Del Mar residents speak out against plan to move blufftop train tracks inland

A Surfliner train by Amtrak travels along the collapsing bluffs in Del Mar in 2019.
A Surfliner train by Amtrak travels along the collapsing bluffs in Del Mar in 2019.

(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A long procession of Del Mar residents voiced their opposition at a July 24 Del Mar City Council meeting to a plan by the San Diego Association of Governments for moving the blufftop train tracks inland.

One speaker said he wanted indemnification if the value of his home decreased.

Another speaker said the new rail line should be farther inland, where property values are lower than they are in Del Mar.

Many others wanted to know why a proposed alignment along Interstate-5 had fallen out of favor, while two others that cut more closely along the coast and through Del Mar are the frontrunners.

The council hosted two SANDAG representatives to help keep residents informed about the plan to move the tracks inland in the years ahead due to the risks of the eroding blufftop.

According to the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, the timeline extends about 12 more years. The current phase is public outreach, followed by the final design in 2026 and beginning construction in 2028. The new alignment is scheduled to be open to the public in 2035. Funding for the project includes $300 million from the state government.

A SANDAG study identified two top routes for further study: Camino Del Mar and Crest Canyon. Although most Del Mar residents at the meeting said they prefer another option that runs along I-5, and pressed council members and SANDAG officials at the meeting for more information about whether it could still work.

The freeway route did not make it into the top two options in part because it would be the most expensive, according to the SANDAG study, and Del Mar Councilmember Dan Quirk said he doesn’t think it will get any further consideration.

“We are screwed,” he said. “SANDAG is not going to move it to the I-5.”

Quirk continued, “They’re going to come back with some inside information. Basically it’s going to say it can’t go on the 5, we’re going to go through Del Mar, and we don’t care about Del Mar because they’re a relatively small city, really wealthy, we’ll stick it to them.”

Many of the other concerns that residents have, including impacts to the environment and to their homes, have not yet been studied by SANDAG because it’s early in the process. Environmental surveys will continue into 2024, along with environmental studies and preliminary engineering.

“All of these technical studies and environmental studies will help SANDAG identify what the potential impacts and potential mitigations are and help inform which of the alternatives get carried forward and ultimately selected,” said Danny Veeh, rail planning program manager for SANDAG. “That’s a long process.”

Del Mar resident Monica Meredith said during public comment that Del Mar “rules, guidelines and restrictions have served us very well, and one consequence of that is that our property values are among the highest in California, and actually the world.”

“How nice to live in a place where we get the benefit of that along with such a great lifestyle,” she said. “So why are we considering ripping Del Mar residents from their homes when there is a better place for a freight train?”

But the political reality, Del Mar City Councilmember Dwight Worden said, is that Del Mar will only have a small role in the process and limited decision making. The 19-member SANDAG Board of Directors, which has one representative from Del Mar, has most of the control.

“If you’re in Vista, if you’re in Chula Vista or you’re in Lemon Grove and you’re the SANDAG rep, you probably don’t care about all the stuff we’re talking about here tonight,” Worden said.

Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker said that the council will work with SANDAG to make sure “Del Mar is included every step of the way on this.”

“We want to make sure that your voices are going to be heard, and it’s extremely important to us that you are engaged and SANDAG take your comments extremely seriously,” Druker said. “What we want at the end of this process is for everyone to believe that the process was done correctly.”