DEL MAR — Motivated by a desire to decrease traffic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase revenue, City Council agreed unanimously to explore the possibility of bringing restricted train service back to Del Mar.
“There’s been interest expressed by North County Transit to have certain limited stops at the existing train station,” Councilman Mark Filanc said. “It’s just allowing people to come visit Del Mar during the weekends and then go.
“Nothing’s cast in concrete,” he said. “This is to see if it’s viable.”
“This is something the elected officials in Del Mar asked us to explore,” Matt Tucker, executive director of North County Transit District, said. “It’s a reasonable request because it could potentially increase ridership and take cars off the streets.”
Tucker said it’s not a top priority for NCTD and he won’t “push it as an agency.”
“I don’t want to create any public controversy over this,” he said. “We will sit down and discuss it with Del Mar.”
Under the proposal, only the Coaster would be allowed to stop at the existing platform on weekends and during special events, such as the annual Taste and Art Stroll.
Tickets will not be sold at the Del Mar station so travel cannot originate in the city, which means the service will not bring more cars to the area. Passengers will have to board a train outside of Del Mar.
Amtrak would not be permitted to use the station.
Local trains stopped in Del Mar from 1911 to 1995, Mayor Carl Hilliard said.
But the station closed following requests to increase Coaster service and open the platform to Amtrak because of insufficient parking, no land to expand the existing lot and roads that were unable to handle any influx of cars, Hilliard said. A new station opened in adjacent Solana Beach.
“When the station closed our sales tax revenue plummeted,” Hilliard said.
A resolution authorizing the city to request that North County Transit District explore the possibility of establishing limited Coaster service to Del Mar was included in the Jan. 23 consent calendar.
Items on the consent calendar are adopted with a single vote unless pulled for discussion. Councilman Terry Sinnott requested such action, seeking clarification, he said.
“There is some issue regarding the ability to use the platform,” Filanc said.
“The question’s not should it be done, but can it be done at this point,” Hilliard added.
In 2000, the city was negotiating to buy the property from Newport Beach-based Catellus Commercial Group, but the owner subsequently leased the site to Del Mar Train Partners.
According to the city staff report, the owners “have expressed an unwillingness to discuss this subject,” however the title suggests NCTD is allowed to establish a stop at the station.
Del Mar Train Partners could not be reached for comment.
Hilliard, an attorney, described the ownership and purchase documents as very complex, confusing and ambiguous. He said one covenant of the lease appears to allow NCTD to restore service, although he said nothing can be resolved until their lawyers review everything.
Hershell Price said he had concerns about diesel. “I live by the train station,” he said. “When they start slowing down — I live there, I can attest to it — it just permeates the whole area and it would be a bad thing.
“I don’t think that we should pursue it unless we get some approval from Solana Beach,” he said. “I know we have great intentions but … don’t get me wrong, it’s just, I don’t think, good. You have to take these neighbors into consideration here because that was the agreement that was made and we fought hard for it.”
Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts said he learned about the request after receiving calls as early as 7 a.m. the day after the Del Mar meeting from concerned residents in his city.
“We have a (verbal) agreement with Del Mar we would not blindside each other,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he has since asked the Solana Beach city manager to “dust these old agreements off and find out what the facts are.” Nothing had been determined at press time.
“As I recall we voted against the train stopping in Del Mar,” Del Mar resident Sharon Firerobin said. “This appears as if it’s being done for the fairgrounds.
“It seems to me the wrong thing to do,” she said. “It seems to me that there’s too much being done for people other than the residents. … I think it’s a mistake and particularly for the people near the beach.”
“The fairgrounds is not part of the logic for this and never has been part of the discussion,” Filanc said, adding that plans are under way for a permanent platform at that site.
“This is more of looking at moving people around the county, moving people in and out of our city without cars,” he said. “It’s more green. It’s more eco-friendly.
“That’s the logic behind this,” Filanc said. “This is not a decision to move this thing forward. This is a decision to have a discussion on this. I think it’s something that we owe our residents to at least have a look at it and have the debate.”
Other council members agreed, especially following a recent quality-of-life survey by the San Diego Association of Governments indicating an increasing number of county residents are visiting local beaches.
“The impact on our streets and parking is pretty severe right now,” Hilliard said. “If the prediction of the SANDAG study is true, it’s going to get even more so, so I’m inclined to give it a shot.”
“I think this possibility is worth exploring,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “The more people we can get riding the train, the less traffic impacts we have on Del Mar. … Whether it can happen or not is yet to be determined.”
“It’s worth the study,” Lee Haydu said. “Then we can look at it and make the proper decision.”
Tucker said he requested a resolution from Del Mar before presenting the proposal to the NCTD board. If legal requirements call for a closed session on the matter, he said the board could discuss it during its February meeting.
If it is an open-session item it will likely come before the board in March, Tucker said.