New councilman Worden brings depth of community experience to Del Mar

Although Dwight Worden is new to the City Council, he is not new to the city of Del Mar.

A resident for more than 30 years, Worden served as city attorney from 1977 to 1983, and as special counsel to Del Mar on selected matters until his retirement. This is the first time, however, that he’ll be sitting on the opposite side of the dais during meetings.

“I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve got some skills from this,” Worden said. “It would be satisfying to me, personally, and I think I could help my little town by taking those skills onto the council.”

The council voted in August to appoint Worden to his first term and incumbent Terry Sinnott to his second after canceling the election. Only two candidates ran for two open seats. Both were sworn in Dec. 2.

Having retired nearly 15 years ago, Worden, now 67, felt it was time to finally run for office. After all, it’s an exciting time in Del Mar.

With City Hall and Shores plans, potential development projects at the Garden Del Mar and Watermark properties, Worden joins the council when the city is in the midst of a number of projects, and other projects could be headed to Del Mar.

“I don’t feel like I’m coming into the council because the house is one fire and I’m on some kind of rescue mission,” Worden said. “But I do see there is a lot of important stuff on the table.”

Although Worden said he is “not coming in with an agenda,” while on council, he wants to improve the city’s relationship with the community. He would also like to see the City Hall project move toward to a vote. Last, he wants Del Mar to become a leader in the community, from downtown revitalization to sustainability.

“Personally, I would like to see Del Mar identify those kind of topics that are important — not just to us, but as a broader society — and for us, where we can and where it’s appropriate, stake out turf and really be leaders again,” said Worden. He suggested offering free Wi-Fi throughout the community could be one way Del Mar sets itself apart.

“I’m kind of thinking ahead. What can we do, where we can be leaders and demonstrate to the rest of the world that some of these cool things can be done, and at the same time help our locals?”

Born in Baltimore, Worden moved to Santa Monica with his family when he was 5 years old. After growing up on the coast, he headed to the mountains, graduating with a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1969. A year later, Worden and his then-wife relocated to San Diego, where he studied law at the University of San Diego.

While in law school, Worden helped launch USD’s environmental law society. At the same time, he was also hired to represent the Sierra Club before the California Coastal Commission.

After earning his law degree in 1974, Worden founded his law firm, Worden & Williams, in 1975 in Solana Beach. With a strong interest in the environment, he specialized in land use, environmental and government law during his years as a practicing lawyer. He represented numerous government agencies and environmental organizations, including the North County Transit District, San Diego County Water Authority, San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, Sierra Club and more.

Worden already had deep roots in Del Mar by the time he moved to the community in 1981. Shortly after opening his practice, he was hired as Del Mar’s city attorney in 1977.

“When I came in, there were a whole slew of lawsuits pending against the city that had come in under Roger Hedgecock’s watch,” Worden said. Hedgecock served as city attorney from 1974 until Worden came aboard in 1977.

“I was very proud that during the seven or eight years that I as there, I cleaned up every one of those successfully. We did not get one single new lawsuit against Del Mar — not one.”

Under Worden’s leadership as city attorney, Del Mar challenged the city of San Diego over a development called North City West.

At the time, the northwestern area of San Diego, now Carmel Valley, was agriculturally zoned. San Diego wanted to create a new community designated for 13,000 dwelling units and 40,000 people. Fearing adverse impacts, Del Mar sued San Diego.

“It was one of the most important cases in the state, at the time,” said Worden, although Del Mar lost the lawsuit. He noted that, comparably, some residents are concerned today about One Paseo, a mixed-use development proposed for Carmel Valley. “I’m proud that the city fought that.”

Worden continued as special counsel to the city on selected matters until he retired from active practice in 2001.

He drafted Measure B, a voter-approved initiative that governs large developments in the downtown area. Adopted by voters in 1986, Measure B was responsible for notable changes to the Del Mar Plaza and L’Auberge Del Mar.

He also drafted the Beach Protection Initiative. As special counsel to the city, he successfully defended numerous lawsuits against Del Mar and the BPI, resulting in beach-encroachment removals that restored key beach property to the public.

Worden has a variety of community and volunteer experience: He has served on the Coastal Commission, the Attorney General’s Environmental Task Force, the Surfrider Foundation National Advisory Board, and more.

In Del Mar, he has served on the board of the Del Mar Foundation and has offered volunteer legal assistance to several Del Mar committees and causes, including the Del Mar Foundation, Del Mar Community Connections and San Dieguito Lagoon Committee. He has also served on the Ad Hoc Task Force on fairgrounds issues, the Form Based Code Committee and the Garden Del Mar Committee.

In his free time, Worden is a bluegrass musician. He plays in three local bands and serves on the board of the San Diego Bluegrass Society. He recently completed a six-year term on the International Bluegrass Music Association Board of Directors. He also enjoys spending time with his longtime partner, Betty Wheeler, his daughter and two grandsons.

“I love this place,” Worden said. “I’ve been all over the world, and there’s nowhere I’d rather live. Every day I wake up, I realize how lucky I am to live here.”

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