Coastal Commission makes it official: back off Del Mar fencing project along tracks

A Coaster train heads north along the bluffs in Del Mar in 2021.
A Coaster train heads north along the bluffs in Del Mar in 2021, where a 6-foot, chain-link fence is being proposed by the North County Transit District.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

North County Transit District says it doesn’t need state approval for safety project


The California Coastal Commission made it official this week with a cease-and-desist letter demanding that North County Transit District stop its efforts to erect a safety fence along the railroad tracks on the ocean bluff in Del Mar.

“The public’s right to coastal access is written into the state’s constitution and is part of the Coastal Commission’s founding mandate,” the commission’s Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said in an email Tuesday, March 8. “Public safety and public access to the coast are not mutually exclusive ... We should all be working together to come up with a comprehensive plan that provides for bluff stability, public access and public safety measures including sensitively designed fencing.”

NCTD worked with Del Mar elected officials and other local agencies for more than 16 months to create a shorter, more aesthetically pleasing fence, but the Del Mar City Council voted 3-2 Feb. 28 to reject the district’s proposal. The Coastal Commission sent the district a preliminary cease-and-desist letter last week.

NCTD officials have said from the beginning of the project that the district has the right and responsibility to build the barrier, and that it’s essential to stop trespassing and save lives. From June 2016 through June 2021, there have been six deaths and three serious injuries on the tracks in Del Mar.

“As you are aware, NCTD disagrees with the fundamental premise of your authority,” district Executive Director Matt Tucker said in a March 7 letter to Ainsworth.

“Specifically, the matter of obtaining a (coastal development permit) as a prerequisite to a rail project has been litigated and decided,” Tucker said. The 2002 decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board held that a development permit imposed by the city of Encinitas was not needed for an NCTD project needed to upgrade interstate commerce.

NCTD filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board in August 2020 requesting sole authority of the Del Mar bluffs project. So far, the federal agency has made no determination in that case.