DEL MAR – The North County Transit District board voted Thursday to give the City of Del Mar until Feb. 28 to agree to a modified 4-foot-tall fence design on the Del Mar bluffs. If the city does not accept this agreement, the NCTD will proceed with a proposed 6-foot-tall fence design.
The city has just over a month to enter into a written agreement with the transit district and accept liability and maintenance responsibility for the modified fence design. This is likely the last time this deadline will be extended in hopes of reaching an agreement with Del Mar.
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.
The more than two-hour long discussion on Thursday was tense at times, with Del Mar Councilmember Terry Gaasterland and Board Chair Tony Kranz engaging in a few heated exchanges.
Ultimately, the NCTD board voted 7-1-1 in support of the motion, with Del Mar Councilmember Terry Gaasterland abstaining and Oceanside Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez not voting due to technical difficulties.
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 before the city would even consider agreeing to it.
“We’ve made it clear over and over what we need… we are ready and willing to work together with NCTD provided that these needs are met,” Gaasterland said.
Gaasterland also referenced the recent objections made by the California Coastal Commission regarding the fencing project, as well as a letter from the attorney general’s office dated Jan. 19 on behalf of the state commission to the NCTD board.
“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,” said Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jamee Patterson in the letter.
Patterson added that the project’s “lack of environmental review” is not in compliance with state law. She also called the project inconsistent due to its constantly changing versions of fence designs.
Lori Winfree, NCTD’s general counsel, argued that NCTD has the authority and the right-of-way to proceed with this project and doesn’t have to provide these elements if they don’t believe it is necessary.
“The environmental review that is being requested by the Coastal Commission and the City of Del Mar is not required for this project,” Winfree said. “The idea that NCTD is not being community sensitive or looking at alternative methods – I think the last 14 months shows that there has been quite an effort toward collaboration and community effort.”
County Supervisor Jim Desmond said during the meeting that it’s time to move forward with this project, as Del Mar and the Coastal Commission have had 14 months to come to an agreement with the NCTD, adding that safety has to be the priority.
“It’s apparent to me that NCTD has been working on good faith with Del Mar, the [Coastal Commission] and the [Surface Transportation Board] to try to come to an agreement and take into consideration that Del Mar is concerned with the fencing,” Desmond said. “Over these 14 months, there have been over 1,800 train incidents involving trespassers on the NCTD rail line, including one fatality.
The board received approximately 234 voicemails, 75 written public comments and several phone-in comments, nearly all of them opposed to the fencing project.