CALIFORNIA ALBUM : When Turf No Longer Meets Surf : Del Mar is feeling the pain of change. First, Amtrak sidelined the town's historic station. Now, a long-ignored law banning access to the beach via railroad property is being enforced.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The price of progress is being paid by this beach community with its spreading shade trees, fashionable shops and reputation for gracious living. And the locals of Del Mar do not like it.

The unlikely agent of unwelcome change is the Coaster, the commuter train between Oceanside and San Diego that made its long-awaited debut two weeks ago, and left Del Mar without train service.

"Del Mar was just fine before this thing, this Coast or Coaster or whatever the hell they call it," said Del Mar beach enthusiast Jim Manna. "Why can't Del Mar be left alone?"

"There is a lot of anger these days in Del Mar," said former Del Mar Mayor Ronnie Delaney.

Even Del Mar Councilman Ed Colbert, who is board chairman of the regional transit agency that runs the Coaster, concedes sadly, "The Coaster is being greeted with mixed emotions in Del Mar."

The sleek train all outfitted in blue, white and teal is being hailed elsewhere as a much-needed and less stressful alternative to the commute crawl along Interstate 5. But in Del Mar, the train is being cursed for ruining some of the tiny town's most cherished traditions.

First, because of the Coaster, Amtrak discontinued service to Del Mar's historic 90-year-old railroad depot, the same station where the Hollywood set would disembark for the Del Mar racetrack and the good-times Del Mar Inn when the city was in its heyday as a resort in the '30s, '40s and early '50s.

As a result, no trains stop in Del Mar anymore, not the new Coaster and not the venerable San Diegan, the Amtrak train that has long offered service between San Diego and Los Angeles. Both the Coaster and the San Diegan stop instead in Solana Beach, which is a world away from Del Mar even if the distance as measured on California 101 is a mere two miles.

The Del Mar station where Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien, who helped found the racetrack, would greet the likes of Bette Davis, Betty Grable, W.C. Fields, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton, George Jessel, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and others has been all but closed.

A lone Amtrak employee still sells tickets for the San Diegan, but when the Solana Beach station is completed, she, too, will be gone.

The Del Mar City Council, in a game of chicken with Amtrak, had refused to allow expansion to accommodate Coaster passengers who would have come from several communities to catch the train in Del Mar. The local hope had been that Del Mar could rebuff the Coaster project but still retain the Amtrak station.

That hope was dashed when Solana Beach, less fussy about such things as 650-space parking lots, made an offer that Amtrak and Coaster officials could not refuse. Despite its ocean view, landmark status and charming red-brick exterior, the Del Mar station was expendable.

"Typical Del Mar isolationism," grumbled Del Mar resident Gary Jacobs, who is forced to catch an Amtrak train or the Coaster in Solana Beach.

With the loss of the railroad station, nearby business owners are complaining about a drop in business.

Commuters no longer stop for a latte at Kirby's Cafe or a Del Mar omelet (Cheddar cheese, bacon and avocado, with a home-baked biscuit on the side) at Carlos & Annie's. One estimate is that merchants will lose upward of $7 million, and the city, the smallest (population 4,800) in San Diego County, will see a drop in sales tax revenue from businesses within walking distance of the station.

"Everybody, without exception, is very upset about it (the loss of the station)," said Kirby's owner and civic activist Paul Frankel. "People are completely disgusted about how Del Mar could be so foolish to let it happen, so narrow-minded."

To add further civic insult, Coaster officials have hired a five-person squad from the Sheriff's Department to enforce an all-but-forgotten law from the 19th Century making it illegal to cross the railroad tracks or venture onto railroad property except at a designated crossing.

The fine will be a minimum of $140, a hefty charge for even the most affluent recreationalist. This threatens to put a sizable crimp in the lifestyle of Del Mar's many surfers, walkers and joggers who love to cross and straddle the tracks that run along the bluffs atop one of Southern California's widest, whitest and cleanest beaches.

"To me, this whole thing is a crock," said Denise Weatherwax, a free-lance technical editor who likes to walk her dog, Cookie, along a well-trod path beside the tracks. "You can't let people use this path for 30, 40 years and then decide to make it illegal.

