Bluffing Bad

I served on the Design Review Board for 6 years (2002-2008), and I soon recognized the common developer gambit of proposing a project twice as big as necessary and then “compromising” on a project half as huge but still large. As I watched the October 18th City Council meeting hear the “downsized” fence project presentation from North County Transit District (NCTD), I had the same reaction. The original proposal of a 6-foot high, chain-link fence on both sides of the track was reduced to a similar fence only on the east side and closer to the track. There were also some 42-inch-high cable fences at various points along the upper bluff to the east of the tracks. Click here to view the NCTD project presentation.


The NCTD proposal met with overwhelming rejection by the citizens (125 pages of comments by citizens opposing the plan) and the City Council. It is up to a staff committee with representatives from Del Mar, NCTD and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) to come up with a solution before the end of this year. If not, the NCTD petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board could be approved and all local control of the project could be lost.


The City Council also approved a letter to be sent to SANDAG expressing concerns about the concurrent bluff stabilization project 5 presented to council at the September 20th meeting. Click here to view the October 19th letter. The letter expressed grave concerns about the reconfiguring of the bluffs and the extensive seawall construction, and citizen comments reflected how unique and beautiful the Del Mar bluffs are and how important it is to preserve them (see Commentary in this issue by Bud Emerson). Here are some of the suggested modifications discussed by the council:


Fencing: Fencing should be limited to the area by Coast Blvd. where the majority of accidents and risks occur. The rest of the right of way should be left unfenced and as is, with better signage and improved enforcement to deter unsafe activity.


Bluff Stabilization: Current plans (the draft 2021 Regional Transportation Plan) call for relocating the rails off the bluff to an inland tunnel in 14 years. However, current plans for interim bluff stabilization are designed for a 30-50-year horizon. Any interim stabilization should be the minimum required to assure stability for 14 years, preserving as much of the natural beach and bluff as possible. Seawalls, if necessary, should be designed to be removed and the beach restored to its original condition when the rails relocate. Removal of the top layer of the bluff (the so called “decapitation”) should be eliminated in favor of alternate strategies; grading and recontouring of the natural bluffs should be eliminated.


Mitigation should be included for all the interim repairs:

  • Safe and legal access across the tracks should be included as part of the project.
  • Sand replenishment should be required to offset the impacts of any seawalls.
  • Those aspects of interim repairs that can be removed should be removed when the rails relocate, including seawalls, and the area should be returned to its natural condition.
  • These mitigation measures should be funded and included in the project up front.

In the end, Del Mar does not have the control over these projects that we wish we did. NCTD does not need Del Mar’s approval or permits to put a fence in its right of way. SANDAG doesn’t either for its projects, except to the extent where there are small portions on city property. Even the Coastal Commission’s purview is in doubt depending on the outcome of the Surface Transportation Board petition.

Click to read the October 19, 2021 letter from the City to SANDAG
Click to view the October 5, 2021 SANDAG presentation to the City Council