By Karen Billing
The newly formed Neighbors for a Transit Solution (NCTD) is fighting a proposed North County Transit District temporary train platform stop between 21st and 24th streets in the Del Mar beach colony.
A circulating petition is gathering steam, with 200 neighbors already signed on in opposition to the stop, which NCTD sees as servicing the seasonal needs of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. As there have been rumblings of the project and not much solid information given, Neighbors for a Transit Solution organized a meeting at a private home on Oct. 14.
More than 50 residents attended the meeting, where they asked questions of North County Transit District representatives and Del Mar City councilmembers Marc Filanc and Carl Hilliard. The message from the NCTD and city was that the project is still in its beginning stages, despite reports that the council wanted to see the temporary platform built before the start of the fair season in 2011.
Filanc said the goal is to find out what the residents do or don't want in their backyard and if anything can be done to make the platform more "palatable."
"Anybody can contact us," said Councilmember Hilliard, who also sits on the board of directors at NCTD. "Our objective is to come out to the community, get as much input as we can and see what mitigation can be done if this goes forward and see what we can do to solve this problem. We want to hear your issues, find solutions and come together like Del Mar does and spend the time necessary to have everybody's opinion heard. We will meet as much as is needed and thrash out all the issues."
By show of hands, not one of the residents in attendance was in favor of the temporary train platform. Residents said the word "temporary" is a misnomer, as the permanent solution is so far out. Many were opposed to placing this kind of stop in a residential neighborhood.
"I can't believe there aren't other, better alternatives," said beach colony resident Barbara Johansen. "Why can't you maintain our security and welfare in this neighborhood?"
North County Transit District officials look at the platform as temporary and seasonal - it will service about 22 trains a day during the racetrack and fair seasons, June through September. The drive for this project is to increase ridership of the trains, take cars off the road and help achieve regional goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, trains stop in Solana Beach and riders are taken by BREEZE shuttle buses to the fairgrounds.
"If we provide better and more direct access to the fairgrounds, more attendees will take the train to avoid congestion," said Matt Tucker, executive director of NCTD.
The platform is part of a bigger, $80 million project to double-track the rail through Del Mar and raise the bridge out of the flood plain. This could involve moving the tracks closer to the Interstate 5 freeway or possibly tunneling. NCTD officials have stated they will not put a platform stop on a single track, which eliminates the option for a stop directly at the fairgrounds.
Currently, there are two platforms on single tracks in the area, in Carlsbad and Encinitas but Tucker said it is not an ideal situation. Without stopping directly at the fairgrounds, that leaves the further south alternative of a temporary platform between 21st and 24th. While no plans have been designed yet, NCTD chief engineer Justin Fornelli said the average platform is about 700 feet long and 12 feet wide. There is no funding for the $80 million but the $4-6 million temporary project could be achieved, Tucker said.
Tucker said there is no schedule to move this project forward yet and they will have to go through "significant" public feedback. He said NCTD recognizes that should the proposed project go through they will have to mitigate the impact to the community. "There's no such thing as an easy, perfect project," said Tucker.
Opponents of the project argued that this particular idea is far from perfect. The-some 60 neighbors in attendance overall expressed opinions that a train platform, temporary or otherwise will not work in a residential area. They expressed concerns about the impacts of light and noise, train dwelling time as well as indirect impacts such as diminished property values, trash and more people illegally crossing the tracks.
Several people also found the platform in that location serving the fairgrounds to be impractical, "dumping people off where there is nowhere to go." The temporary site is about 4,000 feet away from the fairgrounds, about three quarters of a mile.
"No one is going to walk that," attendees murmured, considering how many women wear heels and worrying about people with disabilities.
"I don't know anyone who will walk almost a mile dressed like they do and even falling out of it," remarked Barbara Harper.
Some wondered if the distance to the fairgrounds would mean rickshaws and pedicab bicycles will be attracted to the area to help move people. Betsy Winsett, who said she lives at "ground zero" for this project, said she compared the bus schedules on the fairground website which showed the first buses leaving to the grounds from the Solana Beach station at 9:35 a.m. and the last leaving the fairgrounds at 12:12 a.m.
She asked if this meant a similar schedule would be run in Del Mar, with people walking noisily through her neighborhood to catch a late train. Tucker said that the schedules on the fair website were inaccurate and they would have to look at those issues in a detailed study. Winsett said she didn't think it would make sense to take people to the fair if they could not stay until the end to catch a train home.
One big issue that concerns neighbors is that the seasonal solution won't bring people to the fairgrounds at all - Jeff Weitzen said it could become the "beach train" and people will use it as a ride to the Del Mar beach. Neighbor Scott Crouch said the impact of the beach train could be "catastrophic."
"It'll be a mess over here," Crouch said. "A train stop to Del Mar beach all summer long? It'll be awful."
The Neighbors for a Transit Solution have just started a website with information on the project and invite comments that will be passed on to the DelMar City Council and NCTD. For more information, visit