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Self-interest behind opposition to corridor public transit

By Jim Weller (reprinted with permission by the author)

I’ve been concerned me for some time about the huge investments that have been pumped into the political campaign to prevent future public transportation in the railroad corridor owned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC).

We’re talking about a future light rail system with emissions-free battery-electric vehicles, along a 25-mile corridor designed for movement in both directions simultaneously. It’s a long-range plan. It won’t be built any time soon. And, mind you, freight railroad operations are no longer a commercial option. That’s history. The plan now is for an advanced passenger rail system to be built someday, with a protected pedestrian/cycling pathway alongside; the pathway, or “trail,” is under construction now.

But lo and behold - well-financed political forces are being mobilized against anything like a public transit system, ever. The nay-sayers want the whole railroad corridor to be abandoned and used permanently for “trail-only” purposes.

For a long time, I could make no sense of it. What for?

Why has there been such an expensive, sustained effort in the private sector to prevent progress in the public sector? Big money is being mobilized. Who benefits?

Most of the funding for sabotage of the public interest appears to have come from “Greenway.” Bud Colligan owns and controls “Greenway.” An associate of Colligan’s, one Brian C. Peoples, controls “Trail Now,” an internet propaganda mill being cranked for the benefit of Manu Koenig and the "Greenway" group. And "Greenway" itself is no more than a political megaphone, a dark-money PAC.

Whoever they are, they’ve put a whole lot of unaccountable money into their paid propagandists - Manu Koenig foremost among them, who was Greenway’s “executive director” before they bought him a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

I ask, again, where’s the payoff? Why go to all the trouble of staging a costly political firestorm to forestall a progressive public works project that has been under way for more than 20 years? Again, who benefits?

I had not a clue what all their efforts were really about, until I discovered a very significant document, which exists in the public record of RTC staff correspondence.

In 2014, Brian C. Peoples presented an unsolicited offer to the RTC on behalf of a shadowy collective he called "Aptos Rail Trail Investors Group," in which he detailed their plan to buy the entire 32-mile public railroad corridor for private profit, and to sell off miles of the corridor on both ends to owners of adjoining agricultural land, and commercial developers.

This by itself, of course, is not evidence of a criminal conspiracy. But, in my opinion, it is glaringly suggestive of some seriously self-interested political manipulation.

The RTC demurred, by the way, saying the corridor is not for sale. End of story. But is it?

It’s pretty clear to me that the years-long “Greenway/Trail Now” political project is the work of a small group of wealthy collaborators who are underwriting mercenary flacks like Manu Koenig, and their social media minions. It stinks.

I think they believe they can force the RTC by means of political bullying and harassment to end their planning for public rail transit and tear up the tracks; and then the Greenway gang and their accomplices believe they can cause reversions of the public land titles, turning pieces of the corridor over to private land owners.

This very scheme is what Mr. Peoples offered, and it is concerning that a number of the most active promoters of the “trail-only” campaign do indeed own real property adjoining the railroad corridor. Some of these are agricultural and industrial land holdings; some are residential properties. That’s circumstantial evidence, of course, but the facts are worth adducing, and they point in the same direction.

If they had their way, there would be a chaos of lawsuits over ownership of pieces of the railroad corridor. Public real estate would be besieged by greedy claimants. Only lawyers would benefit in the end. It seems to me, sadly, that outcome may well be what Mr. Peoples, Mr. Koenig, and the principals of “Greenway” are aiming for.

It’s not hard to understand how their “anti-train” agitating strikes a sympathetic chord among some ordinary folk, who may lack a vested interest in real property adjoining the railroad, but still are vehement that they just don’t want a public transit system in their neighborhood.

Well, of course they don’t. That’s standard NIMBYism. Self-interest 101.

I hope we can rise above this selfish, divisive, reactionary politics, and secure unto our progeny the real potentiality of a public transit system in the railroad corridor, at such future time as it becomes feasible.

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