The Coast News Group
The City of Del Mar, North County Transit District and California Coastal Commission are still not seeing eye to eye on NCTD’s proposed fencing project on the Del Mar bluffs,
North County Transit District said they are moving forward with plans to fence along the Del Mar blufs despite new objections from the city and California Coastal Commission. Photo by Dan Brendel
CitiesDel MarDel Mar FeaturedEnvironmentNewsPolitics & Government

Del Mar, NCTD and Coastal Commission clash over bluffs fencing project

DEL MAR — The City of Del Mar, North County Transit District and California Coastal Commission are still not seeing eye-to-eye on a proposed fencing project on the Del Mar bluffs, which the transit district said they are pursuing despite new objections from both the city and state agency.

NCTD Board President Tony Kranz sent a letter to Del Mar city officials on Jan. 4 informing them that the board has placed the fencing project on its Jan. 20 meeting agenda. The City of Del Mar had until Dec. 31 to reach an agreement with NCTD regarding the project. The agreement included a modified 4-foot-tall fence design, scaled down from the original 6-foot-tall design.

NCTD filed a new petition with the federal Surface Transportation Board on Dec. 30, seeking sole authority to proceed with the fencing project. With no agreement reached, NCTD may even decide to move forward with the original 6-foot-tall fence.

“NCTD staff will move forward with a board agenda item… that will support the consideration of various fencing options to include, but not limited to, NCTD’s standard fence design requirements,” Kranz said in the letter.

Train tracks in Del Mar near the bluffs.
Train tracks in Del Mar. The Coast News file photo

Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden, on behalf of the city and the Del Mar City Council, responded to the transit district in a letter dated Jan. 11, reiterating Del Mar’s position on the project and maintaining they would not support it unless specific changes are made. These changes, which Worden said the city has sought since the proposal was originated, include:

  • Limiting the installation of fencing to the area from Coast Boulevard to 13th Street, or potentially as far as 11th Street, with increased safety signage.
  • Deferring the project until the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Coastal Connections Conceptual Planning Study has been completed (Summer 2022).
  • Construction drawings; material and manufacturer specifications; engineering designs; geotechnical, drainage or hydrological studies; and surveys, maps or legal descriptions (all licensed professional).
  • Additional environmental review and geotechnical analysis of the potential impacts the fencing project would have on the bluffs.
  • Collaboration between NCTD, California Coastal Commission, SANDAG and the City of Del Mar – specifically that SANDAG is included in discussions related to the fencing project.

Worden also noted in the letter that “although NCTD has consistently indicated that SANDAG is not a party to the fencing project, we disagree. SANDAG was a co-applicant with NCTD for the Caltrans funding that was approved for the fencing project.”

DM Response Ltr to NCTD Board Chair (Worden) 1-11-22

The Coast News previously located an NCTD staff report from a 2019 board meeting (page 26) that lists Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo, or 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.”

“Fencing in some areas may improve safety. Legal crossings coupled with other safety measures, such as signage and advanced warning systems, could greatly enhance public safety and are viable options instead of installing fences… Del Mar fails to understand why NCTD’s current position is such a harsh ‘take it or leave it’ posture after all the progress we have made so far,” Worden said.

NCTD also had a disagreement with the Coastal Commission after the state agency sent a letter to SANDAG on Jan. 5 suggesting its bluff stabilization project and NCTD’s fencing project “are integrated and should be considered together in order to analyze and mitigate for their cumulative, interrelated impacts,” said John Ainsworth, executive director at the California Coastal Commission, in a letter.

“I request that you help ensure that SANDAG and the Commission can review these proposals together. Your assistance in ensuring that our agencies can appropriately review these related projects is also crucial given that NCTD has requested expedited consideration of its petition to the [STB] for an order that rail maintenance and upgrade activities are not subject to the Coastal Zone Management Act’s federal consistency review and… permitting requirements,” Ainsworth wrote.

NCTD’s executive director Matthew Tucker, having obtained the letter from a Del Mar resident, responded to Ainsworth in a letter dated Jan. 11.

Tucker expressed his “disappointment” and clarified that “SANDAG does not have the authority to agree that these projects are integrated… Moreover, SANDAG does not have such authority over NCTD to make such determinations,” Tucker said in the letter. “Unfortunately, neither the Coastal Commission nor the City of Del Mar have acted in good faith to achieve a compromise that is reasonable. It is my sincere hope that the Coastal Commission does not continue to follow the path indicated in your January 5, 2022 letter.”

Local environmental group Surfrider Foundation San Diego has also weighed in on NCTD’s petition to the Federal Surface Transportation Board, stating they “strongly” disagree NCTD has “legal or factual argument to support” their request.

“(NCTD’s) petition asked the Federal Surface Transportation Board to preemptively exclude the City of Del Mar and the California Coastal Commission from regulating its bluff-top stabilization and fencing activities. In essence, NCTD asked for a waiver to indefinitely bypass state review processes that exist to ensure the proper management of coastal zone resources and ensure public access to our beaches.”

Subsequently, Surfrider submitted a letter to the federal board on Oct. 5 “asking them to deny NCTD’s request because such a preemption would result in an unacceptable loss of the public’s right to access the beach.”

Since an agreement between the three agencies has not yet been reached, the NCTD will move forward with the board meeting to discuss the fencing project on Jan. 20.