Del Mar council declines to suspend ordinance protecting scenic views, sunlight

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Following opposition from several residents, the Del Mar City Council voted against suspending a local law that allows property owners to take their disputes with neighbors over blocked scenic views or sunlight access to City Hall for resolution.

“[Suspending the ordinance] completely ignores the real needs of the citizens of Del Mar,” 95-year-old Del Mar resident Harry J. Magoulias said in an email to the city, echoing the concerns of others who emailed City Hall and spoke during the July 6 online meeting.

City staff recommended that the council suspend the ordinance because of a recent 10% reduction in city staffing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including layoffs of a part-time associate planner and full-time assistant planner. If the ordinance had been suspended, the city’s Planning and Community Development Department would be able to focus more on essential services, according to a city staff report.

The report also said each application under the city’s Trees, Scenic Views and Sunlight Ordinance takes 92 hours of staff time.

Del Mar Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland said her decision to vote against suspending the ordinance was influenced by the opposition from residents who contacted the city.

“Neighbors will become frustrated, they’ll become more angry at a time when there is a lot of frustration and anger between people right now,” she said.

City Councilmen Dwight Worden and Dave Druker also voted against suspending the ordinance. Del Mar Mayor Ellie Haviland and City Councilwoman Sherryl Parks were the minority vote to accept the staff recommendation and suspend the ordinance.

Haviland said there are few residents in the city who are able to benefit from the ordinance. She also said the ordinance should be modified to address the city’s costs of enforcing it, which can sometimes exceed the processing fees the city receives for each application.

“I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suspend this ordinance for a period of time and before bringing it back, look at some of these necessary modifications,” Haviland said.

She added that suspending the ordinance is “one of those tough decisions” that council members should make in response to the staff cuts they previously approved.

But City Councilman Dwight Worden said the recourse available to property owners for maintaining views and sunlight is “too central” to Del Mar.

“One of the most important factors that distinguishes Del Mar from, for example, living in the heights or in Solana Beach, is exactly what we’re talking about: view protection rights that people have against vegetation that is rare, if ever, in my knowledge, seen in other communities,” he said.