By Kristina Houck
After the San Diego Association of Governments failed to respond to Del Mar’s initial letter outlining concerns about the double track rail improvement project, the City Council on April 7 decided to send a second letter to the planning organization.
“I’m disappointed that SANDAG did not respond to the first letter,” said Councilman Terry Sinnott. “I would support sending this letter and I would support having some one-on-one contact with the executive director and various folks at SANDAG to see if we can get some better commitment and, at least, better indication of where there’s some possibilities to mitigate some of these concerns.”
SANDAG is moving forward with plans to build a 1,000-foot special events train platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, double track a 1.1-mile stretch of the railway and replace a nearly 100-year-old bridge over the San Dieguito River.
The council directed staff to submit a letter to SANDAG to outline the city’s concerns about the project after hearing from several community members, as well as the San Dieguito Double Track Project Ad Hoc Committee, during the Nov. 4 council meeting.
Kathleen Garcia, Del Mar’s planning and community development director, noted SANDAG staff acknowledged receipt of the letter but they said it was “too early” for them to respond.
“Our concern is that the project moves forward without them [mitigations for impacts] being incorporated,” she said. “We are asking for some sort of commitment to including them,” she said.
At the Oct. 30 SANDAG open house and Nov. 4 council meeting, community members raised concerns about noise, vibration and visual impacts from the project. Many concerns centered on the proposed platform.
During the April 7 meeting, Deputy Mayor Al Corti recused himself from the council dais, but spoke before his colleagues as a resident of Del Mar.
“In general, when I read the report and I read the resolution, we’re sending a strong message … that we’re in favor of double tracking, we’re in favor of the platform, make some modifications … which I agree, if, in fact, this thing’s got to come,” said Corti, who owns two properties within 500 feet of the project area.
“I think the stronger message that we, as a city, should be sending to these people is that they’re doing the wrong thing. There’s really no benefit in it.”
The council formed the San Dieguito Double Track Project Ad Hoc Committee last year to gain a complete understanding of the project, identify issues and problems, and identify and prioritize mitigation measures.
Shortening the platform was one of the biggest sticking points of the committee.
“A platform of 1,000 feet is going to be a huge intrusion,” said Bill Michalsky, co-chair of the committee.
The new letter requests SANDAG commit on the location and design of the platform. It also requests the platform be cut to 750 feet.
Although he supported most of the letter, Councilman Don Mosier voted against the follow-up letter. He argued that the platform couldn’t be shortened, according to rules set by the Federal Railroad Administration, National Environmental Policy Act and California Public Utilities Commission.
“They have three layers of bureaucracy to work through, all which have to be passed to get funding for this project from the feds,” said Mosier, who represents Del Mar on the North County Transit District Board and the SANDAG Regional Planning Commission.
“For Del Mar to insist that this platform be shorter as their primary opening concern is nonproductive. It’s saying Del Mar says, ‘SANDAG and NCTD should ignore federal law, ignore state law and adhere to Del Mar’s wishes.’ I think that’s why you didn’t get a response from the first letter. You’re asking SANDAG and NCTD to do something they cannot possibly do.”
In addition to shortening the platform, the letter outlines additional ways SANDAG mitigate visual, noise and vibration impacts of the platform, double track and bridge replacement portions of the project.
“We’re happy to get cars off the road — but this is a big price,” Michalsky said. “There should be more pushback from our community to NCTD, to Amtrak, and especially SANDAG, to get them to realize that it’s not about not having it in our backyard, it’s just about how far into our backyard.”
For more information about the project, visit keepsandiegomoving.com.