By Kristina Houck
Although the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) intended to hold an open house, Del Mar residents turned the Oct. 30 event at the Powerhouse Community Center into a question and answer session.
SANDAG sought public input on plans to build a special events platform at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, double track a stretch of the railway and replace the bridge over the San Dieguito River via one-on-one questions and a comment box. But after SANDAG Chairman Jack Dale invited attendees to visit topic stations to talk with SANDAG representatives, engineers and consultants, a number of community members insisted on a more public approach.
“This is not a dialogue,” said Solana Beach resident Don Billings. “We need a public question and answer session. Let’s ask questions right now.”
The roughly $140 million project includes two miles of track improvements, including the addition of 1.7 miles of new double track. It also includes new double track bridge structures over the San Dieguito River to replace the current wooden trestle bridge built in 1916. The bridge could be raised up to 8 feet in some sections because it is currently in the flood zone.
Most concerns were with the proposed 1,000-foot special events rail platform and the impacts from lights, traffic, security and noise, especially from train horns and announcements.
“I’m concerned about the size of the platform,” said Bob Zizka, an eight-year resident of Del Mar. “It’s longer than the USS Midway.”
SANDAG representatives said the platform is intended for special events, but he argued it was designed to be fully functional, not seasonal.
“Ten-car passenger trains can carry 2,000 people,” he said. “That’s a lot of trash people will leave behind. That’s going to go into the lagoon. I don’t know who’s going to clean it.”
Although she understood the need for a new bridge and double tracking, Del Mar resident Betsy Winsett questioned the need for a platform. Holding SANDAG’s October 2013 project newsletter, she noted SANDAG cites 66 percent of fair attendees said they would likely use a train platform, but the agency only polled 367 people out of the 1.5 million fairgoers.
“The methodology of the research and the questionable size of the sample really make me wonder whether or not the money being spent on the platform is worth it,” said Winsett, a member of Del Mar’s San Dieguito Double Track Project ad hoc committee, which the City Council formed in January.
SANDAG initially held an informational meeting on Jan. 22. In addition to e-blasts, Project Manager Linda Culp noted the agency distributed two project newsletters to more than 4,000 residents and businesses along the project area.
“We want to coordinate this with any other projects the city has or the fairgrounds has,” said Culp prior to the impromptu question and answer session. “We want to be accessible to the community.”
Nevertheless, many of the roughly 50 attendees said their concerns weren’t being heard and addressed.
Del Mar resident Nancy Doyle said she was under the impression that “nothing was a done deal.” She also asked to know which special events would require use of the platform other than the fair and horse races.
“Maybe that was a misspeak, but the facts is — it is a done deal,” Doyle said.
Noting that details will be finalized in the future, Culp said the addition of the platform and the platform length is currently included in the designs.
The project is part of the Interstate 5 North Coast Corridor Program, a comprehensive package of highway, rail and transit, and coastal access improvements, which spans 27 miles from Oceanside to La Jolla. Although it is not yet funded for construction, it is expected to be completed before 2030.
An environmental assessment is expected to be available for public review in April 2014. A second open house will also be held at that time.
For more information about the project, visit keepsandiegomoving.com.