Voter approval no longer needed for Del Mar downtown development plans

Del Mar’s Measure B is dead.

The City Council’s five members unanimously agreed Monday, July 2, to bury the long-standing requirement that major development plans in the city’s central commercial corridor must receive voter approval.

The council’s action stems from a state appellate court decision invalidating an ordinance enacted by Malibu city officials in 2014. That regulation essentially was modeled on Del Mar’s Measure B.

“The upshot of this decision,” Del Mar Assistant City Attorney Barry Schultz told the council, “is that it leads to Measure B being unenforceable.”

The appeals court decided the governing board of a jurisdiction, which is the city council in a municipal agency, is the appropriate legal entity to approve a specific plan, not the electorate. Such plans detail the uses, configurations and parameters for larger developments.

According to the Malibu decision, voters can cast ballots deciding general policy directions, but cannot assume the power assigned by state law to a city council to approve or reject a specific project.

For 32 years, investors hoping to hit the jackpot by building on high-priced properties lining Camino Del Mar, as the city’s segment of the coastal highway is known, have had to confront the measure.

Since the measure was enacted, the most notable developments constructed based on Measure B approval are the Del Mar Plaza and L’Auberge Del Mar.

The plaza is an upscale multi-storied shopping center erected on the northeast corner of Camino Del Mar and 15th Street. L’Auberge is a high-end hotel, with related uses, opposite the plaza on the northwest corner.

Another proposal dubbed Garden Del Mar won voter approval in 2008, but has since undergone a redesign. Based on the Malibu court ruling, the new specific plan will not have to be submitted to a public vote.

A couple of speakers at Monday’s meeting in the city’s newly opened civic center complained that the staff and council had lagged in responding to the court ruling, which surfaced last year.

Resident Greg Rothnem said investors may have lost opportunities to pursue projects in the interim.

“There’s a chilling effect to Measure B. ... There’s no question about it,” Rothnem said. “People, when they look at investment in Del Mar, consider various factors, and one of these is Measure B.”

Schultz, however, said the city was being thorough in trying to understand the effects of the ruling and possible options for responding.

While council members directed their staff to come up with a resolution rescinding Measure B, they urged leniency in regard to future specific plan changes sought by representatives of the plaza and hotel since those plans were approved under different rules.

“We need to make this simple for us and simple for them,” Councilman Dave Druker said.

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