Del Mar prepares release of draft EIR for housing element

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Del Mar residents will be able to submit their comments on a draft environmental impact report that will help determine where to zone for at least 163 new housing units that the city will be responsible for adding over the coming decade.

The report will be released soon, but no exact date is set, according to city staff. After its release, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

“If you live in a neighborhood and you drive those roads every day, and you walk those streets, you know it much better than the people working with the city or the consultants that have helped with the report,” said Del Mar resident Jill Gartman, who serves on an ad-hoc task force formed to help provide feedback on how to meet the city’s state-mandated housing requirements.

As part of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the California Department of Housing and Community Development is requiring San Diego County to add approximately 171,000 housing units across all income levels. Last year, the San Diego Association of Governments approved a methodology that distributes those units throughout the region based on proximity to jobs and transportation.

Del Mar’s share is 163 units that have to be accounted for in the city’s new city housing element. Additional buffer units required by the state plus carryover units that were not fulfilled during the previous housing element process will push that number to about 250.

The draft environmental impact report will address issues including aesthetics, traffic, emergency evacuations, noise and other potential impacts that could result from new development.

“If you live in those communities, your input could really benefit the city in helping decide the best way to move forward with the state requirements,” Gartman said.

During a City Council meeting on May 4, city staff presented the results of a citywide survey to collect feedback about potential options for the new housing element. Nearly 300 residents completed the survey, representing an 8% response rate among residents 18 and older, according to city staff.

Among its findings, many residents supported adding residential development in the downtown village at a density of 20 units per square acre. There was also a lot of support for incentivizing residents to build accessory dwelling units on their properties.

Council members have long supported adding affordable housing units at the Del Mar Fairgrounds to help meet the new RHNA requirements. The part-time jobs at the fairgrounds were a key factor that led to Del Mar’s housing allocation of 163, which is the lowest among all San Diego County cities, but also a 167% increase over the 61 units assigned to Del Mar during the previous RHNA cycle.

The fairgrounds is facing a budgetary crisis due the novel coronavirus pandemic, which led to the cancellation of the San Diego County Fair and many other events that generate most of its revenue. The board of directors that oversees the state-owned venue asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for $20 million in emergency aid.

“We’re all going to have to work together,” Del Mar Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland said. “We’re all going to have to solve this housing challenge, in spite of the COVID challenge.”

Gaasterland served as a council liaison to the task force, and said she wants the City Council to consider keeping the group together. The task force isn’t scheduled to meet beyond this month.

“They’ve now spent several months doing a deep dive into everything ... from doing a draft EIR to getting a final housing element drafted to the Planning Commission, then to council,” she said. “We’re on a very fast timeline, so I think keeping this task force intact is an important piece to the puzzle of meeting our deadlines.”

The environmental impact report and the housing element are scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Commission in September. The city plans to submit its new housing element to the state Department of Housing and Community Development this October. HCD will review and certify it by April 2021.