Del Mar to ask Coastal Commission to delay bluff stabilization projects
Council sees negative effects from seawalls, proposed trail
Del Mar wants the California Coastal Commission to slow down plans to install more than 2,500 feet of new seawalls, concrete-and-steel soldier piles, drainage ditches, a trail, pedestrian crossings and more along the 1.6 miles of train tracks on the fragile seaside bluffs.
The Del Mar City Council agreed Monday, June 6, to send a representative to speak at Wednesday’s Coastal Commission meeting, where the San Diego Association of Governments will present the latest version of its plan to armor the crumbling cliffs.
“The one ask we can make is that they give us more time,” said Councilmember Terry Gaasterland.
“We all have the same goal ... a high quality bluff, and to reinforce the tracks enough for the train not to fall into the ocean,” she said, but she suggested the seawalls could be built in stages as needed to reduce the effects on the environment and the community.
“We have grave concerns about the effects of extensive seawalls on the Del Mar beach below the bluff,” Gaasterland said.
Seawalls reduce recreational opportunities and accelerate beach erosion, studies show. The Coastal Commission generally opposes construction of any hard or permanent structures on the beach, but it makes exceptions to protect facilities such as the railroad, which is vital to the interstate transportation of passengers and freight.
Other council members agreed that the city needs to state its position to the commission. Together they decided to work with city staffers to finalize a statement Tuesday, June 7, for Gaasterland to read at Wednesday’s meeting.
Councilmember Dave Druker asked to be excused from the bluffs discussion because he said at least one council member may have violated the Brown Act by discussing the issue before the meeting. He declined to say who, and Mayor Dwight Worden said the council will discuss Brown Act issues at a future meeting.
SANDAG, the county’s regional planning agency, has overseen a series of construction projects to stabilize the bluffs underway since 1996. Wednesday it will present plans to the Coastal Commission for a fifth phase of the work, designed to keep the railroad tracks safe where they are, probably for 30 years or longer, until a new inland route can be built.
The new phase includes a recently added proposal for three pedestrian access projects that would meet a Coastal Commission request to mitigate the environmental effects of the seawalls and other stabilization work.
Conceptual plans are underway for a mile-long trail along the upper bluff above the tracks between Seagrove Park and Fourth Street, a pedestrian rail crossing near the end of 7th or 11th street, and a ramp or stairs connecting the trail to the beach somewhere between Seventh and 11th streets, SANDAG Senior Engineer Allie DeVaux told the City Council.
More details on the proposed mitigation will be presented to the council as plans progress in the months ahead, DeVaux said.
Last week, North County Transit District Executive Director Matt Tucker expressed opposition to the mitigation projects, saying they would add time and expense to the stabilization work. No one from the district spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Del Mar council members also questioned the proposed mitigation.
Two pedestrian crossings should be built, not just one, Gaasterland said. Also, she said, as proposed, the trail route could go through the backyards of some residents who lease right-of-way from the railroad.
In all, the fifth phase of bluff stabilization work will cost about $68 million, SANDAG officials said.
Construction bids will be sought this fall if the Coastal Commission and the SANDAG board approve the plans, said SANDAG Principal Engineer Bruce Smith. Construction could begin in late 2023 and be completed in 2026.
About 10 Del Mar residents spoke at Monday’s meeting to oppose the bluff stabilization project.
A better solution would be to slow down the trains and reduce their frequency, said resident John K. Stahl, who spoke to the council on a zoom call.
SANDAG’s plans are just the opposite. It intends to speed up trains and increase frequency to add more freight, better serve commuters and reduce the vehicle congestion on Interstate 5.
“The Coaster train has little value to anyone who lives in Del Mar,” Stahl said. He added that while San Diego County has 3 million residents, Del Mar has only a little more than 4,000.
Camilla Rang, another Del Mar resident who frequently speaks for bluff preservation, said SANDAG should not install seawalls, only pilings, which she called “the lesser of two evils.”
“We have to defend the beach and all its little creatures,” Rang said.
Worden, the mayor, said he supports the stabilization project overall, though it could be improved by changes such as phasing in the seawalls and creating two beach access points instead of one.
He also suggested SANDAG create an endowment fund to maintain the beach access trails after the seawalls’ 30-year design life ends. The Coastal Commission requires the seawalls to eventually be removed, but the beach access should be maintained after that, Worden said.
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