Supporters, opponents argue Del Mar’s Measure R

Community members recently heard from both sides of an initiative on Del Mar’s ballot that would require voter approval for sizable developments citywide.

Measure R, if passed in November, 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.

Supporters and opponents of the measure shared their views during a nearly hour-long forum Oct. 5 at Del Mar City Hall.

Arnold Wiesel, president of a community group called Del Mar Hillside Community Association and the person who led the effort to put the measure on the ballot, along with Roger Arnold, a professor of economics at Cal State San Marcos, spoke on behalf of supporters. Speaking in opposition were Bud Emerson, a member of the city’s finance committee, and former Del Mar City Manager Wayne Dernetz.

Moderated by the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego, the forum started with opening statements and then both sides took turns answering questions from the audience.

“Election Day November 2016 could be the one and only opportunity the residents of Del Mar get to say that they want a more direct voice than they currently have in matters that relate to the appearance, livability and characteristics of their city,” Arnold said.

A group opposed to the size and density of Watermark Del Mar, a 48-unit multifamily complex planned for the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive, circulated a petition and submitted it to the city and the San Diego County Registrar of Voters in May with 505 signatures from residents supporting the ballot measure.

Only 286 signatures, representing 10 percent of the registered voters in the city, were needed to qualify the measure for the upcoming general election. The Registrar of Voters confirmed in June that the measure met the required number of signatures.

After the signatures were confirmed, the council in July agreed to put the initiative on the November ballot rather than adopt an ordinance they did not support.

Spearheaded by Wiesel, he and other supporters have since said that the measure is not about Watermark, but about allowing voters to have a say in the community.

“Measure R essentially says that major zoning changes and the like are far too important to the residents of Del Mar to be left up to just a handful of people,” Arnold said.

“The right to public vote is the right to exercise our most representative form of government, making certain the general interests and concerns of our entire community are heard, as opposed to the narrower interests and concerns of a few city council members,” added Wiesel, who has lived in Del Mar for 25 years.

“Measure R explicitly asks: Do the registered voters of Del Mar want the right to public vote, requiring voter approval for certain development projects?”

They also contended that the measure is appropriate for Del Mar due to the size of the small coastal city.

“Projects in Del Mar of a given size are much more visible and likely to affect neighboring areas than would be the case in a city of a larger total area,” Arnold said. “Initiatives similar in character to Measure R are popping up all across the country.”

Opponents, however, argued that the measure conflicts with the city’s general plan and state housing regulations.

“R is a reach too far,” Emerson said. “It creates a lot of unintended consequences. It conflicts with an existing law, existing ordinances … It is likely to end up in court.”

In fact, in a legal analysis of the initiative, Assistant City Attorney Barry Schultz found multiple conflicts with state law.

According to the report, the initiative potentially conflicts with the council’s administrative authority and single subject rule. The report stated that the initiative also appears to be inconsistent with planning and zoning documents, including the community plan, housing element, zoning code, Measure B — a similar voter-approved law in place that governs large developments in the downtown area — and the local coastal program. Finally, there could be fiscal impacts associated with implementation of the initiative if passed, according to the report.

Watermark includes seven affordable units that will help Del Mar meet the state-approved requirements of its housing element. When the report was presented to the council in July, Schultz said the city was currently 22 units short of meeting its requirements.

“When it (housing element) was certified, the major strategy that the state looked at was looking at the rezone to the Watermark site,” Schultz said.

During the forum Dernetz agreed that the measure could limit the city’s ability to rezone land in order to meet its housing needs, especially low-income housing.

“Proponents’ intentions may be sincere, but the approach they’ve taken in Measure R is ill-conceived and misguided,” said Dernetz, who has lived in Del Mar since 1973 and served as city manager from 1973 to 1979.

“If approved by voters, Measure R will result in uncertainty and confusion over development requirements in all of the city’s commercial zones and have a chilling effect on future commercial development and revitalization,” he said.

One of the questions from the audience asked both sides to clarify the relationship between Measure B and Measure R, and whether the proposed measure would conflict with Measure B.

Enacted by voters in 1986, Measure B requires voter approval of properties in Del Mar’s downtown commercial district larger than 25,000 square feet in area or proposing more than 11,500 square feet of development area.

“My understanding, from attorneys who have looked at it, is that it is conflictual,” Emerson said. “The exact legal conflict I don’t know.”

Dernetz said the two measures would conflict because the new measure is written differently.

“This proposition makes many changes to the city’s community plan, to the zoning ordinances, and as I’ve outlined, conflicts with mandatory state procedures,” he said.

Supporters, however, contended that the two measures do not conflict because Measure R simply extends Measure B.

“Measure B and Measure R are basically a similar animal. They’re basically the same thing,” Arnold said.

“If Measure B is lawful, and we know that it is, then it would follow that Measure R is lawful as well,” he added. “If Measure B is unlawful, and that is not the case, then and only then would it seem to be that Measure R is unlawful.”