Campaigning over Marisol initiative underway

If approved by Del Mar voters in March, the Marisol Specific Plan Initiative would create the zoning for a project that includes 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas and 22 affordable housing units.

As a Del Mar councilman in 1976, John H. Weare oversaw the passage of a community plan designed to maintain the city’s “village-like” character and protect its “outstanding natural features.”

Now a Del Mar resident of 50 years, Weare is campaigning against a perceived threat to that vision for the city.

During a special election this March, Del Mar voters will decide the fate of the Marisol Specific Plan Initiative, which would create the zoning for a project that includes 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas and 22 affordable housing units on an approximately 17-acre space in the northwestern corner of the city.

“The initiative process and the initiative itself is bad for the city,” Weare said. “The project conceptualized in the initiative is bad for the city.”

Weare is among the Del Mar residents opposed to the proposed project over the added density, traffic, 46-foot maximum height and concerns about the environmental impacts along the bluff. He serves as treasurer of a newly launched campaign committee that will urge residents to vote against the Marisol initiative, which will appear on the March 3 ballot as Measure G.

“You try to make the most cogent argument that you can supporting your position,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can to inform people of the impact.”

The Encinitas-based developer that filed for the initiative, Zephyr, launched its own committee to support the ballot measure’s passage. The company’s CEO, Brad Termini, said the initiative process began in response to residents who wanted to have a say in the future of the site.

Zephyr is promoting the benefits the ensuing development would bring to Del Mar, including $4.5 million per year in transient occupancy tax, an addition to the city’s affordable housing stock and public access to the property that would extend beyond a currently fenced-off portion of its southern edge.

The Zephyr-backed campaign committee has devoted more than $200,000 as of Sept. 30 in its effort to promote Marisol, based on the most recent public disclosure available.

“The concept of somebody coming in and trying to buy the election is a factor,” said Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker, who announced his opposition to the initiative at the council’s Dec. 2 meeting.

Druker said he will help with an “aggressive campaign” against the Marisol initiative, in part because the city’s Design Review Board and Planning Commission can’t vet the proposed development unless Measure G is approved by voters.

Representatives from the committee opposing the initiative, Friends of Del Mar North Bluff, either could not or declined to confirm the details of their fundraising so far. The state deadline to submit their first campaign finance disclosure is Jan. 23. John Morse, one of the committee’s leaders, said it will be a “David and Goliath story” to compete with Zephyr’s campaigning.

The pro-Marisol committee, as of its first disclosure running through the end of September, is funded by Termini, who lives in Encinitas. About 55% of its $206,727 in expenditures have been allocated to campaign consultants. Termini said it’s the first time Zephyr has attempted to advance a project through a ballot initiative, and “it takes a team of experts” to lead the development company through the process.

To win the support of Del Mar voters, Zephyr opened an information center at 1412 Camino Del Mar.

“We’re trying to reach community members any way we can,” said Termini, who has been going door to door on weekends to speak with residents.

An environmental impact report from the city of Del Mar, ballot arguments from each side and an impartial analysis will be available this month. Druker, whose fourth one-year term as mayor came to an end Dec. 2, is recused from future council deliberation on the Marisol initiative due to his advocacy against it.

“We would love to have a scenario where all of the council is supportive,” Termini said, adding that Zephyr is “encouraged by the level of support that we do have.”