Del Mar City Council says 'No' to fencing around the bluffs

The Del Mar City Council agreed Nov. 19 to oppose the North County Transit District's (NCTD) proposal for fencing along the Del Mar Bluffs.

The NCTD has recommended fencing along the train tracks in Oceanside, Encinitas and Del Mar due to high trespassing activity and to protect the bluff habitat and erosion of the bluffs. Del Mar's portion would include the Del Mar Bluffs from Sea Grove Park south to the Torrey Pines Bridge.

Del Mar City staff has expressed concerns that such fencing would prohibit community access to the bluffs and beach. They also argued that if the fencing is placed without careful planning or consultation, that could make the railroad right-of-way less safe by encouraging vandalism or could endanger those caught on the inside of the fence when a train passes by.

The city council unanimously agreed — with Council member Sherryl Parks absent — that options other than fencing should be explored.

Clem Brown, the city's Environmental Sustainability/Special Projects Manager, said NCTD is committed to working with the city on any safety improvements in the rail corridor and they do not have an immediate need to install fencing in Del Mar. NCTD also plans to hire a consultant regarding safety and will consider all options, including fencing and increased signage, Brown said. That safety study is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Mayor Dwight Worden said he was relieved NCTD has moved from fencing to a feasibility study, but it's not the end of the city's mission. He said the city needs to be actively engaged in finding the consultant, ensuring all options are explored, and make sure the study is done in a "robust, scientifically sound and professional manner."

Council member Terry Sinnott said the number of trains is projected to increase significantly in the next two decades and the city should prioritize measures for that.

He said because of this, the city can't rely on a single track segment across an "unstable bluff that is eroding more rapidly than ever."

"From a transportation standpoint, we need to begin working right now to solve that problem," he said. "We can't move the tracks immediately but we should be moving the tracks eventually."

Council member Dave Druker said the city should also keep an eye on the study and possibly hire a consultant of its own.

"We need to be very vigilant in terms with how this consultant is going to work with us and whether or not we may need to engage somebody also that has some expertise," he said. "This is a very tricky and delicate problem that we have in front of us."

He also noted parts of the bluffs are owned by the city and state, not just NCTD.

"There's a huge wealth of land there that's not in the right-of-way, and we need to have continued access to that," he said. "Fencing just doesn't allow that in some ways."

Residents at the meeting, and those who also submitted notes to the city, also shared concerns of the fencing limiting access to beach; impairing lifeguard and rescue activities; and affecting visual impacts and safety. Others also brought up the recent fires in California and said the beach could be a spot for refuge should such an emergency occur in Del Mar.

More than 2,000 residents signed a petition against fencing, one speaker noted.

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