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Del Mar Bluffs 5: heavy sea wall, shrunken beach, but a trail on top

Will North County Transit insist on fence for bluff-top path?

Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years.
Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years.

A multi-phase project to armor the Del Mar bluffs has reached another crossroad. Today (June 8), a series of controversial repairs will be reviewed for approval by the California Coastal Commission.

Del Mar Bluffs 5, the next to last phase of work to protect the train which runs atop the landslide-prone bluffs, is expected to begin in early 2023.

The work, led by the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District, will add more soldier piles, improve drainage, and extend the sea wall by 2,000 feet along a 1.6-mile stretch between Coast Boulevard and Torrey Pines overhead bridge.

"We cannot overstate the impact of this project to Del Mar’s beaches and bluffs," reads a letter to the commission from Surfrider, which advocates for coastal access.

Shrinking beaches are already becoming a problem as sea rise devours tidelands normally accessible to the public.

The commission's report notes that their decision about this project "may impact the potential for coastal squeeze to occur." It will directly influence whether such public resources "can persist over time as sea levels rise."

The main threats to trackbed stability are stormwater runoff and groundwater, wave action and bluff retreat, and erosion, officials said.

While there is general agreement on the need to fortify the tracks until the trains can be moved off the bluffs - which the agency says may extend beyond the target date of 2035 – some of the measures are strongly opposed.

Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years. It will wipe out 49,566 square feet of public beach now used for coastal access and recreation.

"This is one of the most transformative projects to occur in Del Mar in decades," resident Mike Meyers told the city council on Monday, when SANDAG gave an update on the work.

The seawall extension is needed to prevent the toe from eroding and the slope from over steepening, said Allie Devaux, an engineer with the agency. She estimated that 300 concrete bases would remain at the bedrock level when the wall is finally removed.

As mitigation for lost beach, the agency has proposed a one-mile blufftop trail east of the tracks, a grade-level pedestrian crossing and a stairway to the beach.

City council members will be asking the commission for additional measures in the $68 million dollar project. Not only for Del Mar, but the entire San Diego community.

For instance, they want access at both 11th and 7th streets, but only one is proposed. Currently, the agency can't pinpoint the specific locations and designs of the access and recreation improvements.

An improved upper trail mentioned at 13th Street would be in someone's backyard, said council member Terry Gaasterland.

"That's what worries me about these conditional mitigations."

There is uncertainty about whether fencing would accompany the trail.

Another request is to make public beach access permanent, not just for 30 years.

According to a commission report, SANDAG is proposing to work with the city of Del Mar and North County Transit District to establish long-term maintenance agreements that cover the stabilization infrastructure, coastal access and recreation improvements.

While SANDAG said they are ready to accept the commission's conditions of approval, NCTD must speak for themselves.

The city has heard nothing from NCTD, mayor Dwight Worden said. The transit district has clashed with the city and Coastal Commission over its plans to fence the tracks to prevent trespassing. Like seawalls, the fence would pose another barrier to the beach.

"They're not here today. We don't know their position on all of this. It's important to get them on board so they're not an obstacle to getting these measures passed."

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Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years.
Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years.

A multi-phase project to armor the Del Mar bluffs has reached another crossroad. Today (June 8), a series of controversial repairs will be reviewed for approval by the California Coastal Commission.

Del Mar Bluffs 5, the next to last phase of work to protect the train which runs atop the landslide-prone bluffs, is expected to begin in early 2023.

The work, led by the San Diego Association of Governments and North County Transit District, will add more soldier piles, improve drainage, and extend the sea wall by 2,000 feet along a 1.6-mile stretch between Coast Boulevard and Torrey Pines overhead bridge.

"We cannot overstate the impact of this project to Del Mar’s beaches and bluffs," reads a letter to the commission from Surfrider, which advocates for coastal access.

Shrinking beaches are already becoming a problem as sea rise devours tidelands normally accessible to the public.

The commission's report notes that their decision about this project "may impact the potential for coastal squeeze to occur." It will directly influence whether such public resources "can persist over time as sea levels rise."

The main threats to trackbed stability are stormwater runoff and groundwater, wave action and bluff retreat, and erosion, officials said.

While there is general agreement on the need to fortify the tracks until the trains can be moved off the bluffs - which the agency says may extend beyond the target date of 2035 – some of the measures are strongly opposed.

Most reviled is the plan for half a mile of new seawall that will remain for 30 years. It will wipe out 49,566 square feet of public beach now used for coastal access and recreation.

"This is one of the most transformative projects to occur in Del Mar in decades," resident Mike Meyers told the city council on Monday, when SANDAG gave an update on the work.

The seawall extension is needed to prevent the toe from eroding and the slope from over steepening, said Allie Devaux, an engineer with the agency. She estimated that 300 concrete bases would remain at the bedrock level when the wall is finally removed.

As mitigation for lost beach, the agency has proposed a one-mile blufftop trail east of the tracks, a grade-level pedestrian crossing and a stairway to the beach.

City council members will be asking the commission for additional measures in the $68 million dollar project. Not only for Del Mar, but the entire San Diego community.

For instance, they want access at both 11th and 7th streets, but only one is proposed. Currently, the agency can't pinpoint the specific locations and designs of the access and recreation improvements.

An improved upper trail mentioned at 13th Street would be in someone's backyard, said council member Terry Gaasterland.

"That's what worries me about these conditional mitigations."

There is uncertainty about whether fencing would accompany the trail.

Another request is to make public beach access permanent, not just for 30 years.

According to a commission report, SANDAG is proposing to work with the city of Del Mar and North County Transit District to establish long-term maintenance agreements that cover the stabilization infrastructure, coastal access and recreation improvements.

While SANDAG said they are ready to accept the commission's conditions of approval, NCTD must speak for themselves.

The city has heard nothing from NCTD, mayor Dwight Worden said. The transit district has clashed with the city and Coastal Commission over its plans to fence the tracks to prevent trespassing. Like seawalls, the fence would pose another barrier to the beach.

"They're not here today. We don't know their position on all of this. It's important to get them on board so they're not an obstacle to getting these measures passed."

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