Letter of support to Santa Cruz City Council for the Poginip EMUT

Santa Cruz City Council
809 Center Street, Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com

Dear Council Members,

My name is Mark Davidson and I represent Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) – a volunteer non-profit educational association whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve trail opportunities for mountain biking in Santa Cruz County. We have over 400 people on our mailing list, over 1500 supporters on our facebook group(s) and have about 175 current paid members.

I am writing to express the unequivocal support of our organization for the Pogonip eastern multi-use trail (EMUT) as proposed by the Parks and Recreation department. Our organization has been working with the Parks Department and it has been a very productive partnership that will result in a highly sustainable and safe multi-use trail that will benefit the community of Santa Cruz.

Benefits of the Pogonip EMUT

There are so many public safety, environmental and economic benefits of this multi-use trail. I will attempt to itemize some of them here.

Benefits: Public Safety

The current conditions in the eastern part of the Pogonip include illegal camping and drug activity. According to the testimony of Chief Park Ranger Heather Reiter at the Parks Commission meeting in early March, there has been 6 major camp clean ups since the beginning of the year (Jan 1, 2012).

At the Parks Commission meeting in early March, Fire Marshal Grant Parker mentioned that illegal camping causes all spot fires and the threat of wildfire is real. Wildfires are the most challenging fires to address for the City Fire Department due to the remoteness. Fire Marshal Parker said the benefits of this trail include early detection of wild fires by legitimate users of this trail and easier access for hose lines. I’m sure that the elimination of the illegal camping will severely decrease if not eliminate the chance of human caused wild fire as well.

The remoteness and uneven terrain of the eastern Pogonip has created a sanctuary of criminal activity. Addressing public safety issues takes the Police and Fire department out of the City into this remote location for several hours at a time thus jeopardizing the public safety of residents of Santa Cruz.

I have heard reports of bike riders and runners being assaulted in the Pogonip along the tracks and near the Fern trail. This is second hand information and I hope they write to tell you their stories. However, these stories are floating around in the community and I personally know there are people who not take themselves and their families to the Pogonip for fear of personal safety.

The EMUT will do a lot to mitigate criminal activity from that area of the park. This was true when the mountain biking and equestrian community put the U-Con trail in back in 1999. There was evidence of illegal camping back near the alignment back then. “Pogonip Jane” – a murder victim – was found in this area in 1994. After the implementation of the trail, all that activity disappeared from the area. Today there is no evidence of illegal camping in this part of the Pogonip.

Eliminating negative use by bringing in positive use is a common land management technique that has been used nationally in other urban hotspots. There are several case studies in which the mountain biking community has partnered with a municipality to help remediate the negative conditions of a blighted area and replaced it with a public recreational that has health benefits for the community. Highly documented examples include the I-5 Colonnade project in Seattle and Highbridge Park in NYC.

Approving and implementing the EMUT will mitigate these public safety issues and allow the community to reclaim an area that is currently closed to the public.

Benefits: Environmental

From a conservation perspective the current conditions of illegal camping and drug activity is unacceptable use of the park. Trees and plants have been cut. Unsustainable ad-hoc trails have been created. The threat of wild fire from camping is real.

Chief Park Ranger Reiter’s testimony mentioned that the 6 cleanups included 21 yards of trash hauled out of the Pogonip (a cubic yard is approximately the size of a pickup truck bed). Last August Take Back Santa Cruz (TBSC) partnered with Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) to do a cleanup of the EMUT. We hauled out 15 cubic yards of trash, dozens of used hyper dermic needles and other drug paraphernalia, food wrappers, moldy bedding, stolen bikes and assorted other trash. We found broken suitcases and children’s clothing that appeared to be the bounty stolen from the cars of visitors to our City. Clearly this trash does not belong in the forests of the Pogonip and the best remediation is to ensure that it doesn’t get there in the first place.

Creating the 1.5 mile EMUT will probably lead to a net reduction of trails and improve the environmental conditions. Currently there are dozens of ad-hoc social trails on unsustainable grades. We can decommission these social trails during the implementation of the EMUT. We can transplant cuttings from the MUT path into the trail bed of the social trails.

