Oct. 17 issue:
Reasons for my vote
In a recent post on social media, Del Mar resident Hershell Price criticized my vote against a last-minute amendment to the 2020 budget for San Diego’s Regional Transportation Plan. I’m not surprised. Mr. Price has long advocated for more freeways and fewer apartments in San Diego.
Taken out of context as it is, Mr. Price would have you believe that I oppose transportation improvements. Nothing could be further from the fact. I support sensible, environmentally sustainable transportation improvements that would help us reduce freeway congestion, reverse the trend of ever-longer commute times from home to work, and reduce carbon emissions.
The last-minute amendment to the 2020 Regional Transportation budget that I opposed, along with the representatives from Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, National City, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove, removed $60 million from the North Coastal portion of I-5, and re-distributed that money to the State Route 78 in North County and to SR 67 in East County. Since this section of I-5 is currently under construction, this is the most cost-effective time to make these improvements. That money will now be used to pay partially for the design and environmental review of adding HOV lanes along the SR 78 corridor, and for widening SR 67 to four lanes. While these projects are no doubt worthy, their benefit pales in comparison to improvements along the northern I-5 corridor.
In deciding how to allocate our limited regional transportation funds, the SANDAG Board must weigh many factors, including safety, cost/benefits, environmental impacts – and we must do this under the state mandates of reducing carbon emissions. None of us on the Board are traffic or highway safety experts. We rely heavily on the information and recommendations provided to us by our professional staff. In doing so, we also must juggle political constraints and conflicts among the voting members.
In voting against the amendment, I was concerned that further widening of freeways will undermine our efforts to meet the State’s mandated targets for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. I was also aware that the amendment had not been reviewed or vetted by our staff, and they did not recommend it. The revision was not fiscally prudent, and I am concerned that if SANDAG fails to meet its State-imposed target for GHG emissions, we expose SANDAG to lawsuits to enforce compliance.
Given these considerations, if offered the chance to vote again on this issue, I would vote the same way. If you would like to learn more about my vote, or about the facts of the matter, please contact me. I would be happy to discuss the issues with you.
City of Del Mar
Council Member Haviland: We have questions. Do you have answers?
Affordable Housing has become a hot-button concern for cities all around San Diego County. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has allocated a quota of “affordable housing units” that must be created within each city under their jurisdiction.
Through meticulous attention to detail and wonderfully presented logic, Solana Beach Mayor David Zito and Del Mar City Councilperson Terry Gaasterland mounted an argument to SANDAG that concluded: 1) The data SANDAG used to calculate these quotas was inherently flawed, and 2) The allotments disproportionally punished smaller cities like Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach to the benefit of unincorporated areas like Bonita and larger cities like Encinitas, Carlsbad and La Mesa. In Del Mar, for example, the SANDAG folks failed to calculate the many temporary jobs associated with the racetrack, the County Fair and KAABOO.
After laying out the evidence, these elected officials presented a clear and convincing case for “small city exemptions.” If this proposal had passed both Del Mar and Solana Beach would have received much lower quotas. Unfortunately, it failed to pass by just one vote, and that vote was cast by Del Mar City Councilperson Ellie Haviland! Do you believe it?! This elected official voted against her city and constituents on this hugely important issue! Perhaps coincidentally, Ms. Haviland, her family, and her family trust own approximately twenty rental properties in La Mesa, Bonita and San Diego County -- areas favorably affected by SANDAG’s miscalculations at the expense of Del Mar.
I think we deserve some public answers from Ms. Haviland! Here are the questions: 1) What was your thought process and logic for voting against the opportunity to reduce this unfair burden placed upon your city by SANDAG (i.e. What the heck were you thinking?)? 2) What is your position on the dangerous bluff resort, as this seems to play right into the developers’ hands? 3) Were the aforementioned real estate holdings properly disclosed to both SANDAG and the citizens of Del Mar? If not, why not?
Looking forward to your public response, Ellie. I am sure this publication will provide enough space for you to state your case.
Community Choice Energy: Thanks for
the ‘Yes’ votes
The Del Mar City Council approved moving forward with Community Choice Energy (CCE) by a 4-1 vote at their October 7th meeting, with Councilmember Gaasterland opposed. Her concerns were cited in a letter to the October 10th Del Mar Times. The council received a detailed cost/benefit analysis from EES Consultants at their meeting on April 15th, and many of Gaasterland’s concerns are answered in that report. Other details will be determined by the new Joint Powers Authority Board, and Del Mar will have a vote to influence those decisions.
