Council candidates tackle tough questions at Del Mar forum

The four candidates for Del Mar City Council faced off in a forum on Thursday, Sept. 13, answering questions from the public on a variety of topics, from affordable housing to short-term rentals to downtown revitalization.

The event was moderated by the San Diego chapter of the League of Women Voters, and attended by all four qualified city council candidates in the Nov. 6 election: Brian Fletcher, Dan Quirk, Terry Gaasterland and incumbent Mayor Dwight Worden.

The candidates are vying for two seats on the council, which will be awarded to the two highest vote-getters in November. Worden is seeking his second four-year term on the council, following a long legal career during which he served at one time as Del Mar's city attorney.

Councilman Terry Sinnott opted not to run for another term. In Del Mar, council members are elected by all city voters, and the mayor's post rotates among council members.

The forum was held at Del Mar's civic center, and the candidates answered questions asked by audience members.

On the issue of affordable housing, the candidates proposed a number of solutions for meeting the city's state-mandated goal of 22 new housing units over a five-year period that ends in 2021.

Some of the candidates, such as Gaasterland and Fletcher, suggested that dilapidated housing on the Del Mar Fairgrounds could be renovated and repurposed for year-round worker housing.

"We need to renovate our way out of this," said Gaasterland, who suggested the city could buy apartment buildings and remodel them for use as affordable housing units.

Quirk suggested the city should conduct an environmental study of a vacant parcel next to Del Mar's public works yard as a potential site for affordable housing, while Worden proposed looking at a number of options, including those proposed by the other candidates and the designation of accessory units as affordable housing.

"What I'm for is a robust community process to vet those (options) and determine how we will achieve our goal," Worden said.

The candidates were also asked about their vision for Del Mar's progress over the next five years, and what policies need to be enacted now to achieve those goals.

Fletcher said he envisions a thriving downtown in five years, with such projects as a mixed-used development at Camino Del Mar and 10th Street completed, along with a city streetscape program along Camino Del Mar between 9th Street and the Plaza Del Mar shopping center. He also wants to see completion of a utility undergrounding project.

Quirk said he would also like to see the utility undergrounding work completed, as he was involved with Measure Q, a 1 cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2016, which will fund the undergrounding effort.

Quirk also said he would like to see a new trail segment between the Grand Avenue bridge and the Canyon Crest trail, which would create a six-mile loop trail in the city.

Gaasterland, a professor of computational biology and genomics at UCSD, said she wants to see property values preserved and a plan to adapt to sea level rise in place, as well as the utility undergrounding project completed.

Worden agreed with the projects mentioned by the other candidates, and added that he would like to see a beach sand replenishment project underway, which is considered one way of protecting the shoreline against sea level rise.

The candidates also talked about how they would conduct business at City Hall. Quirk said he would like to see the city conduct surveys on major issues to gauge the sentiments of the public.

And the candidates also pledged to be open to hearing the views of their constituents if elected.

Worden pointed to his website, which has a button that allows emails to be sent to his mailbox, and that he also holds regular office hours, and has published his phone number for the community.

"I'll talk to anybody at any time on any issue," Worden said.

Gaasterland said she learned the value of community participation while serving on a committee that drafted a plan to deal with sea level rise.

Quirk reiterated his goal of conducting surveys to gather community input on major issues, contending such a step would lead to fewer meetings but better decisions. "Let's get hard numbers and data to make decisions," he said.

Fletcher said he will work for transparency and honesty in decision making, and that he will be working full-time at City Hall. "I don't think I'll be hard to find," he said.