By Claire Harlin
If Del Mar residents somehow failed to catch wind of the city’s proposed revitalization plan — a 250-page development blueprint called the Village Specific Plan (VSP) that’s been in the works for years — they’ll likely hear about it now.
Only two days after the council gave final approval of the VSP, sending it to the Nov. 6 ballot as Proposition J, organized campaigns emerged on both sides of the debate. But this division of the community, which opponent Hershell Price fears could be “hard to put back together,” didn’t completely start with the VSP that is currently on the table.
In 2009, the city made a revitalization attempt with the formation of the Ad Hoc Form Based Code Committee, which sought to rezone property by property, creating a master plan that would take into account factors such as view protection, noise and traffic — a change from traditional zoning that just focuses on building elements like height, floor-area ratio and setback. The committee’s members spent well over a year collecting data on every property in Del Mar before the city decided to change direction and start drafting a VSP.
But four of those committee members — Howard Gad, Nancy Sanquist, Kelly Kaplan and Al Corti — kept working on revitalization as vocal residents whose unyielding dedication showed through their participation in workshops and feedback at council meetings. Now, they’ve created the FOR Del Mar’s Future campaign, which consists of about seven paid staff members and seven volunteers and is steered by the consulting services of Tom Shepard & Associates. Shepard, a Del Mar resident, was also successful in his direction on two other major local projects: Garden Del Mar and the Del Mar Plaza.
Kaplan said her work on the Form Based Code Committee not only led to her fully-informed support of the VSP, but also made her realize that Del Mar is in critical need to develop — and develop as soon as possible.
In a Sept. 12 kick-off event for the campaign, proponents said one of the main focuses will be to combat misinformation about the VSP and present the facts. FOR Del Mar’s Future campaigners will be mailing brochures, going door-to-door talking to residents and putting signs in windows.
“People have to be informed to support something,” said Kaplan. “It’s easier to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes,’ and we are the ones with the uphill battle.”
Meanwhile, the Save Olde Del Mar Committee has come forth, and it’s headed in part by Dave Druker, who was on the City Council for eight years and left his seat as mayor in 2008, just before the form-based code approach was set in motion.
“As I was leaving the council, I warned the council about the over-development of Del Mar,” said Druker, who at that time only wanted to create a specific plan for the City Hall site, not the entire commercial zone. The Save Olde Del Mar Committee has nine members on it, and that includes five former mayors. They plan to put up yard signs and talk to neighbors, but are trying to raise money that will allow more mobilization.
“This is grassroots, not professionally run,” said Price. “It takes funding, and you can’t get your message out without funding.”
Price’s opposition dates back to the earliest talks about raising the height limit from 14 to 26 feet on the west side of Camino Del Mar. His position that increasing height goes against the vision of the 1976 Community Plan was his initial reason to get involved on the Planning Commission, which he served on for eight years. He’s now steering the Save Olde Del Mar campaign alongside Druker, and said they will be working as hard as possible to send the message that the VSP is flawed in that it decreases traffic lanes while increasing development, among many other points.
Druker said the opponents have consistently been ostracized, and while there were many city workshops that included the public, the process was not open-ended enough.
“The public was given options, but there was never an option to just develop the City Hall site, and there was never a low-development option,” said Druker. “We believe we were shut out of this process all the way through.”
‘Stuck in between’
There’s a prominent part of Del Mar that would be highly, if not most, effected by the proposed measure, but it’s somewhat on the sidelines. That’s the business community.
Every downtown Del Mar business would be effected by construction if Prop J passes, with some seeing it as worth the pain and others not. Likewise, it’s the businesses who will reap the benefits of the VSP if it proves successful.
But the many business owners who aren’t Del Mar residents don’t get a voting say in the matter, and even those who are may see it as detrimental to get involved.
Americana Restaurant owner Randy Gruber is a longtime resident of Del Mar (and a voter), but he said doesn’t want to take sides because he fears he will upset his loyal customers, many of whom are local.
“Del Mar has it’s own way about politics and I try to stay out of that,” he said. “I definitely think it’s going to heat up a bit, although I haven’t seen much yet.”
When it comes to the issue itself — Prop J — he said he and other business owners he has met with feel like they are “stuck in between.” While he has concerns about construction and the traffic element of the VSP, such as the single lanes and roundabouts, he does want to see revitalization in Del Mar.
“I don’t know what the consensus is going to be,” he said. “Some people think this is the best thing since apple pie, and some people think this is terrible.”