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The comfort of 4,000 people in one of California’s wealthiest towns outweighs a rail project connecting San Diego to the country, residents say

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Del Mar is a small beach town on the southern California coast. It’s San Diego County’s smallest city with less than 4,000 people, but it’s affluent: The median household income of Del Mar is approximately $185,000, and the average home value is a whopping $3.6 million. And like many other wealthy neighborhoods, Del Mar’s residents care a bit too much about their property values. 

Recently, officials from the San Diego Association of Governments announced there were developments in a two-decade long project to take trains off the bluffs and onto a new route beneath residents’ homes, the San Diego Union Tribune reported

There is only one rail connection between San Diego, the rest of the state, and the entire country, and “the economy depends on this connection for both passenger and freight transport, but landslides, rapid erosion, and seismic activity have caused collapses along the Del Mar Bluffs,” the San Diego Association of Governments’ website reads

But, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, many residents are against the change. They’ve brought up all kinds of potential dangers and annoyances that could occur from the tunnels beneath their homes, from noise to toxic chemicals to vibrations to sinkholes—and of course, a hit to their property values. 

“The city is too small to lose houses to eminent domain at the tunnel openings,” a resident wrote in a letter to the City Council earlier this month, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. 

“Del Mar residents should not have to put up with the vibration and dangers of tunneling under their homes,” the resident said. “They should not have to worry about vibrations, toxic fumes and cargo, and potential tunnel failures.”

Claiming potential threats to the environment is a common NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) tactic. The California Environmental Quality Act is one that’s been weaponized to block development on several occasions. The environmental movement came along with a shift in the mindset of American homeowners, that a home could be a financial asset rather than simply a place to live, analysts and economists previously told Fortune

In November of last year, one resident told San Diego’s local CBS station that they “know the train tracks have to come off the bluff … but tunneling under Camino Del Mar, that would disrupt business and wreck all the revenue and shut the city down.”

The same resident continued: “People have worked hard to be in this tiny neighborhood. They don’t want their homes demolished by eminent domain.”

Apart from their objections, residents are calling for a route that wouldn’t be underneath their homes; they’ve proposed trains running across fairgrounds and along a major freeway. While it’s among the routes under consideration, officials say it would be more expensive, according to the San Diego Tribune

Meanwhile, a Del Mar Councilmember, Dan Quirk, seemed to be the only member against the project, calling it “dead-on-arrival,” the outlet reported. Still, the San Diego Association of Governments’ interim chief executive, Coleen Clementson said, “this project will happen,” and that the planning organization has a mandate from both the state and federal governments to get the tracks off the Del Mar Bluffs. In the summer of 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom even allocated $300 million of the state’s $308 billion budget to help move the train tracks.

An editorial from the Del Mar Times published a few years ago, titled, “The need to move train tracks off Del Mar bluffs was clear decades ago. We’re still waiting,” mentioned a train that was derailed back in 1940 on New Year’s Eve. The locomotive and eight freight fell off the bluff, and three workers died. The rails separated because an excessive amount of water eroded the bluff. 

Based on a preliminary timeline, they don’t even expect tracks to be moved off the bluffs until 2035, and it’s not clear whether that’s accounting for the time it’ll take to get residents on board or to bypass their opposition. Not to mention the cost of the tunnel is estimated to be roughly $4 billion, according to the San Diego Tribune—another premise of residents’ contention.

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