By Claire Harlin
Prop J may be the most heated issue Del Mar has seen in recent years, but the community won’t be getting a public debate on the measure.
Both the Sandpiper community journal and the Del Mar Times set dates to hold a debate between the proponents and opponents of Prop J, but on both occasions the opposition did not agree to participate, citing scheduling conflicts and concerns about the format of the debate.
The first proposed debate was set by the Sandpiper for Oct. 15, but former Del Mar Mayor Dave Druker of the opposing group, Save Olde Del Mar, said the person who would be participating in the debate on the opposition’s behalf was out of town until Oct. 16.
“Another problem with the Sandpiper debate was the moderator,” Druker said. “We did not come to agreement about who would moderate, and we needed someone who can frame the questions with an understanding of the unique conditions of Del Mar.”
He said the standard format of the League of Women Voters used in debates nationwide, in which a moderator reads questions submitted by the audience, could be problematic because the other side could “stack the audience and generate questions that ensure one side of the debate gets better questions than the other side. Any time you have the ability to frame the questions they can portend the answer.”
The Del Mar Times set a date of Oct. 25 at the Del Mar TV station for a debate, and Druker said this date posed a problem in that it was so late. With absentee ballots already out and more than half of Del Mar voters registered permanently as absentees, he said he thought many people would have already voted by the time the debate takes place.
“People who care have already made up their mind,” he said. “We don’t have much time and we’d like to spend our energy knocking on doors and talking to residents.”
The Del Mar Times outlined in an email to Druker the format of the event, in which questions would be submitted in advance by readers and the paper’s reporters, in addition to letting audience members submit questions at the event. This format was recently used in a debate held by the Del Mar Times in La Jolla for District 1 City Council Candidates.
Druker replied that “questions from the audience are not a good idea, as one group can stack the audience and create an uneven flow of answers.”
Howard Gad, a proponent with the group FOR Del Mar’s Future, said he thought a debate would be a good a idea to get the facts out, no matter how late in the game.
“Just because you get an absentee ballot doesn’t mean you mail it in right away, especially on an election like this with very important issues,” said Gad. “A smart voter would wait for all the information.”
Wayne Dernetz, a former Del Mar city manager and resident of nearly 40 years, said he would have been participating in the debate on the FOR side had the other side agreed to it. He said there were also attempts on behalf of interested residents to organize a debate.
He added that there hasn’t been an issue this crucial and controversial since Del Mar has added online video technology and the Del Mar TV station, and a televised debate would have been a good opportunity to reach every person in the city.
“Sometimes in Del Mar when issues become controversial, they become fierce, and that’s characteristic of a small town,” he said. “This proposition is keeping with that tradition.”
For more information on each side of Prop J, visit www.saveoldedelmar.org or www.fordelmar.com.