Commentary: Dastardly Decapitation

Our strategy for protecting the coastline needs reframing. We are defacing and armoring bluffs to protect the tracks. We are putting wider berms in lagoons to increase traffic on the tracks. We are digging giant ditches through towns to protect the tracks. We are depositing giant rocks on beaches to protect the tracks. Quite obviously our mission is to protect the tracks at any cost. Wrong! This is sassbackwards reasoning.


Our real mission should be to protect the natural resources of the coastline: the bluffs, the  lagoons, the beach communities, the beach. Tracks are man-made constructs that can be moved, replaced, removed. Mother Nature’s bluffs, beaches, and lagoons are irreplaceable. Once we deface them, we can’t go back.


Decades ago when I moved from the east Coast to California I was proud to cast my first vote for the Coastal Act which articulated a magnificent vision and mission to protect the entire California coastline, with easy access by all. That vote created the Coastal Commission whose job is to make that vision a reality with vigorous, diligent enforcement. Our bluffs, beaches, and lagoons are crying out for relief from megaton vehicles that promise to radically increase the stress on nature’s coastline from Dana Point through Del Mar. These are direct assaults on the very assets the Coastal Commission was created to protect.

A picture from the SANDAG presentation to City Council on September 20th showing a cross section of the track and adjoining bluffs near 9th Street, with the proposed removal of the top of the bluff indicated by the darker colored “grading option.” R/W stands for the NCTD right-of-way.

Del Mar is doing its part. We spend our tax money to acquire open space and create ocean front parks free for public enjoyment. We spend tax money to clean our beaches, to pay for a first rate lifeguard protection system for beachgoers, and to guarantee access for an annual influx of literally millions of visitors. Our City Council is united in demanding that the desecration of the bluffs be halted and the track relocation be put on the fast burner.

What we need is for the Coastal Commission to use its prestige and authority to jam a monkey wrench in the governmental machinery by declaring “no more, no way!” The Commission does not have rail operation and relocation authority but it does have a mission driven responsibility to protect the natural assets of the coastline. Coastal’s strong voice can force a sense of urgency on this crisis.

Bluff Top Decapitation – The top picture shows the view of the Del Mar Bluff from the beach opposite 9th Street as it exists today. The bottom picture shows the results of removing the top of the bluff as proposed in the SANDAG presentation to City Council on September 20th.

Where to move the tracks is another issue. When to move them is urgently now. Not only is Mother Nature being defaced, but the trains on the Del Mar bluff are perilously at risk of a bluff failure that puts passengers and pedestrians in mortal danger. My own preferred option is to relocate the tracks starting at Dana Point back to the logical I-5 right of way past the Peñasquitos Lagoon, using funds from freight industry, military, and infrastructure budgets amortized over twenty years.


But the urgency is NOW–we have kicked the can down the road for decades (I remember writing a column in 1986 urging relocation.) Led by an urgent demand from the Coastal Commission, we need government at all levels to act today.