By Claire Harlin
Having worked in real estate development for more than three decades, it’s no wonder Al Corti has an active interest in the development of his own city. After moving to Del Mar 22 years ago, his family got used to seeing him glued to the TV during weekly City Council meetings, intently following issues such as the expansion of sidewalk cafes in 2008 and the release of the Kennedy Smith report in 2007.
“Watching meeting after meeting, I was so involved in it, and after a while I started to realize my kids would leave the room and my wife would leave the room and next thing you know, I’d be sitting there by myself talking to the TV,” Corti said. “At one point I realized it made more sense to go down there and speak up. They were talking about things I had an opinion on so why talk to the TV when I could talk to the council?”
It wasn’t Corti’s intention to end up on the other side of the podium; however, the council appreciated his continued input and invited him to serve on the Ad Hoc Form Based Code Advisory Committee in 2009. That leadership sparked subsequent terms on the Design Review Board and Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee. Last month Corti was installed as a Del Mar City Council member.
But if Corti looks familiar to you, it’s probably not because you saw him running any kind of campaign for the unopposed seat — during the election season and the many months leading up to it, Corti had his hands full observing and offering insight at more than 60 public meetings and workshops regarding the Village Specific Plan (VSP), which failed as Prop J in the November election.
Although Corti embraced the VSP and spoke at many meetings, he was mainly a listener on the sidelines, his involvement largely stemming from an interest in understanding what the community wants on both sides of the issue in order to know how to move forward — with or without the VSP.
But Corti didn’t get onto the council because of revitalization, he said — It was revitalization that got him involved in Del Mar.
“I knew six to 12 months ago that, regardless of the outcome of the election, there’s still an awareness of implementing revitalization,” he said. “To take a bigger role in implementing, I had to get more active, and City Council was the next step for me.”
The commitment to serve on City Council comes at a particularly good time because he’s slowing down his career. After years of overseeing the development of more than 30 large retail projects, including Fashion Valley and Horton Plaza, with the Hahn Company, Corti started his own business with a partner, John Gilchrist, in 1995 and worked on projects all over San Diego, from downtown to Seaport Village. He also led the construction of two major retail projects — Fenton Marketplace in Mission Valley (where Ikea is located) and the Simi Valley Town Center in Ventura. The 2005 sale of that approximately 1,100,000-square-foot outdoor mall was somewhat of a culminating event for Corti.
“At that point in my life I felt like I had basically done everything I wanted to do from a career perspective,” he said.
The winding down of his fast-paced career left Corti not only with more time on his hands, but a continuing urge to make a difference in communities, as well as be challenged intellectually — so the shift to public service naturally occurred, he said.
“If I had a list of 1,000 things I wanted to do, serving on City Council wouldn’t have been on that list,” he said. “But with my career ending and me not wanting to slow down, I wanted to see what the next challenge would be.”
Growing up as a first-generation Italian in a “tough” area of the Bronx, Corti knows challenges all too well. He was taught the ways of being hardworking and blue collar from an early age, however, it was his own personal drive that led him to success. For example, Corti first attended engineering school but later decided he wanted to build things. He took the risk of changing paths to earn a degree in construction management from New York University, and became a general contractor.
And Corti will also tell you that success is not only about facing challenges, but about solving problems – a skill he hopes to bring to the council.
“If you put time and effort into being pragmatic and doing things sensibly,” he said, “then you can apply that to anything that you do, and it works.”