Council moves forward with Rail Trail MOU

During a routine adoption of the entire consent calendar at its Aug. 24 meeting, the Encinitas City Council authorized the city manager, in coordination with the city attorney, to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) regarding the development of Segment 39C of the Coastal Rail Trail.

Segment 39C of the Coastal Rail Trail, which has been hotly contested by No Rail Trail and Yes Rail Trail groups, is slated to run through Cardiff from Chesterfield Drive to D Street. After much debate, the city and SANDAG are going forward with a west-side alignment in the city’s Coast Highway 101 right-of-way.

The MOU is the result of negotiations between SANDAG and city staff — led by Encinitas city manager Karen Brust — with direction provided by the council during discussions at a couple of city council meetings, most recently on July 27.

At that time, several of the city council members expressed opposition to the proposed MOU, saying it put too much financial responsibility on the city.

“I was 100 percent opposed to the previous proposed contract that put city taxpayers on the hook for $1 million if SANDAG missed a state grant deadline. We should never assume liability for a project that we aren’t in charge of,” council member Catherine Blakespear told the Encinitas Advocate before the Aug. 24 meeting. “As an attorney, I read this next draft of the contract and its terms are fair. I support the city signing this contract and believe it’s in our best interests.”

The draft of the MOU approved on Aug. 24 allows SANDAG to move forward with project development on Segment 1 (the first part of Segment 39C, running from Chesterfield Drive to Santa Fe Drive) of a bicycle-pedestrian trail to be constructed in the city’s Coast Highway 101 right-of-way (west-side alignment).

In the document, the city agrees to: work collaboratively with SANDAG to complete the project; work with SANDAG to develop the project in two segments, Segment 1 being within Highway 101 right-of-way between Chesterfield Drive and Santa Fe Drive, and Segment 2 being between Santa Fe Drive and G Street extending no further north than D Street; include SANDAG in the work of the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group; expedite all local entitlement processes and waive any development review or processing fees, to the extent legally allowed; and the biggie — reimburse SANDAG for half of Segment 1 costs for submitting project documents to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) for approval, in the event the CCC denies the project. In no event shall the city’s reimbursement exceed $250,000.

In a previous draft of the MOU, the city could have been liable for up to $1 million if the project hit any snags. This financial liability is key because CCC staff, in an Aug. 8 letter to SANDAG and the city, stated that it does not believe the west-side alignment of Segment 39C of the Rail Trail is consistent with the North Coast Corridor Public Works Plan (NCCPWP), and further that it would advise the Coastal Commissioners to reject a Notice of Impending Development (NOID) submittal.

The city and SANDAG are currently working on a NOID submittal to try and persuade Coastal Commissioners to come down on their side. In addition, city and SANDAG representatives were confident after a July 12 meeting during which at least one commissioner, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, led them to believe the CCC could eventually decide the west-side alignment is consistent with the NCCPWP.

With local groups anxious to make their voices heard on the topic of the Rail Trail, Blakespear said “The fight is with the Coastal Commission to overrule their staff and say that the west-alignment is consistent with overall rebuild plans.”

Asked via email before the Aug. 24 meeting why the MOU authorization was on the consent calendar as opposed to an action item for discussion, Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer explained that it was merely formalizing what the council had discussed and agreed upon.

“This agenda item is a continuation of a prior council item where we discussed the terms of the MOU in detail. Unfortunately, after giving direction about the content of the MOU, we did not formally authorize the mayor to sign it, so once we reached agreement with SANDAG, consistent with council direction, we had to bring it back on consent to authorize that,” Shaffer said. “The final draft clarifies the financial sharing of responsibility in the event that the Coastal Commission does not accept the NOID.”

The MOU goes on to outline what SANDAG is agreeing to, which includes serving as project manager of the project, providing informational updates on the project to the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group, incorporating input from the Coastal Mobility and Livability Working Group into the development of Segment 2 of the project as well as maintaining the overall project budget of $6.133 million.

The final portion of the MOU has the city and SANDAG mutually agreeing to diligently pursue completion of Segment 1 of the project and jointly coordinate with project stakeholders.

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