The council subcommittee of Dwight Worden and Ellie Haviland has been working on implementing the council direction to move forward with joining a CCE for the last 3 years. Most importantly, the Climate Action Plan, adopted in June, 2016, highlighted that moving towards the 2035 goal of 100% clean energy could only be achieved with the local control inherent in the CCE governance model. The subcommittee also conferred with Solana Beach, the only city in San Diego County with an operating CCE, to understand the financial risks and benefits of a larger, regional CCE. I have been involved with city staff in many meetings with other North Coast cities and CCE experts from around the state to make sure that we recognize all the risks and rewards of participating in a regional CCE.
It is time to move forward, and I applaud the votes of Mayor Druker, Deputy Mayor Haviland, and Councilmembers Parks and Worden in taking this important step. Del Mar residents have been well-represented in this important and timely advance toward carbon-free energy for our community.
Climate Action Plan Facilitator,
Former Mayor and Councilmember
Oct. 24 issue:
My answers to questions in letter
Last week’s Del Mar Times/Solana Beach Sun published a letter from Solana Beach resident Steve Saunders, demanding I respond to his questions about: 1) my SANDAG vote on affordable housing allocations; 2) my position on Marisol’s development proposal for our North Bluff; and 3) assertions that I violated State conflict of interest regulations by voting on the housing allocations. I am happy to respond to each.
First, under SANDAG’s weighted vote rules, there was never any real opportunity to reduce the affordable housing allocations for smaller cities. When invoked, the weighted vote formula gives San Diego 42% and it only takes a few other cities’ votes to have a majority. Of the three options voted on, only the formula supported by San Diego and recommended by staff had the votes needed to pass a weighted vote no matter how the small cities voted.
Most people now understand the State’s housing crisis is both real – and growing. Every city is under statutory duty to do what can be done to meet its affordable housing allocation.
Second, the Del Mar City Council called for an Elections Code “9212” report on the proposal in Marisol’s qualified initiative. The report will examine project impacts, including: fiscal; general plan consistency; housing element and affordable housing allocation; traffic; and other impacts. I am keeping an open mind on the project until I receive both the 9212 report, the draft environmental impact report and until we complete the public hearing process. Taking a position on any project before the public hearing is grounds for disqualification from participating in that decision.
The City Council now has two options: place the initiative on a ballot for the voters to decide or adopt the proposal.
Third, Mr. Saunders’ assertion that I violated conflict of interest regulations in voting on SANDAG’s housing allocations is wrong. I have fully reported my economic interests under State regulations, as a Councilmember in the City of Del Mar, and as a SANDAG representative. The required disclosures differ in each jurisdiction. These reports are available from the County Clerk for SANDAG and the City Clerk for Del Mar. I relied upon legal assistance in determining I had no disqualifying conflicts of interest.
I look for the day when we end the political attacks and warfare on one another and start working together toward finding solutions to our housing crisis — so that seniors and families can remain in their homes and workers can reduce their crushing commutes.
City of Del Mar
Haviland is a fine
In an Oct. 17 letter to the Del Mar Times, Solana Beach resident Steve Saunders criticizes Del Mar Deputy Mayor Ellie Haviland for her vote on affordable housing at a Sept. 6 meeting of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). He argues that Ms. Haviland and her family own rental properties in other areas of San Diego and suggests that this represents a non-disclosed conflict of interest that affected her vote.
To the contrary, Ms. Haviland’s vote, representing the Del Mar City Council, was based on her understanding of the SANDAG methodology for determining the allocation of housing units throughout the county, and what would be acceptable to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. It reflected the view of a majority of the Del Mar City Council. As Mayor David Drucker stated at a Sept. 30 Del Mar City Council meeting discussing the issue, “We just don’t have a lot of degrees of freedom in terms of being able to get numbers changed.”
