Del Mar council receives bluff stabilization update

A Coaster commuter train crosses the eroding bluffs in Del Mar.
A Coaster commuter train crosses the eroding bluffs in Del Mar.

The Del Mar City Council received an update from the San Diego Association of Governments on Dec. 7 about Bluff Stabilization Project 5.

SANDAG Senior Engineer Allie DeVaux said the upgrades would improve bluff stability “until a long-term solution is in place,” referring to tentative plans to move the tracks to an inland tunnel.

Objectives of the project include protection from erosion, drainage upgrades and protection from “seismic events” that could cause the bluffs to break.

SANDAG recently completed construction of Phase 4, which took place from May 2020 to January 2021, and included additional support columns, drainage on top of the bluffs, repair of concrete channels and storm drain outfalls, and stabilization of existing headwalls, according to SANDAG’s website.

The four stabilization projects completed so far by SANDAG and North County Transit District along the bluffs between Coast Boulevard and Torrey Pines State Beach since 2003 have included more than 230 support columns into the bluffs and drainage infrastructure improvements.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said she was concerned that the upgrades would inhibit beach access during high tide, when only a small portion of beach is walkable.

“We’re going to go from that to not being able to do that,” she said.

Public speakers also raised concerns about bluff stability, particularly as it relates to a proposed project by NCTD that would put fencing along the rail on the bluff.

“It’s not my project, it’s NCTD’s project,” said Bruce Smith, SANDAG principal engineer, in response to a question from Gaasterland about the impacts of the fencing on bluff stability. “Allie and I are here to stabilize the bluffs, keep it safe for trains to run.”

“This is heartbreaking that we have to do this at all,” Del Mar Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden said, “but we are where we are and therefore we should do the minimum that’s necessary, and we should design that minimum to be removed when the tracks relocate, so we suffer interim damages and inconvenience but it’s not long term.”

City Councilman Dan Quirk, who has been advocating against investments in rail, said, “We are engaged in so many projects, so much spending of money … for a train, in various services that are incredibly low-serving.”

“It’s remarkable how much we are doing for so little,” he said.