DEL MAR — After issuing multiple warnings to the North County Transit District not to move ahead with a fencing project on the Del Mar Bluffs, the California Coastal Commission has filed a lawsuit alleging the transit district has failed to meet state and local development requirements.
Filed on Tuesday in San Diego County Superior Court, the suit seeks an injunction to stop the transit district as well as Exbon Development Inc., with whom the district approved a contract in January to construct the fencing, from executing the project until they complete an environmental analysis as required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
NCTD is also accused in the suit of noncompliance with the Coastal Act by failing to obtain a coastal development permit from the city of Del Mar, and ignoring a cease and desist letter issued by the state commission on March 7.
“As of the date of filing this complaint, defendants have intentionally and continually failed and refused to comply with the Coastal Act, and NCTD remains in violation of the [cease and desist] order, despite the Coastal Commission’s attempts to work with defendants to bring them into compliance,” the complaint states.
The embattled project involves plans for 3,723 linear feet of 4- to 6-foot fencing along the Del Mar bluffs beginning at the Coast Boulevard railroad crossing, with the stated goal of limiting trespassing and preventing deaths on the railroad. Local residents and officials concerned about the instability of the bluffs and the project’s interference with coastal access have come out in strong opposition, specifically regarding plans to place fencing along the upper bluffs trails from 9th to 4th streets.
Local group Friends of the Del Mar Bluffs also filed their own suit against NCTD on March 21, accusing the district of disregarding local and state coastal development laws.
Transit district officials, however, have insisted they have sole authority over the project since it involves the railway, and are therefore exempt from the Coastal Act and California Environmental Quality Act. The district filed two petitions with the federal Surface Transportation Board asking them to recognize their authority, but is still awaiting a response.
“It is disappointing that the Coastal Commission continues its effort to delay the implementation of needed rail safety measures, while also actively promoting railroad right-of-way as ‘public access’ and inviting illegal and dangerous crossings,” NCTD Executive Director Matthew Tucker said in a Friday statement. “NCTD has respectfully urged the Surface Transportation Board to make a determination on its related petition as soon as possible.”
The district is also facing a suit from the Friends of the Del Mar Bluffs filed on March 21 containing similar allegations against NCTD of disregarding local and state coastal development laws.
The state commission alleges in the complaint that the transit district never obtained CEQA exemption for the fencing project, recounting how they improperly filed an “ill-timed” notice of exemption in 2018 with the San Diego County clerk and then failed to file any notice or other CEQA document for the project with the California State Association of Counties.
Along with requesting that the district’s contract with Exbon be voided, the commission is seeking an initial civil penalty of up to $30,000, as well as an additional penalty of $15,000 per day that violations persist, according to the complaint.
The first hearing for the case has been scheduled for September 30, according to court records.