Del Mar council candidates discuss issues during second forum

It was an even bigger turnout for the second of two Del Mar City Council candidate forums.

Just a day after the final U.S. presidential debate, about 125 people packed Powerhouse Community Center on Oct. 20 to hear the six council candidates share their opinions on a variety of issues facing Del Mar. Roughly 90 community members filled council chambers during the first forum Sept. 29 at Southfair.

Incumbents Mayor Sherryl Parks and Councilman Al Corti, along with challengers Jim Benedict, David Druker, Ellen Haviland and T. Patrick Stubbs are vying for three open seats. Councilman Don Mosier decided not to run for re-election.

Hosted by the Del Mar Times and moderated by former NBC San Diego news anchor Susan Taylor, the second forum gave candidates an opportunity to share their top priorities for the city as well as discuss several top issues in Del Mar.

From completing the new Del Mar Civic Center to revitalizing downtown Del Mar, candidates gave varying answers when asked about their top priorities.

Although candidates mostly agreed on some of the other questions asked by audience members, other questions clearly divided candidates. Here’s a look at some of the topics addressed during the forum:

Police department

Del Mar has contracted with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services since the city’s incorporation in 1959. In recent years, the city has explored its options, including researching the possibility of creating its own police department, due to concerns over the cost of services, the lack of police presence in the community, and the slow response to low-priority calls. There have also been concerns over the rising cost of services.

Druker was the only candidate to outright oppose the proposal to end the city’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Department and build a standalone police department. Instead of creating its own department, he said the city should work with the Sheriff’s Department to improve services.

“The added bureaucracy, the potential liability, the potential pension costs, etcetera, could bankrupt this city,” he said. “This is not an issue and this is not something that I would like to be exploring any further at this point.”

Benedict, Corti and Stubbs said that they support developing a standalone police department.

“We’re not going to go bankrupt. It is a scare tactic,” said Corti, a liaison to the city’s finance committee, which has studied the costs and supported the idea of a standalone department. Benedict serves on the committee.

Haviland and Parks both said they need more information before they can make a decision on developing a police department.

Measure Q

Del Mar voters will voice their opinions on a variety of issues this November.

In addition to selecting three candidates to fill three council seats, voters will have their say on two Del Mar initiatives.

Measure Q would increase the city’s sales tax by one cent to help cover the costs of various city services and infrastructure projects. A one-cent sales tax increase would generate about $2 million annually for the general fund.

The finance committee initially proposed the sales tax increase earlier this year as a way to help pay to underground utility poles throughout the city. The council later decided that revenues could also help pay for other projects, such as implementing the Shores Park master plan and improving streetscapes.

Supporters have said the measure would create a way for visitors to help pay for some of the city services and infrastructure. Many local business owners, however, have opposed the measure and argued it would create a burden on local businesses.

Five of six candidates said they supported the measure.

“This is the single best way of achieving a revenue stream that could give us financial security and allow us to take care of our infrastructure costs,” Corti said.

He and the other candidates agreed that the citizens should set the funding priorities.

“Where you want it to be spent is where I will spend it,” he said.

Stubbs was the only candidate who admitted he doesn’t want to raise taxes, but said he believes voters will pass the measure.

“As far as this election goes, the most important thing you need to address is: How’s the money going to be spent afterwards?” Stubbs asked the audience. “You’re looking at six candidates up here who may have different views as to how that’s done. I, personally, believe the money should be spent how you want it to be spent.”

Parks added that the city would establish a citizen’s oversight committee and set up a separate fund to monitor the money.

Measure R

Five of six candidates said they were against Measure R.

Measure R, if passed, would require voter approval for proposed development projects in a commercial zone that are 25,000 square feet or larger, allow a density bonus or require a specific plan or zoning code change.

It was driven by opponents of the controversial Watermark project, a 48-unit multifamily complex planned for the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive. The council in July agreed to place the initiative on the November ballot rather than adopt an ordinance they didn’t support.

All but one candidate, Druker, said they opposed the initiative.