The proliferation of illegal camping and drug activity in the EMUT area increases the amount of garbage and human waste that flows into Redwood Creek during seasonal rains. This creek flows into the San Lorenzo River about 0.5 miles above the Tait St inlet which is where the City gets 50% of its water (according to the 1998 EIR response by Water Director Bill Kocher). By not addressing these problems we have threatened the quality of the city water supply and have severely increased the garbage at our local beaches and into the ocean at the San Lorenzo outlet.

Trail erosion is caused by water running through a poorly designed trail – not bikes. In fact, some of the most unsustainable trails in this county are hiking only trails (examples: Pogonip, Henry Cowell near the camp grounds). For example, some sections of the Fern trail is at a 20-25% grade and water will run down this trail and rut it out carrying the soil content into the streams. There is no evidence that bikes contribute to these problems. We have an opportunity to remediate this section of the trail as part of the EMUT project.

Approving and implementing the EMUT will mitigate these environmental issues and replace the current negative use with healthy positive use.

Benefits: Economic

According to estimates from the Parks Department, an estimate of the hard costs of implementing this trail will be about $25K. They have already approved a $25K environmental impact study (perhaps more) so lets include Parks staff time at say $25K so we can generously estimate that the total cost to the City for this trail is $100K – noting that probably 2/3s of the costs have already been payed. These are just the numbers I’m working with. I’m sure you have better numbers from the City Manager.

According to Chief Park Ranger Reiter’s testimony at the March Parks Commission meeting, the 6 major camp clean ups since the beginning of the year. Yes. Beginning of this year – 2012. Each occasion costs about $1,400 of ranger/park staff time and they had to bring in contractors to help with the waste disposal and removal at a cost of about $5000 (not sure if it’s occasion or a 1 time cost). Assuming a conservative one time cost this amounts to $13,400 to the City for managing the Pogonip for about 60 days (Jan 1 – March 5). Lets be conservative once again and extrapolate this for only half the year so that we multiply that number by 3 and we can estimate the costs of managing the Pogonip in its current condition to about $40,200/year. This is only the costs to the parks department and does not include the staff time for the Police and Fire Department for dealing with the Pogonip. It’s not unrealistic to believe that it costs the City $100K per year to manage the Pogonip. Again, you probably have access to better data.

The trail opens up a scenic area to a wide cross section of the trail using public. This trail becomes very attractive for tourism so the downtown community can reap some economic benefits from it’s proximity to the open space. I have heard from many out of town MBOSC members and other visitors who have expressed interest in visiting this trail. They see the convenience and safety of parking downtown, along the river levy or at the boardwalk and intend to start and end their trail experience from within the City limits. Keeping visitors in Santa Cruz will allow them to use our local businesses before or after their trail experience.

The one time cost of implementing this trail is probably less than one year of managing this trail. The net result will be a recreational and economic resource for many decades to come. The short and medium term benefits to the City means that they don’t have to expend the resources to manage this issue and can invest in other programs like homeless services and drug treatment – which is a healthier use of public funds for the community.

Demonstrating community support

We have been running an online petition on our website as a passive way for folks to express their support for this project. The petition was just a simple statement: I support the Pogonip multi-use trail proposal by the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department.

As of Sunday March 25th we have 1788 signatories of this petition. Out of these signatories, 711 of them come from your constituency in the city of Santa Cruz 304 in the County but outside the city for a total of 1015 supporters who have identified Santa Cruz County as their home address. I will deliver the petition as a separate document.

The petition comments are very passionate and reflect the thoughts and feelings of a entire cross section of the community. Supporters include doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, social workers, trades people, business owners, students, the retired, the unemployed, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some of them happen to be mountain bikers but not all of them.

The following tag cloud was generated from petition comments on March 1st. A tag cloud is a visual representation for textual data with repeated words represented as a progressively larger font size. The value of this image is to determine the weighted importance of the words used by the supporters.

Conjunctions and house keeping words like “and”, “but”, “or”, “if”, “when”, “my”, “to”, “I”, etc… have been eliminated so that the focus can be on nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The words santa cruz pogonip multi-use trail was also excluded since they dominated the cloud and didn’t offer any insight.

The layout is more or less randomly generated but one reading of the zeitgeist of these comments could be “Please support community use”.

Paying for the hard costs of the project

This community wants this trail and is willing to help pay for it.