I realize that on important issues affecting our community, there will be differing opinions. I certainly support the expression of these opinions, whether it is at a council meeting, in a newspaper, or online. It’s quite a stretch, however, to link Ms. Haviland’s vote with some housing units in other parts of San Diego. More problematic is the tone of Mr. Saunders’ letter and the insinuation that Ms. Haviland cast an unethical vote. She has lived virtually her entire adult life in Del Mar and, as is obvious to anyone who knows her or who has observed her, is a person of integrity who is dedicated to the City of Del Mar and to the community. As a City Council member, she is a virtual volunteer who devotes significant time each month to council meetings, committee meetings, regional meetings, and preparation for these meetings. Agree with her or disagree with her, she is a fine public servant. It is beyond belief that she would ever cast a vote on behalf of the City of Del Mar to benefit herself personally.
We live in a time of incivility. Particularly on a national level, unsubstantiated and personal political charges are frequently made to gain political advantage. I would like to think that in Del Mar we can engage with each other in a respectful way. By all means, let’s have a vigorous discussion of issues. But let’s avoid personal attacks and refrain from the kind of invective and innuendo contained in Mr. Saunders’ letter.
School field needs
to be kept intact
When the community voted “yes” to approve Bond MM, it was voting to rebuild Del Mar Heights Elementary School. No one in the community dreamed that the school district would take the bond money that was given to them and eliminate a majority of the school field; open recreational space that is scarce in this community and that can never be replaced. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
The district rendering is misleading as it shows the proposed green space is only 5% less than that of the existing school. Their numbers include anything that is “green,” not open field. The school district’s definition of “Existing Green Space” does not include the square footage of the current baseball and kickball fields. In fact, the proposed plan actually eliminates the baseball field, which has been used by this community for generations. Their “Proposed Green Space” numbers do, however, include the square footage of a planned amphitheater, perimeter grass, and a large green lot (large enough to currently house the entire kindergarten and kindergarten playground) that will be unusable by future students because it lies outside the fenced campus.
If the school district tries, again, to close Del Mar Hills Elementary School, the student capacity at the Heights will increase significantly. That would leave the community with one, small field at a Del Mar Heights “mega school.” That is all that will be left for future generations.
These kids are 5-12 years old and they need room to run and engage in free play in order to be able to sit in a classroom and learn. That is not possible in an “amphitheater” or some random green areas around the perimeter. The community needs a new school that will help teachers to provide an exceptional educational environment for our children. Upgrading buildings with collaborative spaces and more light is vital; but the field is just as essential to the children’s academic, social and physical growth. And it is just as essential to our community.
The Del Mar Union School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent Holly McClurg need to revisit the proposed school plans and find a way to provide both a wonderful new school facility and to keep the field intact. The projected cost for this rebuild is a staggering $42,000,000 with an additional almost $10,000,000 in soft costs. It’s not going to be rebuilt again for generations, so we need to do this right.
Please sign our petition. Go to change.org and search “Del Mar Heights Field” or go to http://chng.it/W7nhpDNp
Council members should work together as a team
Del Mar council member Terry Gaasterland has done it again! She’s gone out on her own to undermine a position adopted by the Del Mar City Council, and attempt to subvert Del Mar’s efforts to achieve its climate action goals. On Tuesday, Oct. 15 she went to the County Board of Supervisors, pulled an “in opposition” speaker slip, and spoke against the Joint Powers Agreement for the very Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program that the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Carlsbad had just endorsed. The Del Mar council vote was 4-1 in favor of forming and joining the JPA, so Gaasterland’s appearance at the board couldn’t possibly stop the JPA – it could only keep Del Mar and the JPA from gaining the economies of scale that would come from having San Diego County join as a member of the JPA.
In her testimony to the county board, Gaasterland did not find it necessary to report that she was the sole “no” vote on the Del Mar council, did not bother to recite what the reasons were behind the majority decision, or even to note that her position had been fully discussed and rejected at the Del Mar council.
Del Mar and its JPA partners (Carlsbad and Solana Beach) had been actively courting the county to join the CCA. By urging the board not to join the JPA, Gaasterland undermined weeks of work by city staff and urged board action directly contrary to Del Mar’s interests. The county board split 3-2 against joining, so it looks like Terry can say “mission accomplished” and Del Mar can lose the advantage of having a larger JPA and the economies of scale that it would bring.
Diverse views are valuable when the city council is considering an issue and making decisions. However, once those decisions are made by a majority vote, all council members should work as a team for the best outcome for Del Mar, and not go out and undermine the implementation of those decisions. While Gaasterland can have her own opinions, Del Mar residents expect our council to work together as a productive team.
