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An aerial view of the Del Mar coastline. File photo
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Commentary: Protect and preserve the Del Mar bluff

The relocation of the bluff-top railway on the Del Mar bluff is long overdue — 20 years have passed and nothing has happened.

To protect and preserve the bluff, a 10-year timeline for railway relocation must be implemented now with far less destructive interim engineering than is currently planned and underway. Why should the lack of adequate progress relocating the railroad result in the destruction of the Del Mar bluff and its beaches in San Diego’s North County?

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and North County Transit District (NCTD) have major engineering projects planned and underway that will destroy the entire 1.7-mile Del Mar coastal bluff and beaches below. 

The SANDAG/NCTD plans aim to reinforce railroad tracks on top of the bluff for another 20 to 30 years. 

The Del Mar bluff is the last remaining natural coastal bluff in San Diego’s North County.

The bluff benefits the entire region with its accessible winding trails, vistas, and wildlife habitats.  The beaches along the bluff toe offer a natural place to walk and enjoy the bluff contours as its toe meets the sand.

SANDAG’s project will impose environmentally destructive engineering structures along the coastal bluff top, face, and toe and the beach below. It will:

• Armor the entire bluff with long continuous seawalls on the beach that will eliminate the natural chiseled contours of the bluff toe and obscure flow of beach sand;

• Bury beaches behind the seawalls with in-fill dirt on top of beach sand at bluff toes;

• Destroy bluff faces extensively with grading and compaction that will erase the existing natural bluff geologic features;

• Construct long bluff-top retaining walls, west of tracks; and

• Decapitate completely the upper ~25% of the highest west-facing bluff face (approximately 620,000 cubic feet of material — about 23,000 dump truck loads).

NCTD’s project will install fencing on top of the bluff for the full 1.7 miles, including along the east side above the tracks.  Recent media attention and public comment have had little impact on NCTD’s plans.

These dramatic, permanent changes are planned and underway without environmental review. 

The expected consequences are extreme. Sand loss and beach erosion will be accelerated not slowed down. 

At high tide, beach users will have no space to escape “sneaker waves.” Natural public views will be demolished. Continuous manmade structures will eliminate beach access from historic bluff-top trails in continuous use for over 100-years.

A natural beach experience will be replaced by cavernous, continuous seawalls with no natural surfaces or contours along the beach. A walk along the beach will feel like walking along an industrial corridor with the bluffs caged in behind engineered structures.

The current high bluff above the beach provides stunning beauty and geology to the Del Mar South Beach experience from the beach. SANDAG plans will remove the bluff top and erase this experience forever.

A thorough independent review of the SANDAG/NCTD plans needs to be done, with public input, according to the CA Coastal Act.

On Nov. 8, 2021, the Concerned Citizens of Del Mar and the Coastal Bluff Conservancy sent a 62-page “Request to the California Coastal Commission” with a call to action to protect and preserve the Del Mar Bluff for future generations. 

To illustrate the expected consequences of the proposed engineering, we constructed realistic photo simulations from multiple perspectives for the SANDAG-led project using locations shown in SANDAG/NCTD engineering plans.  The full 62 pages are available at http://delmarbluff.com.

Now is the time for residents in the entire North County region to come together and ask the Coastal Commission to fulfill their mandate. 

We need the Coastal Commission to ensure:  Minimize engineering structures, get railway relocation underway within 10 years —  not 20 or 30 years — and preserve the bluff as an important North County regional resource.

Learn more, take action, and add your voice via http://delmarbluff.com.

Concerned Del Mar Citizens:

Payson R. Stevens

Terry Gaasterland *

Drew Cady

Camilla Rang

John Stahl

Al Tarkington

* Mayor Terry Gaasterland writes as an individual, and not on behalf of the city or City Council.

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