By Kristina Houck
The San Diego Association of Governments is moving forward with plans to build a special events platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, double track a stretch of the railway and replace the bridge over the San Dieguito River, but many Del Mar residents have concerns.
SANDAG Project Manager Linda Culp gave an overview of the multi-million dollar project to the City Council on Nov. 4, which was followed by a presentation from the San Dieguito Double Track Project ad hoc committee.
After listening to both presentations and hearing from several community members, the council decided to send a letter to SANDAG to outline the city’s concerns. Councilman Al Corti recused himself from both presentations because he lives within 500 feet from the project area.
“I think that they’re sincere in listening to our community’s concerns,” said Councilwoman Sherryl Parks, who serves as a council liaison to the ad hoc committee, along with Deputy Mayor Lee Haydu. “I think that Del Mar deserves to be heard because this will have a substantial change of life for those who live around that area.”
The project includes new double track bridge structures over the San Dieguito River to replace the current wooden trestle bridge built in 1916. The bridge could be raised up to 8 feet in some sections because it is currently in the flood zone. In addition, the project includes a 1,000-foot special events rail platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and two miles of track improvements, including the addition of 1.7 miles of new double track.
SANDAG held an informational meeting on Jan. 22 and an open house on Oct. 30 to discuss and answer questions about the project. In addition to e-blasts, Culp noted SANDAG distributed two project newsletters to more than 4,000 residents and businesses along the project area.
Still, some community members don’t feel that their concerns are being heard.
“Many of us feel that the fate of this project was predetermined before we got here,” said Bill Michalsky, who co-chairs the ad hoc committee with Nancy Fisher.
“The worst-case scenario for taxpayers is we fund a project that is totally unnecessary,” said Betsy Winsett, an ad hoc committee member. “The worst-case scenario for us in Del Mar and neighboring communities is that we have a rarely-used platform degrading the beauty of our environment and the quality of life for many years to come.”
The council formed the committee in January to gain a complete understanding of the project, identify issues and problems, and identify and prioritize mitigation measures.
Michalsky said the committee requested ridership data from SANDAG, but they never received the information. To offer and support better solutions, he said committee members need this information. They also need to know which special events would require use of the platform, he added.
On behalf of the committee, Michalsky said members have concerns about noise and visual impacts from the double tracking and bridge, but most concerns are with the proposed platform and the impacts from lights, traffic, security and noise, especially from train horns and announcements.
“The train tracks are there and the trestles are there. Changes to those aren’t as impactful, perhaps, because the elevation is going to happen,” Michalsky said. “But this platform is something that doesn’t exist in the community today, and it doesn’t serve our community. It serves visitors. That’s not a bad thing, but we believe it can be taken down a size.”
To share the city’s concerns and possibly reduce any negative impacts, city staff, committee members and council liaisons will draft a letter and submit it to SANDAG this month.
“I really am proud of the community for digging into this, figuring out what are going to be the problems,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “I appreciate the work so far, but we’ve got more work to do. We’ve got to really work with SANDAG to try to get some of these mitigations.”
With the project still in an early design stage, SANDAG is currently working on a number of technical studies to support an environmental assessment, which is expected to be available for public review in April 2014. A second open house will also be held at that time.
For more information about the project, visit keepsandiegomoving.com.