In the last 3 years MBOSC has raised over $50,000 and have allocated these funds to community improvements. None of this money has come from corporate grants or big donors. We have tapped into a broad constituency in small amounts of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. This is the very definition of grass roots fundraising and demonstrates the passion of mountain bikers and their willingness to pay to get these trail experiences. We have very little overhead so all the funding we receive goes right back into public infrastructure projects and organizations which benefit mountain biking.

According to estimates from the City, an estimate of the hard costs of implementing this trail will be about $25,000 – which includes bridges, signage, rock work, platforms, tools, day labor and other equipment. This seems like a lot of money and could be a big discretionary cost to the city but that’s where the community comes in to help.

Last April, Santa Cruz Bicycles donated a new mountain bike to MBOSC for a fundraiser raffle with the proceeds benefiting the EMUT. This successful fundraiser raised over $11,000.

In February of 2012, we applied for a $10,000 Bikes Belong grant to benefit the EMUT with the support of the City, local bike shops and the bike industry. We have been told that we have a very strong proposal.

This leaves a small short fall that we can easily make up with a combination of a $2,500 Specialized dealer grant and the proceeds of the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival in April – of which MBOSC will be the primary beneficiary. We have successfully applied for the dealer grant on two previous occasions. We received a letter of support for the Pogonip trail from an advocacy representative of Specialized for our Bikes Belong grant so our chances are good to get a grant if/when we apply.

We are very confident that we can raise the $25,000 for the hard costs to implement this trail.

Volunteers

We can organize the skilled volunteer labor force to build this trail.

MBOSC has been successful in bringing together large groups of people to work on trail projects we think we recruit a large skilled volunteer labor force to implement this trail.

We have sponsored trail maintenance days at Soquel Demonstration State Forest and consistently get about 25-35 trail workers. Last March, despite torrential monsoon type rains we brought together 40 volunteers to improve the drainage on the Zane Gray trail in Wilder Ranch.

For past 4 years, MBOSC has been the lead organizer for bringing Northern California mountain bike clubs for an annual trip to the Lake Tahoe region for a weekend riding and trail work. We have consistently recruited between 90-110 trail workers designing and building 1000s of feet of trail each session.

We have had assurances from these bike clubs, local bike shops, local bike industry and small businesses that they want to support trail work days for the MUT.

The importance of mountain biking to Santa Cruz County

Mountain biking is growing rapidly. It is entering it’s second generation and is an important economic activity for Santa Cruz County – both in terms of innovation and employment and secondly in terms of tourism.

However public access has not kept up to meet this demand so we have seen an increasing number of riders on too few trails. Meanwhile this county has land that is effectively month balled, unmanaged and continually threatened with invasive species, pot farms, meth labs, illegal camping and drug trafficking. Bringing in positive use has a way of displacing negative use and can help to remediate environmental issues.

Mountain bikers share the values of preserving open space and environmental sustainability. Mountain bikers can bring youth, enthusiasm, leadership and funding to an environmental movement which seems to have stagnated over the last couple of decades. Our signature issue is climate change but progress has been slow and kids seem more interested in electronic entertainment than physical activity and the natural world. Mountain biking is a gateway to bike commuting and land stewardship for the young.

As City, State and Federal budgets continue to be stretched Parks and Recreational seem like a discretionary expense and are always threatened with cuts. The failure of Prop 21 and the impending closure of 70 state parks demonstrate that we do not have enough allies who can help protect our parks. The cold reality is that preserving our local parks is going to require partnerships with the community.

Partnering with the mountain biking community can help accomplish these shared conservation goals and to meet these funding challenges. We have similar values with many conservation-based organizations. We all seek our nature experiences to take a respite from the hectic pace of the modern world.

Finally

There are so many benefits from the approval and implementation of this trail including the improvement to public safety, mitigating negative environmental conditions, increasing sustainable economic activity, decreases the costs to the City and increasing public health and recreation.

The Parks Department, Fire Department and Police Department all endorse this trail. The trail using community has the funds, the support and the volunteers to get this trail implemented.

All we need is your support for this wonderful and beneficial community project.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mark Davidson
President, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz

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One comment on “Letter of support to Santa Cruz City Council for the Poginip EMUT

  1. Gladys Low on said:

    Keep mountain biking in Santa Cruz County. Biking is good exercise for all ages!