Encinitas seeks vision for rail corridor


Aiming to avoid more conflicts like the ongoing battle over the Cardiff Rail Trail project, Encinitas will spend $227,500 to establish a long-term vision plan for the rail corridor that cuts through all three of the city’s coastal neighborhoods.

The time has come to think about the broader picture, rather going project-by-project, City Council members said May 18 as they unanimously agreed to hire consulting firm WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff to create the planning document.

The work, which includes everything from train horn quiet zone recommendations to educating kids about crossing the tracks safely, is expected to take six months to a year.

“I’m very optimistic about this and maybe that’s because I’m new — (or at leat) newish,” said Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear, who was elected in 2014.

Councilman Mark Muir, who was elected in 2012, said he too was “very optimistic that we’re going to have a good project.”

Blakespear urged the consultants to create a plan with “some realities to it” — modest, feasible railroad corridor projects that had a good chance of being accomplished.

Of particular interest, council members said, would be documentation of what steps must be taken to create a train horn quiet zone for the entire railway corridor, not for just certain vehicle crossing points.

Both Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer and Councilman Tony Kranz said they wished Encinitas had embarked on the planning effort sooner.

“I’m glad we’re finally at this point,” Shaffer said.

Leucadia resident Kathleen Lees told the council she was pleased the city was creating a planning document that could lead to the beautification of what has become a rather ugly strip through her community. However, she cautioned, the consultants had better do a good job of listening to what the community wants.

“If this is going to simply be experts telling the locals what they can and can’t do, we will be wasting our time and money,” she said. “Please don’t let that happen here.”

The consultants are proposing to establish two advisory groups to help in the planning effort. One would represent the organizations and agencies involved in operating the railroad tracks, while the other would include community members.

Shaffer suggested that the proposed community planning group contain some of the 30 people who have already volunteered to serve on a now-forming Cardiff Rail Trail advisory group. That could help “depoliticize” what has been a “pretty contentious issue in the community,” she said.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said the consultants can put together a suggested membership list, but that she will make the final recommendation — that’s her job as mayor.

The Cardiff Rail Trail project, which is being managed by the regional San Diego Association of Governments, has divided the community and the City Council for months. Last year, the council voted 3-2, with Muir and Gaspar opposed, to endorse an east-side route for the proposed trail along the railroad corridor. After much community outcry, the council’s position shifted earlier this spring when Blakespear announced that she could no longer support the east-side proposal.

In late March, the council voted 4-1, with Shaffer opposed, to overturn its earlier decision and look instead into a west-side route along Highway 101.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune