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Del Mar bluffs
Construction crews have been working since a portion of the Del Mar bluffs collapsed in late February. Photo by Grant Kessler
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Del Mar City Council discusses SANDAG bluff stabilization project

DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council heard an update from the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, on Phase 5 of its Bluff Stabilization Project, a long-term project that aims to stabilize portions of the Del Mar coastal bluffs.

SANDAG is leading the six-phase effort in collaboration with the North County Transit District, or NCTD. Since 2003, the first four phases of the project have included the installation of more than 230 support columns into the bluffs and the construction of sea walls, a drainage channel and more.

According to SANDAG Senior Engineer Allie DeVaux, who spoke at the council meeting, the penultimate phase will address additional seismic and general stabilization needs, install additional support columns and replace more aging drainage structures.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland, who has been critical of the project, told The Coast News that SANDAG has had decades to find a solution for bluff stabilization and to relocate the railroad tracks off of the bluffs. Now, Gaasterland said, it has become up to the Del Mar community to put the pressure on SANDAG, while also protecting their coast.

“All of a sudden these walls go in, and we’re seeing it already with some of the walls that are there, we lose the beach at high tide. It is gone. That is a qualitative change,” Gaasterland said. “The other qualitative shift is the seawalls make it impossible to use the existing trails that do go up and down those bluffs, and d that’s another fundamental change. Access to the beach will be gone.”

Devaux said during the meeting that the calculations for sand and recreation laws do take into account the beach loss that will result from the sea walls.

“We’re also proposing to the Coastal Commission that the mitigation is put into a fund for coastal access and beach replenishment, and that money can be used to add sand to the beach and replenish the beach,” said Bruce Smith, SANDAG principal engineer.

The council received several public comments, some regarding a controversial project by NCTD that would put fencing along the rail on the bluff. Gaasterland also brought up the issue to the SANDAG representatives.

“It’s not my project, it’s NCTD’s project,” said Bruce Smith, SANDAG principal engineer. “Allie and I are here to stabilize the bluffs, keep it safe for trains to run.”

It should be noted that, though SANDAG has previously denied being involved in the Right of Way Fencing project, an NCTD staff report from a 2019 board meeting (page 26) lists Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN), SANDAG AND NCTD as co-applicants for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) Discretionary Grant Application. One of the application phases listed is fencing “in Oceanside, Encinitas and Del Mar.”

Gaasterland also discussed the railroad track relocation proposal that is part of SANDAG’s newly approved $160 billion transportation plan.

The mayor, who is on the SANDAG board, voted in favor of the plan, but told The Coast News that she thinks the train tracks should be relocated to a tunnel by 2030, not by 2035 as the plan concludes.

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