Art Olson and Henry Abarbanel,
Going rogue sabotages Del Mar’s plan
I am very concerned that Terry Gaasterland acted against Del Mar’s plan to join a joint powers agreement for Community Choice Energy (CCE). Her testimony before the County Board of Supervisors undermines Del Mar’s interests in helping this program work effectively. I understand she was the sole dissenting vote on the Del Mar council but going rogue to get her way essentially sabotages Del Mar’s plan, as well as undermining Solana Beach and other members of our joint agency. She needs to understand what it means to be a team player.
Oct. 31 issue:
Del Mar Heights School rebuild—Save the field
As an active participant in the Del Mar Heights School Rebuild process, I feel it can be better executed to reach a more optimal solution, especially for the kids!
First, the notification process has been lacking. Normally on a project of this massive scale, one would at a minimum, expect signs to be posted. So, unless one had kids enrolled in the school or was actively searching, they had no idea meetings were taking place. Furthermore, quite honestly, most never anticipated the district would eliminate 60% of the wide open recreational green field space!
Second, the input to Save the Field has been frankly, ignored and discarded. I’ve personally attended every meeting (between running 3 kids to activities) and field space and sidewalk views were passionately brought up by several people. In addition, letters were written to the district and architect. So, what happened? The field actually got smaller and the buildings grew larger! So, the project went from 53,000 sq. ft. currently, to 60,000 sq. ft., then to 65,000 sq.ft., and now 69,000 sq. ft!. Plus excess parking and routing space. All for the same amount of kids!
It is also important to note that the school is not being built in a growing suburb where there is open land. It is being built in a 55-year-old established community that lacks wide open fields and is on the sensitive habitat of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. As a comparison, the 65-year Cardiff Elementary School (similar neighborhood) is being built for a maximum 440 students, roughly the same as Del Mar Height’s 450-500 students. Yet, their building space (all single story) is 45,000 sq. ft. which is 35% less than proposed for Del Mar Heights and with 60% less parking.
The core traffic issue is that every single car must pass the corner of Mercado and Cordero. Paving the field and routing the cars to what is currently home plate, doesn’t solve traffic congestion and adds commute time. I know at least two homeowners at the Mercado and Cordero pinch point corner (which is the heart of the school traffic) who would prioritize the field space. The real traffic solution is to have a community discussion about creative transportation!
We all want a beautiful, innovative new school that provides a wonderful learning environment, but it can be accomplished in a more balanced way that gives kids the freedom to run! Let’s do what’s right and save the field for our children and future generations!
Del Mar Heights
A clear choice for blufftop site
Please note, I am a long-term resident of Del Mar (1989), as well as a sustainability consultant for the Marisol project.
Big changes are coming to the 17-acre ocean front parcel at the north end of Del Mar. The question is, what will those changes be — and how might they affect bluff access and stability?
Right now, the property can be divided into 16 luxury homesites for the very fortunate few. The competing vision, which will go before Del Mar voters in 2020, is to open this expansive blufftop site to public use and enjoyment — and create a living symbol of sustainability worthy of Del Mar in the process.
Having served on a few city committees in recent years (SAB, DRB, STAC), I had several questions when I met with Encinitas-based Zephyr Partners, who are proposing the retreat-style resort they’ve named Marisol. I was relieved to find that they were already well down the road toward environmental responsibility.
On the building side, there are numerous commendable steps being planned, including the arduous achievement of LEED Gold status. But my first concern was the protection of the precious bluff on which this plan will rest.
The bluffs at issue are much heartier than those fronting the southern end of Del Mar, by virtue of a tall band of dense Del Mar Formation that functions like a natural seawall— so no armoring would be required. Also, unlike to the south, these bluffs do not suffer the ongoing erosive force of inland, downhill groundwater penetration (the site terminates at Camino del Mar), nor daily train traffic on their edge.
When I visited the actual bluff-top site during the viewing Zephyr hosted in August, I was immediately struck by the sheer size and potential of the land. I learned that the buildings would start well back from the bluff front; the nearest one-story villa would be 60-70 feet back, the hotel structures no closer than 88 feet, and the garages are to be located more than 200 feet landward. Asking about construction impacts, their geology consultant told me that the low-density soil on top of the bluff would greatly limit any negative impacts of the vibrations caused by the digging of foundations and garages.
