DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council heard a resolution Monday night seeking to analyze the long-term viability and usefulness of trains in the San Diego region but decided not to move forward with the resolution as written.
The council agreed to revisit the resolution, brought forward by Councilmember Dan Quirk and Deputy Mayor Tracy Martinez, at a later time.
Quirk has been outspoken about his skepticism of railway lines in San Diego, specifically that the Coaster and Pacific Surfliner lines are not financially viable anymore, a perspective that has caused some disagreement and tension between him and Mayor Dwight Worden.
At Monday’s meeting, Quirk and Martinez introduced a resolution “supporting efforts to analyze and better understand the long-term train viability, usefulness, social equity, and alternative uses of the train tracks and related services,” according to the agenda report written by the two councilmembers.
“In Del Mar, ‘no train’ is one of the options we believe the community needs to be thoroughly vetting, just as we are vetting options such as leaving the train tracks on the Del Mar bluffs, blasting a tunnel through the Del Mar hillside, or running the tracks along the I5 highway, all of which present very significant costs, concerns, conflicts, and risks to Del Mar residents and the broader community,” the agenda report continued.
The report presented by the two council members outlined social equity disparities between train users and non-users, as well as financial costs associated with different rail lines throughout San Diego County, including the potential costs of moving the Del Mar tracks to an underground tunnel.
Additionally, the report also emphasized the non-financial costs associated with trains in Del Mar including the trenches, barriers and fences that are planned for the Del Mar bluffs, arguing that these financial and non-financial costs are not justified considering the consistently declining ridership on these rail lines.
The remaining three council members, however, disagreed with the resolution and with the data presented in some capacity, with a couple of council members even saying that some of the numbers and arguments were exaggerated.
“It’s a little bit delusional to say that we’re doing the study just to study. There is an endgame on this and the endgame for Dan and Tracy seems to be ‘let’s eliminate the train, then all of our problems will be solved,’” Councilmember David Druker said. “You’ve created stats to make your arguments correct.”
Druker added that the city and the council will lose credibility and look “foolish” if they focus on getting rid of trains rather than the “real problem,” which is getting the train off of the bluffs.
Worden said he respects the opinions of Quirk and Martinez but does not agree with them bringing that perspective to the council asking them to endorse it as a policy.
“You tangled up this apparently innocuous request for information with a bunch of stuff about why it’s clear you’ve already reached a conclusion,” Worden said.
Councilmember Terry Gaasterland said she was hoping the resolution would be focused on new data and really understanding ridership.
“The resolution, the ‘be it resolved,’ is clear and simple and something I absolutely can support, but eight of the ‘Whereas,’ if they are deleted completely, I can support this,” Gaasterland said. “With some polishing and amendment, I can support this, but it would have to be in the spirit of what the resolution itself is in.”
The council heard two public comments on the issue, including one from Matthew Tucker, executive director for the North County Transit District (NCTD).
“This staff report indicates a lack of understanding regarding transportation system planning, operations and travel demand management,” Tucker said. “The Coaster was designed and developed to complement the Interstate-5 Corridor and provide congestion relief that voters overwhelmingly support in San Diego County.”
After a tense discussion, the council decided not to vote on the resolution, allowing Gaasterland to rework the resolution with Quirk and bring it back to the council.