“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said FDR. Was he watching Del Mar’s Prop J campaign?
The Prop J Village Specific Plan (VSP) is a plan, not a blueprint. Not a straight jacket. No handcuffs. Not a top-down forcefeed to helpless residents. Not a nefarious plot by demonic developers and special interests. It will not create three new plaza developments. It will not “canyonize” our center city. It will not “La Jollaize” Del Mar.
In most organizations, a good plan is a flexible set of guidelines to provide focus and direction. It achieves objectives systematically and gradually. It has built-in feedback loops to measure effectiveness. And it is easily modified if experience so instructs.
Probably the most accurate characterization I would use for the VSP is a “process framework” describing the outer limits of potential development spread over six blocks over the next 30 years. It was laid out by professionals with extensive input from citizens. It has clear safeguards to keep it from growing out of control — numerous pause buttons, rewind buttons, reset buttons, and stop buttons. This plan is laid out for gradual change with feedback loops, enumerating a series of thresholds and triggers. When a threshold for growth or height is reached, it triggers an assessment of change at that point to determine if the plan needs to be modified. For instance, when a block gets to 50 percent second stories, a reassessment for that block is triggered. Similarly, when we get developments totalling 70,000 new square feet spread over six blocks, a reassessment is triggered. All potential view blockages are subject to Design Review Board (DRB) determination. The controls are always in the hands of Del Mar. As a last resort in a worst case scenario, citizens could mount a referendum to force the plan back on the ballot for voter reconsideration.
The proposed roundabouts and two-lane configuration appear to concern many citizens. These, too, are subject to change. Street changes always remain under the control of the city. A compromise that seems to be appealing to several council members is to experiment with temporary roundabout installations before making a final decision. A very logical spot for a demonstration of roundabout effectiveness would be in the north beach area where there are now two very dysfunctional stop signs with one lane in each direction. Such a demo could help us all learn whether roundabouts improve traffic flow. If not, the center city roundabouts could be removed from the plan.
The bottom line is that we retain control over the size and rate of change in downtown, as we have down fairly well in our residential areas. The choice is clear. We can gradually transform our downtown into a pedestrian-friendly center. Or we can resist change which means we continue, like frogs in boiling water, watching increasing automobile traffic defining our town.