Del Mar council candidates discuss housing, short-term rentals, sea level rise

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The six Del Mar City Council candidates addressed sea level rise, moving the train off the bluffs, short-term rentals, housing and other key topics facing the city during a Sept. 15 online forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Three seats on the council are available in the November election, and at least two newcomers will be elected. Mayor Ellie Haviland and City Councilwoman Sherryl Parks are not seeking reelection.

The discussion on housing centered around the state’s sixth Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) cycle, which has been a point of contention in Del Mar.

In the coming months, the city has to secure state approval for its housing element, which has to show Del Mar’s ability to accommodate 163 more housing units, plus 12 units that rolled over the the fifth RHNA cycle because they were unaccounted for. One-hundred thirteen of those units need to be affordable, as defined by calculations relative to median income.

Tracy Martinez said she was disappointed that the city did not file an appeal over its new RHNA allocation to the San Diego Association of Governments, which created a methodology that assigned units to each city based on proximity to transit and jobs. She added that city leaders should be careful about adding high-density housing that permanently changes the character of Del Mar.

“We need to be thoughtful about it and we need viable solutions,” said Martinez, a registered nurse and health care director.

Martinez is running as part of a two-candidate slate with Dave Druker, the lone incumbent in the race. Earlier this month, Druker voted against a Community Plan amendment that would have led to a zoning change on 16 acres of land off Jimmy Durante Boulevard, zoned as North Commercial, that was estimated to create 23 affordable housing units over the next eight years. It would have also kept the city’s housing element compliant with state law, based on a previous commitment the city made to the state to upzone that land. The amendment, which required a 4-1 vote, failed 3-2, with Druker and Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland opposed.

City staff warned that without making that zoning change, the city could face fines, loss of local control or other penalties imposed by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Druker said adding affordable housing is “absolutely essential in Del Mar.” But he said that he wants to explore alternatives to the North Commercial parcels, and that there needs to be affordable housing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Del Mar jobs total used by SANDAG to calculate the city’s RHNA assignment included seasonal workers at the fairgrounds.

“We need to be working with the fairgrounds to provide affordable housing for their workers, for the residents of all the county,” he said. “And as state-owned property, they need to help solve this problem rather than foisting it on Del Mar.”

Other candidates said the City Council made a potentially costly mistake by failing to adopt the North Commercial zoning changes. City staff is currently working with HCD to rectify the housing element and avoid penalties.

Bob Gans, who serves on the city’s Finance Committee, said the council made “a very dangerous, reckless decision … by putting us in conscious violation of state law.”

“I don’t know how we’re going to defend our community plan if we lose control of our zoning,” he said.

Glenn Warren, a retired attorney and U.S. Foreign Service official, said the council’s inability to adopt the zoning change was “completely irresponsible.”

“Now we are looking at development on the north bluff, development on the south bluff, development in other areas where we will have no control over our zoning,” he said.

Candidates were more aligned on other key issues, including taking a position against managed retreat as a response to sea level rise.

“I don’t support managed retreat, I think it’s a very extreme reaction,” said Phil Blair, a business owner. “It’s too much, too quick.”

On short-term rentals in the city, candidates agreed that regulation is necessary, but an agreement on the best course of action has been elusive among Del Mar residents. A few years ago, the city tried to institute a policy that limited each short-term rental site in residential areas to renting no more than 28 days per year, with each booking at least seven nights. The Coastal Commission asked the city to change those limits to a maximum of 100 days per year with minimum three-night bookings. The city has been battling the Coastal Commission in court ever since.

Dan Quirk, an advisor for an investment firm, said the city should survey residents to determine the best course of action.

“What that does is it creates transparency for the process and where people lie,” said Quirk, a member of the Undergrounding Project Advisory Committee and former Finance Committee member. “So whether you win or lose, you can see where the results are and we can move on rather than continue to debate about it.”