The Coast News Group
Del Mar bluff trails
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland walks along the Del Mar bluffs near the proposed location of a controversial rail fencing project she says could impede locals access to the city’s popular coastal trails. Photo by Tigist Layne
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Del Mar fencing project could impede access to bluff-top trails

DEL MAR — Del Mar residents and elected officials are questioning whether a hotly-debated railway fencing proposal will encroach upon the city’s popular bluff-top walking trails due to setback requirements.  

As the city’s deadline to reach an agreement with North County Transit District over a modified fencing plan quickly approaches, locals worry that a large portion of the fencing will restrict views and block trail access at some points.

NCTD’s proposed fencing plan includes 3,723 linear feet of fencing along the upper bluffs (see slides 24-31). This first phase would include a combination of a 4-foot high black vinyl-coated, chain link fence and a 6-foot  black, welded wire mesh fence.

According to Del Mar City Manager Ashley Jones, “Seven feet of distance to daylight is a typical standard of the Building Code, as measured from the bottom of a structural foundation.

Unless there is a geotechnical recommendation that safely supports something closer to the top of the slope, this would be the minimum allowed when seeking a Building Permit for construction.”

This means, if standard building code is followed, the fencing on the upper bluffs would require a 7-foot minimum setback from the bluff’s edge.

The width of the trail on the upper bluffs between Sea Cliff Way and 7th St. varies from 7 to 15 feet wide; this is the portion of the trail that was restored by SANDAG several years ago. The rest of the trail mostly remains in its natural winding state.

Del Mar bluffs trails
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland uses a tape measure to mark the location of a fence with a 7-foot setback requirement from the bluff’s edge, per standard building code requirements. Photo by Tigist Layne

With the required distance, the fencing would land in the middle of the trail in some areas, and, in other areas, would only leave a few inches of space for passersby to walk on the trail.

Another major concern is that there is currently no plan in place for creating an overpass or some sort of at-grade crossing mechanism for people to access the beach once the fencing is installed.

Councilmember Terry Gaasterland said these are the elements of the plan that she is concerned with the most – the potential reduction of trail access and potential loss of beach access.

“The idea of this being lost to millions as a natural resource is devastating. It’s a hallmark of California,” Gaasterland said. “If NCTD prevails in this request, it will set a dangerous precedent.”

The California Coastal Commission has also raised objections regarding the fencing project, which prompted the California Attorney General’s Office to submit a letter on Jan. 19 to the NCTD board on behalf of the state commission. 

“The proposed fencing would significantly disrupt or eliminate pedestrian access on existing, informal access trails along the bluffs and down onto the beach that have been heavily used by the public for decades to traverse the blufftop, enjoy scenic coastal views and access the beach and ocean,” wrote Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jamee Patterson in the letter.

Surfrider Foundation submitted a letter on Oct. 5 to the federal Surface Transportation Board, “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.”

Gaasterland reiterated the city’s position, which includes limiting the installation of fencing to the area from Coast Boulevard to 13th Street, maintaining that the city would like to see fencing design and construction plans, as well as a geotechnical analysis and additional environmental review of the project.

NCTD, however, has said that it has sole authority over railway matters when it comes to the railway tracks it owns, including bluff repairs and fencing of the track right-of-way, therefore, they don’t have to provide these elements if they don’t believe it is necessary.

NCTD board voted last month to give the City of Del Mar until Feb. 28 to agree to the modified 4-foot-tall fence design on the Del Mar bluffs. If the city fails to accept this agreement, the NCTD will proceed with a proposed 6-foot-tall fence design.

The city has only a few weeks left to enter into a written agreement with the transit district and accept liability and maintenance responsibility for the modified fence design.

Del Mar originally had until Dec. 31 to reach an agreement with NCTD, which included the modified 4-foot-tall fence design.

After no agreement was reached, NCTD filed a new petition on Dec. 30 with the federal Surface Transportation Board seeking sole authority to proceed with the project.

1 comment

JohnEldon February 12, 2022 at 5:47 am

Thank you, Ms. Gaasterland, for standing up for the citizens of Del Mar and local access to the beach.

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