Further active measures will help protect the site. Re-grading and an extensive groundwater collection system will divert over 85 percent of the rainwater that currently erodes the bluff edge to the southeast into the San Dieguito Lagoon — a coordinated drainage system that would be unlikely if the site were divided into many separate parcels for homes. In addition, the plan to use drought-tolerant landscaping, “smart” irrigation metering, reclaimed water and semi-permeable hardscapes will also help reduce erosion over the long term.
I want to see Zephyr not only achieve their stated environmental goals, but stretch to make Marisol a landmark project in sustainable design and operation. Done right, this historically isolated site could become a place we can enjoy and truly be proud of for generations to come.
If it stinks they won’t come
San Diegans will overwhelmingly reject more taxes for already failed public transit. Check the ridership next time you pass a bus (not a safety hazard, you can easily keep one hand on the wheel, maybe two!). Public transit use in LA is down 21% , San Diego down 6% despite SANDAG theft of highway funds to “improve” public transit. It’s unreliable, unsafe, smelly and slow — what’s not to love? Taxin’ Todd Gloria and the other elected bureaucrats better think twice before hitching their political futures to this trainwreck.
Craig A. Nelson
Del Mar Heights School—please explain
I attended the school board meeting last week. A group of us wanted to speak about not reducing the Del Mar Heights field size and maintaining our beautiful view of the ocean and park. I was disappointed, but not surprised to find our topic to be the last one on a very long agenda. I, like many others at the meeting, couldn’t make it the three hours to get to the topic we were all clambering to address, and perhaps that was their plan all along. Make the meeting so long that they wouldn’t have to listen to neighbors concerned about a large construction project in their neighborhood.
Why do they need to build such a large campus? Much larger than they need for the current student population? Are they expanding the parking and school to make space for the Del Mar Hills teachers? Will they try yet again to close Del Mar Hills School and move them over to the Heights? How is that going to impact the neighborhood?
Del Mar Heights school has always been one of the most amazing places to gather for kids and neighbors. After all it is both a school and our only neighborhood field park.
During the school year and over the summer they have wonderful events for Del Mar Heights families. They have big screen movies, camping, ice cream socials, and bounce houses, fundraisers, and all kinds out outdoor events. Will these events end?
We all hear about childhood obesity increasing. Shouldn’t we be increasing our play area? Encourage exercise? Have PE every day? How does reducing outdoor play area emphasize the importance of exercise?
I just don’t get it? Someone please explain ...
The horn, the horn is why I’m forlorn
I sleep, I wake to sounds of the horn
During wee hours it is my companion
I am sure it echoes straight through Crest Canyon
Dear neighbors, I ask, do you share my same torture?
I think we all hope it’s no permanent fixture
The horn does not care if mid-day or midnight
Del Mar’s train horn gives us all a good fright
So today I woke once more to the horn
I decided it was time to act on this thorn
While I may write in humorous prose, I am very serious about how Del Mar has allowed the crossing guard horn to disrupt the peace for this long. Why do we need these outrageous decibels to be blown across our quiet city at 10 p.m.? 11 p.m.? 1 a.m.? 3 a.m.? 5 a.m.? Is this because we are worried of the throngs of people crossing at those times? I am jolted awake nightly by this invasive horn. On more occasions than I can count, I have heard the horn blaring for 60-120 seconds without a train passing…at 2 a.m. I live two blocks from the train, how does this affect our neighbors who live just above?
Del Mar has prided itself in providing quiet and sparsely-lit neighborhoods for residents. Drive through our town at 10 p.m. on any night (except opening day) and it is hard to find a car on the road or a sound on our streets. The horn which blares at our train crossing at all hours of the night, regardless of a train coming or not, must be addressed. Our neighbors in Cardiff were able to implement a quiet zone at their busy train crossing (Chesterfield), how did they do this? They installed enhanced safety measures. I think Del Mar needs to do the same, please give us a break from this jarring, disruptive and unnecessary horn we have to live with.
