By Joe Tash
Carl Hilliard took over as mayor of Del Mar in December, and along with his City Council colleagues, faces a full agenda of issues in 2012, from streamlining council meetings to downtown revitalization.
The Del Mar Times interviewed Hilliard regarding the key issues facing the city over the next 12 months and accomplishments of the past year, as he begins his second one-year term as mayor. In Del Mar, members of the council take turns serving as mayor, rather than being directly elected by voters. The interview is presented in a Q & A format, and has been edited for brevity.
Hilliard was elected to the council for the first time in 2004, following a career in law and business. After serving in the Navy and graduating from the USC School of Law, he worked as a trial lawyer, then started a San Diego-based tech company with his wife. A skiing accident left him temporarily paralyzed, and after his recovery, he taught at local law schools, and represented clients in negotiations over satellite launch and positioning rights.
In November, Del Mar residents are expected to vote on a specific plan for the city’s downtown village, a plan that officials hope will spur revitalization of the central business district.
Question: What are your plans as you begin your term as mayor?
Answer: The mayor has the right to control the (City Council) agenda, the sequence of the agenda, not the items on the agenda. I’m going to try and change things. We have had two issues that have come up. I think we’ve had closed sessions at every meeting for the past couple of years.
So I’m going to propose to the council that we set aside the third or second Monday just for closed session and not try to get down here at 4:30 and go until 9 or 10 at night, not try to do it all in one. I’m one of five so we’ll see what the council thinks.
I just finished my term as chair of LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission), I’m on the board at SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments) and I did my term at NCTD (North County Transit District), none of them read off the consent calendar, it’s done by motion. So I’m going to suggest that we put it on the screen so the people at home can see it.
The other thing is, community announcements. It used to be that a member of the council, if there was something in particular that should be brought to the attention of the community, would make the announcement and that’s morphed now so that the mayor has a long list of community announcements and I think it would be more productive to put that on the screen before the meeting starts, and if any council member wants to bring attention to something special, like the pink ribbon walk or things of that kind, then they’ll have that prerogative.
Q.: Is the idea to streamline the meetings?
A.: The idea is to do that. I put in 30 to 40 hours per week and we’re fully informed. There is nobody on this council that is a slacker. Everybody reads everything, everybody goes out and looks at the situation and it’s a very smart council, very sharp council, and everybody has done their homework. So the objective of having a public hearing is to let the public give us their input so that we can be fully advised. I’m not being unfriendly, because the last time I was mayor I was overly generous in extending a speaker’s time, if somebody was trying to complete their thought I would say I’ll give you another minute to allow you to wind up and that’s much more pleasant than cutting them off at the shorts, but I do think we can expedite it along.
The other thing that is probably a little bit of a change with me is we get requests for proclamations from every group under the sun. Generally, in the past, when I was the mayor I’d write, on personal stationary, letters saying we’re certainly happy to applaud you for your effort to do what you’re doing because it’s advancing the public interest but it’s not the kind of thing we would issue a proclamation for. So I cut the number of proclamations down to those things that impact our community, that are central to us as a community.
Q.: It seems like Del Mar’s residents have a high level of participation in local government.
A.: It’s not a perception, it’s a reality. We have community groups who are interested in various aspects of the operation of the city, we have a very active lagoon group and they have done a terrific job. We have a traffic and parking advisory committee and it you want to get into contentious issues, go visit them. We have parks and recreations, a very active committee that is responsible for making recommendations about the parks and the pathways. I mean, for a little bitty city like this, where you’ve got such a diverse and highly qualified group of citizens, they roll up their sleeves and they put their hands in.
The other thing this community does I think that’s extremely unique, they raise money. I mean we’ve got the message like other elected officials, people pay enough in taxes and I agree. So if you want to do something like buy the Shores property for $8.5 million dollars, I was one of the lead negotiators on that and we did a combination of lease financing and contributions and selling excess land, but the community stepped forward with several millions of dollars.
Q.: It seems to be a good thing to have so many people who are so well-informed, and so involved, but does it sometimes make things take longer? And is downtown revitalization an example of that?
A.: It’s called the Del Mar way (laughs). When we were starting revitalization, I was part of the committee that looked at everything, we went up and looked at Gardena because it had the same size and scope as a specific plan, we spent quite a bit of time up there and I think they got that through in eight, nine months. But their community is not engaged, out community is. And getting it right is critical. I have no shortage of vision. I could tell you exactly what I think it ought to look like. But my vision may be here (points) and the community vision may be one way or the other and together, what happens is, we get the best of both worlds.
