Del Mar City Council approves funding for city hall design and environmental studies

By Kristina Houck

Del Mar voters want more than a simple city hall, and council members agree.

After hearing poll results that showed voters want additional parking and expandable space, the Del Mar City Council on March 2 unanimously voted to allocate up to $546,000 for design and environmental studies for a future city hall complex.

“I think we’ve got some clear information here,” said Councilman Terry Sinnott after hearing the poll results. “I think we need to proceed.”

The city’s registered voters had from Feb. 2 to Feb. 20 to go online and rank three options for the facilities that will replace the city hall at 1050 Camino del Mar. Voters could also request a paper survey or use the polling station at city hall.

All three options included a 9,250-square-foot city hall, 3,200-square-foot town hall and 15,000-square-foot civic plaza, but they differed on parking and other uses.

Option A featured civic facilities only and about 60 surface parking spaces, while the other two options featured civic facilities plus additional parking and space for future development. Option B included about 160 parking spaces and roughly 11,000 square feet of future development area, whereas Option C included about 160 parking spaces and roughly 20,000 square feet of future development area.

Of the 980 people who participated in the poll, 440 ranked Option C first, 274 preferred Option A and 244 preferred Option B.

“This verifies what residents have told us over the past year,” said resident Kit Leeger, who with her father, Jim Watkins, designed a multi-use city hall concept at no cost to the city.

“Residents told us they want more options, not less,” she said. “They wanted to bring life and vitality to this end of the village. They desired a vibrant, interactive community center with activities for all to enjoy.”

Other community members didn’t see the results as so clear-cut.

In case there was a tie, the data was also presented as weighted results and instant run-off results. Weighted results are assigned three points to the first choice, two points to the second choice and one point to the third choice.

The instant run-off results also showed Option C as the clear favorite. When adding weight to both the first- and second-place votes, however, Option B narrowly received the most overall points, despite receiving the fewest first-choice selections.

“I’m a little perplexed as to the weighted and the instant run-off, and where you go with it,” said resident Robin Crabtree.

“I find it perplexing that you can use a poll like this to take the city down a direction of what we’re going to build,” said resident Bill Michalsky. “I’m very concerned about the results here and how they might be used by the council to take us forward. I think this is, essentially, a very problematic process.”

Council members, however, saw the results clearly. With voters choosing either Option B or C as their first choice, about 70 percent expressed a preference for both additional parking and expandable space.

“I think the poll is validation of what I thought I heard during the public workshops,” Mayor Al Corti said.

“I think there’s a pretty clear mandate that people want the 160 parking spaces,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.

The online poll was just one way the city sought input from community members on the project.

Since Del Mar initiated the city hall planning process in June 2013, the council has discussed the project at dozens of council meetings, held three public workshops, issued a citywide survey, and most recently, launched the online poll.

“You guys have spent the last year and a half talking with the community, getting the pulse of the community, doing workshops, polls and everything else,” said commercial property owner KC Vafiadis before the council’s vote.

“Honestly, I believe you guys were elected by the people of this town because they trust your judgment and that you guys will do what’s best for this town. I say take the information you have, make a decision and let’s get on with it. I think you know everything you need to know.”

After analyzing the poll results, staff recommended building a city hall complex that would include an approximately 9,250-square-foot administrative building, 3,200-square-foot council chambers, television studio and emergency operations center, and a 15,000-square-foot plaza. The project, which would cost about $12.4 million to $16.4 million, would also feature 160 parking spaces and flexible space for future expansion.

In a 4-0 vote with Deputy Mayor Sherryl Parks absent, the council agreed to pursue staff’s recommendation, while allowing the architects flexibility. City officials expect to hire an architectural team in April.