To serve and protect — Torrey Pines community
When public officials are elected their foremost task is to serve and protect their citizens. This should mean overseeing police, fire, lifeguards, traffic enforcement and any agency that ensures public safety within San Diego. On April 9, 2019, San Diego Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry wrote the Mayor and stated that the Torrey Pines community “is most concerned with the safety needs of children who attend both Del Mar Heights Elementary and Del Mar Hills Elementary, and the lack of safety measures for pedestrians along Del Mar Heights Road.” Local Planning Groups must go through their elected councilmember to request such evaluation as traffic engineering survey for a “designated school crossing to improve pedestrian safety, especially for the students who must cross Del Mar Heights Road.”
On October 25, 2019, a staff person working for our Councilmember emailed the following to a concerned citizen: ‘While Traffic Engineering Operations within the City of San Diego conducted the study and found the corner (Del Mar Heights Rd/Mercado Dr.) met the criteria for a traffic light, the final vote on whether the project will go forward will be decided by the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board’. The actual traffic signal evaluation stated that the “intersection met the peak hour warrant for the installation of a traffic signal”. This is the only 1 of 9 study evaluation criteria that passed muster.
Our Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry has abdicated control to a local board to judge adequacy of a Traffic Engineering study and whether a single element of what needs to be a Master Plan for Del Mar Heights design criteria would support “Safe Walk to Schools,” pedestrian crossing safety, bicycle lanes, calming devices that slow traffic while allowing for safe left turns onto Del Mar Heights Road.” Quoted from City of San Diego Facilities Financing Program project T-18.
As a group of volunteers is this really who should be judging a technical City document while awaiting another study on “calming measures” for DMHR? Why the rush to judgment? Let us delay voting until we receive the “Calming Study” due in December to ensure a transparent process that provides intelligent answers and solutions to a broad range of safety issues.
Chair, Torrey Pines Community Planning Board
Nov. 7 issue:
Heights Rebuild Plan a dream come true
Heights’ Rebuild Plan gets it right! As a longtime principal of Del Mar Heights School, I learned the site’s potential wasn’t being realized, and over two decades had many discussions about our “dream” school. When the community meetings were posted in the paper, I eagerly calendared them participating in all design sessions. The architects thoughtfully listened to our ideas, and I was elated by the latest proposal which captured those shared ideas.
Over the years, we needed to limit on-site parking to “Staff Only” with only 43 available parking spaces serving 60 staff members. This problem impacted parent and visitor access to the school and posed limitations to the larger community after school hours. Most importantly, it was a safety issue as Boquita Drive typically was filled with parked cars resulting in restricted access for emergency vehicles. The proposed parking around the back of the school not only will alleviate congestion, it will improve safety.
Another problem on the campus was a lack of trees, and the only significant shade tree was damaged and removed last year following a storm. The green space plan incorporates trees throughout the campus which will provide beauty, shade, and sun protection.
One of our longtime goals was for the school to become an active community resource even during school hours. The proposed green space in the northwest corridor which can be accessed during the school day fulfills that goal. I would like to advocate creating a memorial in this beautiful area to Nicholas Leslie, a former student, who tragically was killed in Nice, France during a terrorist attack. Imagine viewing whales and dolphins from a telescope dedicated to Nick.
While carefully studying the proposed green space plan, I noted many positive additions. Picture students reading and talking in the grass “commons” area during their recesses and lunch times. That also will be a welcome venue for classes to access throughout the day. The pathway along the western border of the field provides a lovely trail with unparalleled viewpoints. Having green spaces near classrooms encourages children to incorporate nature into their learning, and the creative play structures promote imaginative play. Finally, the proposed field is an appropriate size for the school. The Del Mar Heights’ physical education teacher has affirmed this field will meet all physical education and recess needs, and he knows this better than anyone!
Creating a school worthy of the unique Del Mar Heights’ site has been a longtime dream. Now it’s close to becoming a reality with a world-class educational facility and green spaces that will expand and enhance community usage opportunities. Ultimately, this extraordinary site will be a legacy for all of Del Mar … a dream come true!
Plan fails to respect school community’s open space
Sunshine breaks. Snack shack runs. The highlights of the day. The teachers and staff at Del Mar Heights have long been onto something smart.
When our family first moved to town five years ago, we were delightfully surprised by the Heights’ progressive approach to education. On any given day, our children came home with stories of early morning perimeter runs or Thursday mileage club. In the grand tradition of Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, you walk to think. You soak in the outdoors and the sunshine.
