A former council member, current board member and volunteer is saying goodbye to Del Mar after nearly 30 years in the city.
Richard Earnest will move to Northern California to be with family in January.
Earnest originally relocated to Del Mar from Washington with his wife in 1989. He had planned to retire from his job as a CEO. That idea didn’t last long.
Soon after moving, he picked up a job as a CEO of a Seattle-based company. While dining in a local restaurant, some residents urged him to run for the city council because of his business perspective. In a recent interview, he laughed and remembered not even knowing what the council did and was baffled at the thought of advocating for votes, especially while running a company.
He ended up winning and served for 11 years on the council, including three terms as mayor. Oftentimes, he would fly back and forth between Seattle and San Diego to adhere to both his positions.
“It’s been a great experience for me because I got involved in all kinds of committees,” he said of his time on the council. “As a result of that, I got to understand more what the city is and what it isn’t and what it wants to be.”
During his time on the dais, Earnest said he strived to find a balance between the “grays” and “greens,” meaning he cared about economics but also about the environment.
A former military aviator, Earnest also negotiated with the U.S. Marines to stop flying their helicopters over the city.
He was also involved in major city decisions, including an attempt to purchase the fairgrounds in 2010, building the Powerhouse Community Center and approving a new lifeguard station, he said.
Earnest said one of the biggest lessons he learned while on the council was patience.
“When you’re running a company, if you say, ‘Let’s go over there,’ everybody goes over there,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in politics. You have to listen to everybody. Everyone gets their three minutes. You’re not always going to agree with them, but you have to listen to them. You shouldn’t go into any agenda item with your own opinion or your mind made up.”
More recently, for the last 14 years, Earnest has been a fixture of the Del Mar Village Association (DMVA), where he served as the board chair and vice president of economic development.
“I think the city now really recognizes our value,” he said of the DMVA. “Most cities have a marketing department or a business development department. We don’t have one. There’s nobody at the city who even has expertise in that area, mostly because we never used to think we needed it. ... I think the city now relies on us to play that role, to be the economic development arm of the city. There has to be somebody doing that. The future of DMVA is very healthy as long as the city’s finances are healthy. We kind of go together, and I think we’ll be fine.”
He said he believes the DMVA will “roll along just fine,” with leadership from Jen Grove, the executive director, and Gary Wheeler, who will take over Earnest’s duties.
Grove said she considers Earnest a true friend and leader for the city.
“After 15-plus years of working together, I will personally miss him terribly,” she said. “However, I know that Richard will always be in touch and stay connected to this tiny village by the sea.”
Earnest considers the downtown as the “living room of the city” and promotes safety and better lighting as a way to attract more people there.
Moving forward, he said he also hopes Del Mar stays small and that more young people become involved.
He also says Del Mar needs to stay abreast on the bigger, regional issues, as well.
“Del Mar makes a bigger difference in the region than would be justified by the number of people here,” he said. “We have a big influence over what happens regionally, and we should continue to be involved in regional ideas and what’s going to happen to the airport, with the nuclear waste from San Onofre and what the bigger issues are.”
Earnest remains optimistic about the future, though he notes he will miss all the friends he’s made in Del Mar.
“I got here as an unknown, and I’m going to go to a new place as an unknown,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen. I want people here to know that whether I agreed with them or not, I respect them. There are many people in this town that I love. ... It’s a little bittersweet.”