"People in Del Mar are really upset."

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The no-trespassing edict is being enforced on the entire 43-mile Coaster route. But the pain is sharpest in Del Mar, where the southern half of the city lacks a legal access to the beach along a mile-and-a-half stretch.

"No question about it, Del Mar is getting hit the hardest by this," said Chris Spengler, a leader in the Surfrider Foundation.

The ocean beneath the Del Mar cliffs presents some of the best surfing in San Diego County, helped by offshore reefs and wave patterns. To surfers, it seems a violation of nature to make it more difficult for surfers to get to the ocean, particularly a stretch of ocean where big waves await.

"To break the law sucks, but when a law doesn't make sense, you have to make a choice," said surfer James Nolan, a cancer researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, as he crossed the tracks on the way to a prime surfing area called the 11th Street Drainpipe. "Surfers will keep surfing."

Much the same view was expressed by Dr. Gary Cameron, a surfer and pediatrician, who crossed the tracks just moments after Nolan last week.

"I've been surfing here for 17 years, and this (the access crackdown) is just not right," Cameron said. "You just can't cut off a major access point to the coast."

Councilman Colbert, chairman of the North County Transit Board, which runs the Coaster, says Coaster officials had no choice but to order the crackdown on people crossing the tracks. Lloyd's of London, the Coaster's insurance broker, insisted on it, Colbert said.

Sheriff's deputies Gary Wilcoxson and Mark Cook have been patrolling the Del Mar tracks in a four-wheel-drive truck, handing out warning slips and counseling beach-bound scofflaws. They've gotten several earfuls of what-for.

"People don't like us very much," Cook said. "One guy said we should just move the railroad tracks somewhere else."

No-trespassing signs were erected but were immediately defaced in Del Mar and elsewhere with rude graffiti and stickers advertising surfboard wax.

To those who will listen, the deputies explain that the Coaster trains--six in the morning, six in the evening--pose more danger to people crossing the tracks than the Amtrak trains because they are newer and quieter.

"There is no clackety-clack sound," said Wilcoxson. Like Amtrak trains, the Coaster has a maximum speed of 90 m.p.h.

To compensate for the quieter running, Coaster engineers will be laying on the whistle more vigorously than Amtrak engineers, another change not likely to find support from late-sleeping residents of Del Mar, where the tracks abut homes in the half-million-dollar range.

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Whether Del Mar likes it or not, the Coaster appears here to stay. So is the crackdown on crossing the tracks, enforced by deputies wearing "Operation Lifesaver" pins.

Ridership on the Coaster has been encouraging, and already there is talk of more trains, even weekend trains.

One plan is for a weekend Coaster during the annual Del Mar Fair and thoroughbred racing season. The Coaster would stop on fairgrounds property, north of Del Mar and south of Solana Beach.

The surfers and other beach lovers would like someone to build more beach access routes, a suggestion that has not garnered much support among the various public agencies involved.

San Francisco-based Catellus Development Corp., which owns the three-acre site in Del Mar that includes the 3,000-square-foot station and 95 parking spots, has not decided what to do with the property, although a spokesman says the most likely use is retail stores, maybe a restaurant.

"Everybody says how sad it is that the station closed," said Amtrak ticket agent Marikay Bumstead, the last Amtrak employee left at what was once one of the busiest, and most scenic, stations on the West Coast.

Hope still flickers in Del Mar that the station can be reopened, although that seems grounded more in faith than reality. "The station has always been a part of the ambience of Del Mar," Delaney said.

Remember, of course, that the Bing Crosby song, "The Theme Song of Del Mar"--played over the public address system every day during racing season--defines Del Mar as "where the turf meets the surf" and advises "take a plane, take a train, take a car."

Bing's song will continue to be the city's anthem, even though it is now impossible to take a train to or from Del Mar. For that, there is sadness beside the turf and surf.

"People in Del Mar loved that station, and people who visited here were fascinated by it," said Evelyn Login, as she picked up mail at the Del Mar Post Office. "We have to go along with progress, I guess. But we don't have to like it."

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