Del Mar wants to build affordable housing at fairgrounds
City approves letter requesting fair board’s support
The Del Mar City Council approved a formal request this week to build affordable housing at the state-owned fairgrounds on the city’s border.
“We are targeting at least 51 affordable units on the fairgrounds,” Councilman Dwight Worden said at Monday’s Del Mar City Council meeting. “If we could get more than 51, I think we would go for that.”
It could take three years to work out an agreement with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the property, on details such as the location, financing and management of the proposal, Worden said. However, Del Mar has built none of its state-mandated affordable housing and faces sanctions if it does not get started.
The 22nd DAA Board of Directors, also known as the fair board, was informed of the request at its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 20. But because the issue was not on the agenda, the directors’ discussion was limited and they agreed to schedule the matter in the future.
“This is not an interim use,” said Director Michael Gelfand. “This is a permanent use of a chunk of property owned by the 22nd DAA.”
Under the most recent allocation of the state housing law, Del Mar needs to build a total of 175 units including 113 units for residents classified as various levels of low-income. Del Mar is the smallest city in San Diego County, with about 4,400 residents and little land left for home building.
“We need to show some progress,” said Mayor Ellie Haviland, in support of the request to work with the fairgrounds.
The median value of a home in Del Mar is $2.5 million, according to Zillow. That makes the cost of buying or renting in the coastal city out of reach for many people such as school teachers, police officers and service industry workers.
Del Mar has talked with the fairgrounds officials before about building affordable housing but so far it has not worked out, Worden said.
“We as a city do not have any zoning control over the fairgrounds, and we don’t own any of that property,” he said.
The idea of housing may be more appealing to the fair board now than it has in the past.
The fairgrounds faces a financial crisis because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of this year’s San Diego County Fair and other large gatherings that bring in most of its revenue. The fairgrounds laid off more than half its full-time employees this month after giving them several months notice.
Also, earlier this year the governor said that all available state properties should be examined for ways they could be used to help alleviate homelessness.
The fair board considered a plan to install temporary modular housing for the homeless at the fairgrounds. That idea died over the summer after facing extensive community opposition.
The request approved unanimously Monday, Oct. 19, by the City Council would give the city and the fair board about three years to investigate issues such as financing, permits, environmental issues and management terms for the housing. The most likely locations are on the fairgrounds perimeter, at places such as the fire station or recreational vehicle lot, where the housing would be accessible to the public without requiring residents or guests to cross other parts of the property.
Del Mar has contacted Solana Beach and San Diego about the possibility of participating in the housing effort, Worden said. So far, neither one has made a commitment. Both cities also need affordable housing credits.
Another possibility sometimes discussed is that Del Mar could annex part of the fairgrounds property to get credit for building the affordable housing, he said. But annexation would require approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission, and it may be possible for Del Mar to get its housing credits without it.
City Manager C.J. Johnson advised the council that because of the COVID-19 budget pinch, it could be difficult for city staffers to find the time needed to work on the housing idea.
“We have severe staffing constraints,” Johnson said. “We might have to look at spending money on a consultant with some targeted expertise ... without that it would be a challenge.”
One way to reduce costs may be to bring Solana Beach or San Diego into the project and have them share the work or the expense of a consultant.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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