Commentary: Off the Rails

The City Council’s censure of Council member Dan Quirk on December 4, 2023 “for failing to provide proper disclosure and transparency in public communications and for inappropriate use of public resources” has apparently failed to deter or moderate Quirk’s unvarnished attacks on SANDAG and the rail realignment program, or even achieve the more modest goal of a disclosure by Quirk when his public comments represent only his own views, but not those of the City or the Council.


Indeed, the day following the censure, he sent out another message without a disclaimer. And after the City Council’s December 18 action by a 4-1 vote (Quirk abstaining) selecting Dave Druker as the Mayor for 2024, Quirk broadly distributed an email newsletter reiterating his attack on SANDAG for “corrupt behavior,” and he more than doubled down by calling the rail tunnel project “fraudulent” and noting that Councilmembers Gaasterland and Druker “live near the bluffs and would see significant personal gain by moving the tracks from their neighborhood to someone else’s neighborhood.” (Quirk did not point out that he also lives close to the tracks, and closer to a potential “portal” for a train tunnel.)

The City Council selects the 2024 Mayor (image from the official video of the Dec. 18, 2023 meeting).

With the Del Mar bluffs crumbling, and a costly ($78 million) SANDAG bluff stabilization project currently underway for train safety until the tracks can be relocated, it seems ludicrous to ascribe “credit” for SANDAG’s rail relocation project to the personal financial motives of two Del Mar councilmembers who live near the bluffs, but Quirk appears happy to make that insinuation.


Quirk also attacked the Council-adopted Guiding Principles regarding the realignment of tracks off the Del Mar bluffs, intended to ensure that the City communicates a consistent, Council-approved message to the public and all the stakeholders in the rail realignment project as to Del Mar’s position. From Quirk’s perspective, the Principles are simply “another official action by the four other council members to suppress free speech and differing viewpoints.”


Before the Council selected the Mayor for 2024 on Dec. 18, Quirk announced that he was “declining” to be selected, but it is not at all clear whether a Council majority was prepared to select him as Mayor in any event. Given the complexity of the bluff and train issues, and the reality that these issues are largely controlled beyond Del Mar’s borders, with rail realignment a SANDAG project and funding to come from a variety of regional, state and federal sources, the Council may have perceived that Del Mar will be better served by the selection of someone other than a gadfly whose approach is rooted in a sustained attack on SANDAG and NCTD and a fantasy of eliminating trains through Del Mar.


In any event, Quirk removed himself from consideration – whether to avoid an embarrassing loss, or to protect himself from being “forced to publicly support the fraudulent rail tunnel project at an official event or put my signature on the anti-democratic ‘guiding principles’ document because that is what a majority of the other council members believe,” as he stated in his emailed newsletter. With Councilmember Druker next in the queue per Council Policy 100, followed by Councilmember Gaasterland, the motion to select Druker as Mayor and Gaasterland as Deputy Mayor readily passed, with Quirk abstaining.


Quirk apparently has yet to gain allies among any of the local, regional or federal stakeholders in support of his quixotic train proposals. Nor has he even acknowledged the legal and political complexity of a process to discontinue train service through Del Mar, or to significantly re-route or reconfigure the LOSSAN corridor. Achieving gains on those fronts would be a first step in Quirk’s ability to shed his “gadfly” status. In the meantime, Quirk’s ability to influence even his own Council colleagues, much less the other government stakeholders on these key issues, is at an all-time low.