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Del Mar residents started an online petition opposing NCTD's bluff-top fencing plans. Photo by Lexy Brodt
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City officials, residents oppose NCTD bluff-fencing plan

DEL MAR — The City Council unanimously opposed a North County Transit District plan to install 1.4 miles of fencing along the city’s bluffs at a Nov. 19 meeting — a plan that has drawn criticism from area residents.

The council vocalized its opposition to the project after discussing and confirming four appropriate locations for safe and legal railroad crossings in the city. The locations will be examined in a potential feasibility study conducted in partnership with the San Diego Association of Governments.

There is currently only one legal railroad crossing in Del Mar — at 15th Street.

The dialogue comes in the midst of rising concerns over bluff safety after several bluff collapses occurred in late summer and early autumn.

Although fencing is the most recent bluff-related issue at stake, the council has been discussing safe bluff access since the 1990s, when The Railroad Advisory Committee pinpointed potential railroad crossings at the Torrey Pines State Beach, 11th Street and the San Dieguito River at 29th Street. At the time, the council added the option of 8th Street. These options were submitted to NCTD, but the action fell flat due to a lack of funding in the city’s budget, according to Councilman Dave Druker.

Druker, who was chairman of The Railroad Advisory Committee, said matters have changed since the ‘90’s, before bluff stabilization efforts became SANDAG’s modus operandi for dealing with bluff erosion.

“The bluff is a lot narrower than it has ever been,” he said at the meeting.

SANDAG has performed three bluff stabilization efforts since 1998, which involve installing “hundreds of concrete steel reinforced soldier piles,” predominantly on the west side of the track, according to an NCTD news release. NCTD and SANDAG are planning for future stabilization projects between 2019 and 2039, which are estimated to cost up to $90 million.

Although city staff are moving forward with the four location recommendations, Mayor Dwight Worden said this is just “step one.”

“I don’t think we should underestimate the challenges we face,” Worden said. “ … There is a whole panoply of issues that come with getting across the tracks.”

Through the study, staff will have to consider the type of crossing appropriate for each location — above-grade, below-grade or at-grade, as well as the associated costs and feasibility. The city and SANDAG will be applying for a grant with the California Department of Transportation in order to fund the study.

On the fencing front, Clem Brown, the city’s environmental sustainability/special projects manager, said NCTD “seems to be taking a big breath and a step back.”

Brown reported that NCTD plans to hire a consultant to look at options for improving safety and reducing trespassing along the bluffs — including, but not limited to, the fencing option.

The City Council passed a resolution 4-0, with Councilwoman Sherryl Parks absent, to oppose any fencing on the bluff, and expressed its desire to be engaged with NCTD officials throughout the process of assessing options.

The fencing plans were announced in an NCTD press release in September. In October, An NCTD representative told The Coast News that the project was anticipated to be complete by the end of 2019.

In response to the release, residents — including Councilwoman-elect Terry Gaasterland and former City Council candidate Dan Quirk — started online petitions to oppose the fencing. The petitions have both garnered more than 800 signatures.

Six residents submitted red dots to the city in anticipation of the Nov. 19 meeting, calling beach access along the bluffs “a right, not a privilege,” and labeling the fencing plan “a disproportionately aggressive solution for discouraging track crossings.”

Residents who spoke during public comment cited concerns about fire evacuation and view impairment.

Councilman Terry Sinnott — who is also a board chair with SANDAG — recognized that safe crossings were the most immediate issue faced by the council, but expressed concern about the long-term reality of train tracks on the bluff.

He said his vision is to eventually have the tracks removed from the bluff — a concept that has been supported by council candidates and Del Mar residents alike. At a City Council meeting in September, NCTD discussed the possibility of rerouting the tracks to a tunnel inland, which was projected to cost between $2.5 and 3.5 billion.

“We can’t move the tracks immediately,” Sinnott said. “But we should be moving the tracks eventually.”