With new council in place, Del Mar resumes work on housing element

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

With key deadlines approaching, the Del Mar City Council heard a presentation from city planners on Dec. 14 about the draft plan to accommodate 175 new housing units in Del Mar as part of the state’s sixth Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) cycle.

The online meeting was the first time the new council, which includes two newly elected members, addressed the state-mandated housing requirements. More substantive council discussion and feedback on housing will take place in the months ahead, before the April deadline for the state to approve the housing element. A Planning Commission review in February and final City Council review in March are two of the next steps in the process.

The fate of the North Commercial parcels off Jimmy Durante Boulevard is one of the key variables. By a 3-2 vote earlier this fall, the previous council voted to enact a zoning change that allowed up to 20 residential units per acre on that land, which the city committed to doing as part of its housing element for the fifth RHNA cycle from 2013-21. But with Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland and City Councilman Dave Druker dissenting, the council failed on two separate occasions to gain the supermajority vote required to enact a corresponding Community Plan amendment.

Before the council has a chance to address that discrepancy, the North Commercial zoning change might be repealed by a petition that the city and county are in the process of certifying. The residents who support it have said they collected more than the 345 signatures required in Del Mar. If certified, the council would have to adopt the repeal or call a special election for residents to vote on it.

Gaasterland, who is now the mayor, and Druker repeatedly indicated their opposition to the North Commercial upzone over the past few months, and other aspects of the housing element that call for higher density. The two wanted to pursue alternative options that would add housing without upzoning.

“I remain perhaps optimistic that HCD would be reasonable with us if we could convey to them that we have no vacant land that’s not fragile,” Gaasterland said during the meeting.

New council members Tracy Martinez and Dan Quirk said during their campaigns that they were opposed to the added density.

But Joseph Smith, Del Mar’s director of planning and community development, said multiple times during the meeting that the city must meet state requirements for having “adequate sites” that allow enough density to build affordable housing. For Del Mar, that means 20 units per acre. He added that a successful repeal of the North Commercial upzone would be “a step in the wrong direction” for keeping the city’s housing element in compliance.

Of the 175 housing units the city has been assigned through the RHNA process, 113 have to be affordable, based on income thresholds relative to the county median income.

Worden, the only remaining council member from the three-person majority that supported the North Commercial zoning change, has echoed city staff’s concerns about the consequences of failing to follow through with the previously promised upzone. According to city planners and letters from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, those consequences could include legal action, fines, loss of local control over new development or loss of grant funding. Del Mar would need grant funding to prepare for 51 affordable housing units at the fairgrounds. If the city and fairgrounds officials don’t come to terms within three years on that housing development, the city would upzone the north and south bluffs, according to the draft housing element.

Council members will scrutinize the housing element more closely in January, when the city expects to receive HCD’s comments on its draft housing element for the sixth RHNA cycle, which runs from 2021-29. Worden said that council members who want to make changes will have to offer workable alternatives.

“I would politely say the burden is on you to come up with an alternative proposal that is well thought out,” he said.