.”

Verdu said those against the rail trail represent a vocal minority who have been active online — and offline, too. He cited a heated community meeting last spring that was held to gain public input on the path.

“The people who meekly stood up and said, ‘I’d like a rail trail’ were shouted down,” Verdu said. He added that it’s “time for the silent majority to speak up,” noting that the website allows residents to email the council.

Verdu said his website dispels misleading and one-sided information from the opposition group. For one, he said, despite what those against it claim, the rail trail was vetted through a public process that included community meetings. The city and the planning agency SANDAG notified residents before those meetings through mailings, door hangers and online postings, he added.

Resident Joe Alkhas, who organized norailtrail.com, said in an email that attempts to get the word out were inadequate, even falling short of the mail notification requirements for homeowners seeking a building permit.

Alkhas said the counter-website in favor of the rail trail is further vindication that norailtrail.com has achieved its goal of engaging the community. He also stated that the pro rail trail group has put forward accusations that are “unsubstantiated and cynical.”

“More than any effort by the city of Encinitas or SANDAG, the norailtrail.com website spread the news that a major public works project was underway that was slated to convert the look, feel and utility of some of the only remaining public land next to the coast,” he said.

Alkhas also pushed back against claims that San Elijo Avenue is a mess.

“They ignore the fact that the walking and bike riding situation on San Elijo has persisted for many decades in the mostly safe, predictable and admittedly imperfect manner that has suited the public,” he said.

Alkhas has called for the council to negate its decision and send the rail trail back out to the public. But the councilmembers in favor of the path — Tony Kranz, Lisa Shaffer and Catherine Blakespear — haven’t budged.

A divided council in May approved putting the Cardiff part of the rail trail on San Elijo Avenue, as opposed to an alternate route west of the tracks on Coast Highway 101. The council majority supporting the San Elijo alignment said it would entice residents to bike and walk on the road, weaving neighborhoods together.

When asked, Verdu said the council majority in favor of the rail trail wasn’t involved in the website.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir voted against the path, stating that Cardiff residents have repeatedly voiced concerns with rail trail fencing blocking coastal access.

Indeed, the fence is perhaps the biggest issue in the rail trail debate.

The anti-rail trail website states that the path will trigger installation of a fence between the tracks and San Elijo Avenue that will hinder surfers and residents from accessing the coast. But yesonrailtrail.com counters that North County Transit District, the railway owner, will eventually fence the area regardless of the rail trail. And, it goes on to say, a fence would be similar to the low post-and-cable fence next to the Santa Fe rail undercrossing, so it would be benign.

Regional plans call for the rail trail to one day stretch from Oceanside to downtown San Diego. About $5.1 million has been secured for the Cardiff rail trail, with funding coming from a grant and Transnet, the county half-cent sales tax for infrastructure. But Alkhas said the city would likely be liable for excess costs if they arise.

Verdu said he doesn’t want the council majority to reverse course on its support of the rail trail as a result of the vocal opposition.

“I thought it was important to let them know there are a lot of people who support them,” he said.

Copyright © 2017, Encinitas Advocate
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