Now, one of our most valuable education and community resources is under threat. Del Mar Union School District has selected a design for Del Mar Heights that decreased usable open space by over 50% while increasing parking and circulation by over 50%. This tradeoff does not reflect our community’s values. We know the value of outdoor space historically, intuitively, and now scientifically. Here, in the United States, we have the grand traditions of Frederick Law Olmsted (“the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character… is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect.”) and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, hospitals are witnessing patients heal faster with access to nature. Experts from Scandinavia to Japan are prescribing “forest bathing” to restore mental wellbeing. Swedish physician Matilda van den Bosch discovered that students’ heart rates returned to normal more quickly after stressful math tasks after just 15 minutes with nature. From England to the Netherlands to Canada, researchers are confirming the direct link between exposure to nature and overall well-being.
Yet, we still have what Richard Louv terms “nature deficit disorder.”
In Del Mar, west of the 5, our school parks are critical to our overall wellbeing. Not only do they serve students in their attention and retention but they also provide important community space. We have a dearth of communal open space here. Unlike schools east of the 5, we do not have schools attached to expansive public parks. These fields and blacktops are everything. They are the places where friendships are forged, relationships are formed, and neighbors meet. The basketball courts (courts, plural) are well-used. Children laugh and learn how to have fun (without a screen) playing gaga ball, handball, and foursquare. This is good, healthy fun that grows a generation.
DMUSD has run a rushed process. The result is a plan that fails to respect our community’s valuable open space. The proposed school is oversized and overbudgeted and contains less open space than other community schools. The architects have previously presented a conceptual plan with significantly more open space. The selected plan is not our only option.
Saving the playing fields is vital
Del Mar Union School District leaders have ignored legitimate citizen concerns about eliminating our playing fields at Del Mar Heights school. The school district board granted community access to those fields in 1970 - today DMUSD leadership campaigns that patches of grass and a drastically smaller field, to which only students will be guaranteed access, are fair substitutes for the entire community. There are simple changes to the current design that would preserve much of our playing fields. Making those changes, and guaranteeing public access outside school hours, would unite our community in support of this project.
Saving the playing fields is vital because the Del Mar Heights community is woefully short on recreational play space - 15.3 acres short according to the Torrey Pines Community Plan. While we have glorious open space for hiking and enjoying nature, in the areas of Del Mar that are under the jurisdiction of San Diego, we have zero recreational play space or parks. This is due to past leaders of San Diego not requiring developers to give us parks. Instead, we were told to adopt the Heights and the Hills as our community parks. What has worked for the last 50 years is now under threat, as the district seeks to pave those fields for an overly large parking lot and ballooned footprint school for the same number of students. Once the large fields are gone we can never get them back, and the story doesn’t end there.
While Holly McClurg declared Del Mar Hills Academy would not close, the writing is on the wall. When the new school is built at Pacific Highlands Ranch, the district will have 500 empty seats according to their own forecasts. If a future school board needs to dispose of the Hills, will the City of San Diego step up and purchase it for recreational play space, or will the Del Mar community lose those fields to development?
The Heights school rebuild - with no change in student population - is costing our community something beyond monetary value. Heights school children will be left with a field that the district asserts is “adequate” for P.E., and the public will go from having three and a half acres of wide open playing fields to only guaranteed access to a mere four-tenths of an acre of space with a toddler playground outside school gates.
Standing alone, the parks in the City of Del Mar proper cannot adequately serve the greater Del Mar Community. Mayor Faulkner and Council member Barbara Bry must work with DMUSD to preserve our playing fields at the Heights and the Hills and make public access to those fields guaranteed, by reaching a binding joint-use agreement before it is too late.
Whose interests do our civic leaders really have at heart?
Dear Mr. White and Mr. Schultz – I recently read your open letter in the Del Mar Times (Oct. 31, 2019) titled “We Need to Complete the Vision of PHR”. The most obvious question I have is if this piece of property was the “one vital element” needed for the Village Center Loop Rd., why was it not secured before the building permits were approved and building completed?
Now the owner of this “vital” parcel has you over a barrel. “Urging and pleading” is not an effective way to negotiate. I can speculate that the SD City Council was more interested in the money that this development would generate than actually thinking through how it would impact the neighborhood if this loop was not completed. I am not writing this letter to cast blame on any one party. I am writing this letter to try to understand the thinking of our civic leaders. Whose interests do they really have at heart?
