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TAMC Rail Policy Committee Meeting Report

Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director, Salinas
November 2, 2009
Commuter Rail to Monterey County
There are some advantages to serving Salinas with a Capitol Corridor extension instead of the proposed Caltrain extension.

The Capitol Corridor trains would serve both the commute market and the long distance travel market. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) works well with the UP railroad, which is important for getting access rights to the track between Gilroy and Salinas. There is some state funding available for intercity rail, which could be used for Capitol Corridor improvements, but not Caltrain improvements. At this time, the CCJPA has capacity issues at the San Jose train station. Running some of the Capitol Corridor trains to Salinas could help ease the San Jose capacity problems.

TAMC is working on a draft 2010 Legislation Program.

TAMC is planning meetings with Federal officials in the next month. TAMC is asking the Rail Policy Committee (RPC) for comments on the Legislation Program.

Environmental Review for Monterey Branch Line (MBL)

TAMC will form a steering committee, which will start to meet every 2 months. The committee will have members from each city along the route, and from the county. One project for the committee will involve creating visual simulations for the impact of the trains on the view at the Window on the Bay Park. TAMC will also be forming a technical committee, which will look for technical input on the design and location of stations, among other issues. The TAMC RPC would like to complete all the environmental reports for the MBL in the next 14 months.

Presentation from Salinas Renaissance Partners (SRP)
This is a summary of one chapter from their report, titled “Rail District.” SRP is analyzing development possibilities for 26 acres of city-owned property in downtown Salinas. The SRP group had a public meeting on October 21 at the Steinbeck Center. Some conclusions from that meeting of how to improve downtown were: more housing, more opportunities for shopping, and more live music. Several key elements include traffic calming and pedestrian enhancements.

There are some catalyst elements (which are likely to speed up the pace of improvements). They include the proposed 145-room hotel and an office building next to it; a TOD (transit oriented development) designation for the area around the train station with a significant amount of affordable housing; and a “grand campus” including most government services buildings. One section has been given the name of Rail District, because it includes the train station. Some features include Class A retail and high density housing next to the station, and buildings with a large floor-plate to the west, on Market Street. These would help create 24-hour activity at the site. The area is not currently designated as TOD. TOD would be necessary to create everything in the plan, partly because that would allow much higher density of development.

There are several plans being considered for the Rail District. Some have parking structures and some have the MST Transit Center in different locations. A parking structure would partly serve the dense housing. The TOD designation would allow the possibility of significant federal money for certain improvements, like making the streets more pedestrian-friendly. Any property within one half mile of the (TOD) district boundaries would be eligible for such federal money.
The current permitted zoning is about 15 units per acre. The TOD designation would require around 60 to 80 units per acre. Creating such development would require zoning changes for both the density increase, and a change in the building height limits.

Because Salinas has a large population and very high unemployment, the city is eligible for some other sources of redevelopment money. If the city received money from the other sources, it could use some of the money specifically to help create TOD.

The Renaissance Partners group will take a concept plan to the Salinas City Council soon and ask the Council to endorse it. The group currently has exclusive negotiating rights with the City Council.

One possible use of federal funding for a TOD district would be to improve connections between Chinatown and downtown. Currently, the two places are very near each other, but relatively few people walk between the two.