The transit district held a second party three days after Christmas, inviting VIPs to board two cars in Oceanside for a trip to Escondido. Less than an hour went by before the train whooshed through a banner arrayed across the tracks in downtown Escondido. The district said the line was set to carry paying customers — $2 one way and $4 for a pass to ride the entire day — on January 13.
The celebration was short-lived. On December 31, based on the inspections that had begun in October, the water quality board slapped the transit district with an order to clean up its mess. The order gave the district a month to show how it would stop the “existing and threatened pollution” from “unauthorized discharges” of sediment along the Sprinter right-of-way and from the project’s construction staging areas.
“I strongly urge a prompt and complete response…,” Michael P. McCann, assistant executive officer for the regional board, wrote Karen King, the transit district’s executive director. “Failure to meet these deadlines may subject you to further enforcement actions,” among them referral to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.
The board could also levy fines of $5000 per violation per day, McCann wrote, or seek an injunction against the district through the State Attorney General’s Office.
Around the same time, citing mounting frustration, Oceanside mayor Jim Wood resigned from the North County Transit District board. Fellow members of the nine-person board included city councilmen from the other cities along the line, San Marcos, Vista, and Escondido.
“I’ve had a lot of difficulties dealing with the North County Transit District,” the mayor explained in a phone interview. “I was really frustrated with them, frustrated to the point of yelling. Maybe in their rush to start up, they overlooked the issues.”
Mayor Wood and other Oceanside officials met with Industry Street business owners to discuss the flooding situation on Friday, January 4, amid forecasts of heavy weekend rains. The businesspeople blamed the flooding on the North County Transit District. They said that sediment deposited in the creek had cut the creek’s capacity about in half. Raising the rail bed to keep the creek from flooding the tracks had also caused heavy rains to pour onto their properties.
The City supplied the businesses with sandbags, but they were no match for that first major storm of the year. By Monday morning, water from the overflowing creek had risen more than two feet on some properties and deposited two and a half inches of mud and debris in parking lots.
Though Mission Linen Supply blockaded its office doors with 900 sandbags, the building flooded as much as 8 inches. Outside, the water rose in some places to 27 inches. It climbed over a 6-inch curb, painted yellow for caution, that separated an electrical transformer from a walkway. The transformer and several air compressors short-circuited. When the crew showed up for work at five on Monday morning, general manager Greg Rogers sent them home and shut down operations. “I’m not going to put my employees in harm’s way,” he said.
The mayor said he had never seen such flooding in that area; he said that the transit district kept denying it was “their issue and concern.”
A few hours later that Monday morning, the transit district started working on the track in Oceanside to prevent the creek from eroding the rail bed. By the following Saturday, the district had begun dredging the creek to increase its capacity. Some 1400 cubic yards of material were trucked off to the landfill. The work continued on January 13, scuttling the latest announced target for the Sprinter’s opening day.
District officials then set a new start date of January 27, though this time with a disclaimer. The Sprinter still needed to pass a safety inspection by the state Public Utilities Commission, which had a checklist of some 5000 items.
On January 25, that target date was moved up to March 9. Among the reasons: the doors of the train did not line up with the platform on the eastbound side at the Vista station. The platform was too far away from the track. To correct it would require removing, redesigning, and rebuilding the entire platform.
On January 26 and 27, it rained again, and the dredging seemed to have worked. This time, there was no appreciable flooding along Industry Street. District spokesman Tom Kelleher said the situation would improve even more when the City of Oceanside installed runoff basins to capture rainfall that might otherwise cause Loma Alta Creek again to overflow its banks. When that would be was unclear.
On January 31, the transit district responded to the violations found by water quality inspectors in October and November. In a report, the district said it had hired a consultant with experience in pollution remediation, the firm of Whitson Contracting and Management, to manage storm water compliance efforts.
Don Bullock, transit district manager of capital projects and construction, pledged that the district would install and maintain systems at Sprinter stations, staging areas, and storage yards “such that all discharges are minimized and/or contained.” Measures to control discharges would be in place at the “majority” of sites by March 1 and along the entire line by May 1.
Bullock also attested that the report and an abatement plan that went along with it, based on his “inquiry of the person or persons who manage the system or those persons directly responsible for gathering the information,” were “true, accurate, and complete.” He added, “I am aware that there are significant penalties for submitting false information, including the possibility of fine and imprisonment for knowing violation.”