More unanimity one of Del Mar Mayor Gaasterland’s goals for 2021
With a new City Council in place, Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said she’s hoping for more unanimity after a year of sometimes contentious division on the council.
“The one thing I will promise people is that I won’t stop when I have three votes for something,” said Gaasterland, entering her third year on the council and first one-year term as mayor. “I’m going to look to build that consensus, I’m going to seek the fourth and the fifth votes and I will compromise and look for consensus, that’s the only thing that will bring us together.”
Before the Nov. 3 election, the council was regularly split 3-2 on several key issues, with Gaasterland always in the minority.
One of the most divisive issues the council faced over the last year was how to add 175 more housing units as part of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), and how to fulfill past obligations to keep the city’s housing element in compliance. By several 3-2 votes over the past few months, council members moved along with a plan to upzone 16 parcels of land off Jimmy Durante Boulevard zoned as North Commercial to 20 residential units per acre. Del Mar committed to that upzone in 2013.
Gaasterland and City Councilman Dave Druker voted against the North Commercial upzone. They wanted to try to pursue a plan with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that would allow Del Mar to add housing without upzoning, even as HCD warned of the potential consequences of not following through with the North Commercial upzone, which now faces a referendum calling for its repeal, in a series of letters to the city. Those consequences include fines, litigation from the state attorney general or loss of local control.
After the election, the council majority has shifted.
Former council members Ellie Haviland and Sherryl Parks, who did not seek reelection, were part of that three-person majority that supported the North Commercial plan. They were replaced by newly elected council members Tracy Martinez and Dan Quirk, who campaigned in support of Gaasterland and Druker’s approach to housing.
The new council’s upcoming decision on what to do with the referendum — either adopt it or allow residents to vote in a future election — will provide an initial test as to whether it can achieve the unanimity that eluded the old council on housing issues.
The previous council was also divided over the timing of getting involved in a Community Choice Energy program, which offers San Diego Gas & Electric customers more green energy at slightly lower rates, based on projections of similar plans.
Del Mar ultimately partnered with Solana Beach and Carlsbad to launch the Clean Energy Alliance (CEA), which will begin serving residences and businesses in May. In October 2019, Gaasterland was the only Del Mar council member who voted against joining the alliance. She said at the time that she supported getting Del Mar into a Community Choice Energy program, but wanted more time to study the financials.
Last July, in a 3-2 vote, Gaasterland and Druker voted against Del Mar providing a $75,000 guarantee that would have allowed the Clean Energy Alliance to obtain $2.5 million in loans to fund its startup costs. (The CEA ended up obtaining a financing option that did not require the security from member cities.)
Another Community Choice Energy program called San Diego Community Power, which includes the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Imperial Beach and Encinitas, has also emerged. Gaasterland said she would support merging the Clean Energy Alliance with San Diego Community Power, creating an agency that she thinks would have more leverage to negotiate the cost of energy. But the CEA board to date has not indicated any interest in pursuing a merger.
“A merger in my mind makes sense and is a fiscally sound thing to do,” Gaasterland said.
The Del Mar council’s annual rotation also included changes to the city’s representation on other legislative bodies. Druker has replaced Haviland, who was Del Mar’s mayor over the last year, on the CEA board of directors. Gaasterland replaced Haviland as Del Mar’s new representative on the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors, which oversees housing, transportation and other regional issues.
“I will seek to look at each jurisdiction’s individuality, even as we try to make joint decisions,” Gaasterland said.
The Del Mar City Council will also have to continue navigating the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, including loss of revenue from events that would normally be taking place year-round at the fairgrounds.
Gaasterland said she wants to have a “council heart to heart” for evaluating priorities for the upcoming year. She wants to look at where the city might have room to cut back more, which projects and initiatives can be delayed, what grants might be available, and how to get more volunteers involved with the city.
“We’re not coming out of fiscal austerity anytime soon,” Gaasterland said. “We had to make serious cuts to stay in the black this past year, and that’s not going away anytime soon. But our revenues are a little tiny bit better than we expected they would be, so that gives us some flexibility.”
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