He and other supporters have said that voters should have a say in the community.

“I support it vigorously,” Druker said. “The DNA of Del Mar is for us to be able to vote on major development projects.”

Opponents have argued, however, that the measure conflicts with the city’s general plan and state housing regulations. In fact, in a legal analysis of the initiative, Assistant City Attorney Barry Schultz found multiple conflicts with state law.

“I support the right to vote; I do not support Measure R,” Haviland said.

“Measure R is not about a right to vote,” Corti said. “You have the right to vote on every development that comes across your city through the Design Review Board and the community plan.”

Climate Action Plan

In June, the council adopted a plan that aims to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in half in less than 20 years.

Del Mar’s Climate Action Plan outlines how the city can combat climate change. It serves as a comprehensive roadmap, outlining strategies the city could use to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2035.

“The Climate Action Plan is critical to our city,” Parks said.

Candidates agreed that the plan is important and the city needs to take steps to make changes.

“It sets us out as a leader in the region,” Haviland said. “We need to continue to take the steps needed to implement goals that we can achieve right away, as well as working on the long-term goals.”

Benedict said Del Mar needs to work with other cities to combat climate change.

Stubbs said he has some concerns about implementing the plan.

“I like the fact that this plan is voluntary,” Stubbs said. “That said, I’m concerned about future councils being saddled with goals that certain people around town feel might be realistic. Some might be unrealistic.”

Railroad crossings

North County Transit District recently stepped up enforcement against people who cross or walk along the tracks through the coastal corridor. The increased ticketing, NCTD officials said, is to increase safety and comply with federal mandates.

Del Mar has only one legal crossing on Coast Boulevard.

“We need a change,” Benedict said.

All the candidates said they want to work with NCTD to add legal crossings. Most also said the city should work with NCTD to remove the tracks from the bluffs.

“Ultimately, we need to figure out how to get the train off the bluff,” Druker said. “It doesn’t belong there. In order to double-track it, it would be terrible.”

“There are no easy solutions,” Haviland said. “There is no quick fix to the problem.”

Druker, who previously served on the council from 1996 to 2008, said he was the only candidate who was able to get federal and state funds for infrastructure projects, causing dissention among some of the candidates.

“If that is what we need to get, then please elect me so that we can get those,” he said.

“If the community wants safe pedestrian crossings across that track, we can accomplish it,” Corti said. “I will not just talk about it. We can accomplish it.”

“I don’t know what it means that he’s the only person to do anything because I haven’t had a shot at it, and there’s a few other folks up here who haven’t had a shot at federal funding,” Stubbs said in response to Druker’s statement. “If I sat for 12 years on the City Council, I would have gotten something done besides telling the Sheriff not to hand out tickets.”

Downtown revitalization

When asked about the most critical issue inhibiting downtown revitalization, Haviland said property owners do not currently have incentives to upgrade their properties.

“There are various ways that we can try and tackle this problem,” she said.

Druker proposed changing the zoning from 8th Street to 12th Street to allow for more mixed-use, without changing floor area ratio and height limitations.

“Major problems with revitalization is anti-growth, anti-development mentality and all of the regulations that go along with it,” Corti said. “It is difficult to impossible to get anything approved on the commercial district in downtown. Measure B only makes it more difficult.”

He added that he was in favor of additional parking at the new city hall, streetscape improvements, and a single lane in each direction, all of which he said would improve downtown.

Stubbs said he posted a multi-step action plan on his website for a “vibrant downtown.”

“If we say that we can believe in a bigger, better town, it will come,” Stubbs said. “We will have investments in this town.”

Parks said she has met with representatives from the Del Mar Plaza in the past to try and come up with solutions to increase business.

By this question, Benedict had left the forum as he had a prior commitment and had to leave a half-hour early.

Other issues

Council candidates discussed how to help the Del Mar Plaza, how they would select advisory committee members, how to develop Shores Park, and how to regulate short-term rentals.

Among other issues, in a lightening round, candidates also shared their thoughts about roundabouts, gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, immigrants and affordable housing.