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Del Mar residents, officials sound off against NCTD’s bluff fencing plan

DEL MAR — During last night’s virtual council meeting, Del Mar residents and elected officials made it clear they have no desire for a regional transit agency to install protective fencing along the city’s coastal bluffs.

North County Transit District (NCTD) had previously proposed 12,960 feet of six-foot-high, chain-link “fall protection” fencing along the upper and lower portions of the coastal bluffs in Del Mar.

But after hearing legal and environmental concerns from city officials and many residents, the agency presented a modified plan on Oct. 18 to the Del Mar City Council, proposing just under 7,000 feet of fencing at varying heights (ranging from 4 to 6 feet in height) along the bluffs.

The district said it made modifications to “minimize visual impacts” while also maintaining the safety benefits it claims make partitions necessary.

A group of residents, along with Mayor Terry Gaasterland, recently signed and submitted a petition to the California Coastal Commission asking them to help protect the bluffs from NCTD’s fencing plans.

Shirli Weiss, a Del Mar resident and co-author of the petition, says the California Coastal Commission, which hasn’t responded to the petition, has not done enough in the process.

“At the end of the day, the Coastal Commission has to approve a settlement agreement,” Weiss told The Coast News. “And so we don’t think they’re sufficiently engaged so that’s why we wrote the petition. I don’t expect them to write back to us but I do expect them to scrutinize a lot more heavily the proposal that is made to them. And that’s the most we can ask for since we’re not at the table.”

The residents argue the installation of fencing will require drilling holes into already fragile bluffs that will further destabilize the cliffs.

But NCTD said its studies, conducted by a state-licensed geologist and engineer, have found no reason to think the fences will contribute to further bluff destabilization.

“NCTD had a review performed by both a California state licensed engineer and a California state-licensed geologist who concluded the fencing will not impact the bluff or the trackbed stability and will not promote any additional erosion,” said Tracey Foster, chief development officer at NCTD.

The transit district said the fencing is necessary for the safety of residents who walk along the bluffs. But residents argue no one has fallen from the upper bluffs. Furthermore, they said NCTD has no right to erect fencing in an area far removed from the railroad tracks.

“NCTD does not have a legal right to erect a fence on the upper bluff and to do so is trespassing on their part,” Weiss said. “The right of way here is limited to maintenance and operation of the railway, that’s all.”

Gaasterland asked NCTD representatives several times during their presentation about the specific reasons the transit district wished to erect “fall protection” fencing along the upper bluff but no firm answer was given.

Councilmember Dan Quirk, who is also the council’s representative for NCTD, said this fight has repercussions beyond the city of Del Mar.

“I think it’s critical for all of us in Del Mar to understand that our fight against this fence is Leucadia’s fight, it’s Carlsbad’s fight, it’s San Clemente’s fight,” Quirk said. “Only by working together can we defeat the many terrible proposals that the transportations agencies are proposing. Starting with this awful fence in Del Mar.”