The Coast News Group
Plans to replace the 96-year-old San Dieguito Railway River Bridge include raising it between 7 and 10 feet to take it out of the flood zone. Del Mar recently formed a citizens committee to address any negative impacts on the lagoon and nearby residents. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Del Mar forms committee, addresses impacts for San Dieguito rail project

DEL MAR — As SANDAG moves forward with plans to add a seasonal train platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, double track a 1.1-mile stretch of the railway and replace the San Dieguito Railway River Bridge, Del Mar officials have submitted a letter stating their concerns and formed a citizens committee to possibly reduce any negative impacts, even though there is currently no requirement to do so. 

The engineering and environmental review process is under way. An informational meeting was held Jan. 22 to garner public input on what should be studied under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act.)

Comments are being accepted through Feb. 21, but additional meetings will be held throughout the year.

At their Feb. 4 meeting, City Council members approved a letter outlining the city’s concerns.

They include increased noise and vibration from additional train traffic and impacts to the recently restored San Dieguito Lagoon.

Track alignment and the location and length of the platform should be addressed to improve the habitat rather than create adverse impacts, the letter states.

“You’re double tracking in an incredibly sensitive location,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

There could also be potential issues with the increased track height, as the bridge will be raised — possibly as high as 7 to 10 feet — so it’s out of the flood plain.

That could align the trains with second-story windows, causing an increased invasion of privacy, light intrusion, view blockage, noise and air quality impacts, according to the letter.

“The alignment of the second track is of particular concern, as any shift to the west would place the tracks closer to existing residential neighborhoods,” the letter states.

Del Mar officials also asked SANDAG to consider a using CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), analysis in addition to the NEPA review, which doesn’t require the lead agency — in this case, the Federal Railroad Administration — to mitigate any negative impacts.

“This is not being reviewed under CEQA. I think that’s a major issue,” said Al Corti, who was speaking as a resident. Corti, a council member, had to recuse himself from the discussion because he lives within 500 feet of the project area.

“If SANDAG and (NCTD) really care about the community and want to mitigate the impacts then why won’t they … commit themselves to mitigating any impacts that they find?” he asked.

Mosier agreed, offering a compromise.

“There are so many potential environmental impacts that we’d like to have the most sensitive review of how those are going to be mitigated,” he said. “If you can’t do a full CEQA, you can use a CEQA equivalent that would address those concerns.”

The goals of the ad hoc committee are to gain a complete understanding of the project, identify issues and problems and identify and prioritize mitigation measures.

Council members agreed to form the committee at the Jan. 28 meeting, noting that SANDAG’s definition of community outreach differs from Del Mar’s.

“When they talk about outreach it’s a certain kind of outreach,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “It’s very well orchestrated, very structured… I don’t think it meets the standard of what we would normally do as a community when we have a project that is so significant.”

So far 11 people have agreed to serve on the committee. They are Jim Benedict, Robin Crabtree, Maureen Dime, Nancy Fisher, Barbara Johansen, Bill Michalsky, Hershell Price, Wendy Ramp, Alexandra Veen, Betsy Winsett and Bob Zizka.

Mosier suggested they add someone with CEQA or lagoon restoration knowledge, such as Dwight Warden or Justin Kulongoski, because he said he would like the committee to address the environmental impacts as well as the residential ones.

Sinnott said he hopes SANDAG will follow suggestions made by the group.

“Our whole purpose of involving the community … is to find out what the mitigations might be,” he said. “It would be a … shame if we went through all these efforts and the mitigations were just listed on a piece of paper.”

“SANDAG is not the perfect agency to deal with,” Mosier said. “I think we need to make the best we can and we need to do it now.”

Only the preliminary design and environmental studies are funded for the $100 million project, which likely won’t be complete for at least another two decades.

“We are going to have more public meetings,” Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said. “If you’d like to come to these public meetings (and) learn more we urge you to do that because this is the process that will work and make the city of Del Mar heard in this important project.”