DEL MAR — Major bluff stabilization measures, including the implementation of around 2,000 feet of seawalls, can move forward in Del Mar after the City Council approved local permits for a three-year project.
The council’s sign-off was required for SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) to implement temporary and permanent encroachments on the city’s right of way. Along with seawalls, these include drainage improvements to prevent further bluff deterioration from water runoff and soldier piles near the rail track itself.
The project is expected to hold over the sensitive bluffs until 1.6 miles of the coastal railway can be moved further inland, hopefully by 2035. SANDAG has obtained $300 million to conduct engineering assessments to explore the concept of tunneling the train line underneath Del Mar but will need billions more in funding to make the relocation a reality.
The California Coastal Commission approved the fifth-phase bluff stabilization measures back in June, to the dismay of various Del Mar leaders and residents worried about the impacts of these measures on the bluffs.
While council members Terry Gaasterland and Tracy Martinez were among the opponents to these plans during the summer, they joined fellow council members in voting unanimously to approve encroachment permits for the project at their Nov. 14 meeting.
The new seawalls at the foot of the bluffs will fill in gaps between 15th and 11th streets and 7th to 8th streets, where other seawalls from past project phases have been erected.
“These are removable seawalls, and although these are termed as permanent encroachments, this is really long term encroachment because these seawalls will be removed once the train is relocated,” said SANDAG senior engineer Allie Devaux.
Work on the project is expected to begin in mid-2023 and last around three years. Construction is generally not permitted at the beach during the summer, but the city will allow crews to work on weekdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day due to the size and scope of the project.
Night work along the railway is also anticipated as crews lay soldier piles, but not with more light or noise than is usually expected, according to DeVaux.
Other permanent encroachments will include new drainage outlets and improvements on various streets. A large temporary encroachment in the form of a staging area will also be set up on 18th Street for crews’ work on the project’s north end.
A 10-feet-wide public access path will be maintained in this area to permit beach access.
Due to the potential negative impacts of the project on the local environment and public access, the Coastal Commission established conditions including the implementation of additional pedestrian railroad crossings, additional beach access from the bluff and a bluff trail between 4th Street to Seagrove Park.
SANDAG officials will present concepts for these improvements at the City Council’s Dec. 5 meeting. They will also begin gathering community feedback about these features at a Dec. 7 open house from 6 to 8 p.m.