On June 8, 2022, sitting in session at the Del Mar Hilton, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) voted unanimously to approve SANDAG’s $68 million Del Mar bluff stabilization project called “DMB5.” Important mitigation measures required by the approval include removal of the seawalls after 30 years or when the railroad tracks are relocated off the bluff, and improved public access, including at least one safe and legal track crossing at either 7th or 11th street, coupled with a safe and legal improved access down to the beach.
SANDAG and CCC staff advocated for approval; Surfrider Foundation supported the staff recommendation but proposed a number of specific modifications (many of which were accepted). Others testified in opposition, contending the project, especially its seawalls, would do irremediable damage to the Del Mar bluffs and beach. Many advocated for delay and further study. Councilmember Terry Gaasterland read a prepared statement on behalf of the City supporting Surfrider’s input and indicating the city has “serious concerns about the adverse effects of seawalls” that need to be addressed.
The CCC approved what was described as a three-legged stool, with each leg being necessary to keep the rail line safe until it can be relocated inland:
Based on over 100 pages of staff analysis and findings, the CCC agreed this system was necessary to keep the rail system safe until it can be relocated inland, which is SANDAG’s plan by 2035. The CCC concluded the three project components provided for the shortest length of seawalls and was the least environmentally damaging option available.
Commission executive director Jack Ainsworth stated: “The engineering elements all act in concert, you can’t just pull one out. Waiting to install seawalls at another time would simply be dangerous and irresponsible…” He described the project as a “vast improvement over previous proposals.”
NCTD registered its objection to the project alleging that federal preemption law prohibits the Coastal Commission from acting.
Mitigation Requirements: Recognizing that seawalls are never favored, but are temporarily necessary in this unique situation, the CCC imposed mitigation requirements to address damage that will be caused by the temporary seawalls. With this mitigation, the Commission found DMB5 consistent with the Coastal Act:
What From Here? The next step will be for the SANDAG Board of Directors to review the Coastal Commission’s action and prepare a construction contract for SANDAG Board approval. Then the project can start. Construction is expected to last for approx. 3 years. Community outreach and design of the access improvements will start this fall when the in-process Coastal Access Study will be completed. Surfrider, the City, and others continue to advocate for access at both 7th and 11th Streets, and they want a say on the details of the paths and crossings, so expect them to stay engaged.