This can either be the most beautiful European-style community, or disaster. And we all know that. So we’re taking the best of everything we have, we’re proceeding cautiously.
Q.: Do you think it’s really going to happen?
A.: Yes. It won’t happen overnight.
Q.: Why is it different this time than past efforts?
A.: The trouble with past efforts is, we did all the studies, what we’re talking about dates back to the community plan.
Q.: So 25-30 years?
A.: We did the studies, and some of the studies really didn’t match with what Del Mar wanted. We did the studies, presented the studies, and then they went on a shelf and nothing was done. This council, starting eight years ago, said, “We’re through studying. We’re going to do something.” And were going to make sure the community is fully involved and fully immersed all along.
Q.: What do you expect to happen in 2012 on this?
A.: It will go to a vote at the end of the year and the citizens will weigh in whether they want it or not. By that time, I expect we will have had conversations like we’re having now with almost all of our population and we will make whatever changes… You’re never going to make 100 percent of the people happy, but we’ll have consensus.
Q.: So the vote will be on the specific plan and the plan is a blueprint for how it’s going to lay out?
Q.: Will there have to be another vote on a bond following this one, to pay for the public improvements?
A.: As you know from our structuring of a $120 million buyout of the fairgrounds, we know how to do this. We know how to put stuff together. We bought the Shores for $8.5 million, we know how to move stuff around.
Q.: Would you anticipate a bond?
A.: It’s too early to say. One of the directions we’re going and you can see it in the Shores property, you know about realignment, and you know about (the state) taking our money even though it says in the Constitution they can’t, and how that little game is being played. For a city to survive that environment, we have to do what we’re doing which is create independent streams of income.
We don’t have a redevelopment agency like Coronado does. They’ve got money out the wazoo because they got a redevelopment agency at the beginning. We don’t have that so we’re going to have to be clever about doing it. San Marcos is a good example. They own an office building and they’re leveraging cleverly the money they’ve got.
Q.: To shift gears, one of the big news stories last year was the fairgrounds… is anything going to happen on that in 2012? (In 2010, Del Mar negotiated a deal with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to buy the state-owned fairgrounds for $120 million.)
A.: The fat lady hasn’t sung… what were the cutbacks in this morning’s paper? Community colleges cut $100 million dollars, the UC system cut $100 million dollars, I’ve got $120 million dollars here…
Q.: What do you think? Is the state going to come around?
A.: I don’t know, I will tell you that we are consistent in our efforts.
Q.: So the city is still interested in doing this?
A.: If Del Mar alone bought that property, let me put it this way. Just looking at it as a business guy, we would make that thing hum. It would be profitable, we would clean up the operation and make it do what it’s supposed to do, which is to promote California agriculture business and products.
But I will tell you the message we have received loud and clear, is this is a regional asset, the fair is, and horse racing is, and it cannot be Del Mar alone, it’s got to be regionally governed, and we made a proposal for regional governance. We’re going forward with an amendment of our local coastal permit, because… there’s no regulation on the land use occupied by the fair. The (California) Coastal Commission has original jurisdiction over that land because it was tidelands, so if we do a local coastal permit amendment which we’re going to do, that would become a guideline for the Coastal Commission to follow.
With respect to the fairgrounds, I’ll give it to you in a nutshell, we just want them to pay their fair share. You know we get less than $570,000 a year for all the municipal services we offer and provide and are required by law to provide. (The services) cost a little over $2 million.
Q.: One more question. Recently, dog owners and the local Little League were involved in a dispute over use of the Shores property. Has that been worked out?
A.: The council ruled on it. I went up to Encinitas, where they have leash-free days and hours. So we’ll try it, we’ll draft an ordinance.
This park, again I structured the deal, we did not take a dime from SANDAG or from the state or from the feds or anybody else, this park is 100 percent paid for by the citizens of Del Mar. And it’s their park and they will decide what they want done with their park. It won’t be any other outside group. This community will work it out, we will compromise. It’s not a park for dogs, it’s not a park for Little League, it’s a community park. We will come up with an ordinance, and we will model ourselves after the Encinitas park that I described… we’ll see how it goes.