Concerned Carmel Valley resident
An open letter to the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board
Torrey Pines Community Planning Board Chair Dennis Ridz’ letter (“To Serve and Protect” in the Del Mar Times, 10-31-2019) is highly inappropriate. In his capacity as TPCPB Chair, he suggests delaying the widely publicized vote scheduled for Nov. 14 on the installation of a traffic signal on Del Mar Heights Road at Mercado Drive. He should not be forming an opinion before the community has had its chance to speak at the Nov. 14 board meeting. Moreover, his suggestion is the equivalent of voting no on the light. Those in favor of the light would be right to object strenuously.
The board voted unanimously a year ago to request a traffic signal on Del Mar Heights Road as its first priority in the City’s Capital Improvement Program. But Councilmember Bry has requested a new vote. Why?
Because the formal record of that vote a year ago did not specify a location for the light and a certain faction of the community has long objected to a light on Mercado. Now, City Engineering has concluded that only the Mercado intersection meets the minimum criteria for a traffic signal. The opposition has geared up; perhaps they pointed out to Councilmember Bry that the board never endorsed a light specifically at Mercado and that furthermore they were unaware that the subject was to be discussed last year and were thus deprived of the opportunity to weigh in. A storm of controversy has been stirred up online, and the vote will be a tough one for board members. Is this why does Chairman Ridz now suggests the vote should be delayed?
Councilmember Bry made it quite clear at her community meeting Sept. 19, which Chair Ridz did not attend, that if the vote is not in favor of the Mercado light, the matter will not be discussed again; nor is she willing to discuss any other more comprehensive safety measures that we probably would all like to see. This could well include the “calming study” Chairman Ridz refers to in his letter to the Times last week.
The unanimous vote for the capital improvement priority does not satisfy Councilmember Bry’s need to find community consensus. Board members owe it to the community to listen to their constituents’ opinions, and then vote either for or against a traffic signal on Del Mar Heights Road at Mercado Drive.
Torrey Pines Community
Del Mar Heights traffic light - budget & project missing 11/5/2019
In January 1995, the City of San Diego (City) started the Public Facilities Financing Plan. The City Planning Department Long Range & Facilities Planning set forth the major public facilities needs in the areas of transportation, libraries, park and recreation. The Torrey Pines Community Plan, adopted on Jan. 10, 1995, is a guide for future development. The City Council has adopted impact fees to help mitigate the cost of public facilities (impact fees were adopted in October, 1987).
In June 2005, the 1995 Financing Plan was updated and Torrey Pines is called an urbanized area. Project T-18 Del Mar Heights Road & Mercado Drive – Traffic Signal, first appears and is listed as a priority. A pedestrian bridge over DMHR connecting the two sections of Mira Montana Drive is mentioned as part of a future Community Plan Update. T-18 is budgeted for $150,000 with no funds identified and listed as a need to support safe traffic flow and pedestrian crossing.
The Public Facilities Plan was last update in June, 2017, and former transportation projects are now referred to as Mobility (M) Projects. M-18 is listed as Del Mar Heights Road Safety and Enhancement Project, budget at $350,000. With the assistance of a City Planning & Community Investment Project manager, the former one-liner T-18 became M-18 and featured design criteria that would support “Safe Walk to Schools,” pedestrian crossing safety, calming devices that slow traffic and allow safe left turns onto Del Mar Heights Road at Mercado Drive. This rewrite took place over three board meetings and M-18 was the board’s #1 priority.
The City issued an Impact Fees Appropriation and Encumbrance Analysis from inception through June 30, 2017. Under the heading Traffic Signals – Citywide, our account was docked/reduced by ($350,000) CIP AIL00004. The City thought that we had decided we no longer wanted the light and that TPCPB decided to study the matter further as a Master Plan. The City Impact Fees Fiscal Year Summary for Fund #400133 – Established 10/19/87 for Torrey Pines as of June 30, 2019 has no reference to M-18. The Del Mar Heights Road Safety project has been eliminated as an active project but remains as part of Impact Fee Study. Furthermore, discussion with City Planning made it clear that we cannot fund a project out of Impact Fees unless the project is part of the Torrey Pines Facility Plan. Funding would need to be identified and a new CIP project would need to be created. City staff would need direction from the Mayor.
Chair, Torrey Pines Community Planning Board