Del Mar council members lobby petitioners to withdraw referendum

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The Del Mar City Council will continue to negotiate with the proponents of a petition seeking to overturn the North Commercial zoning change, hoping to get them to withdraw it before it reaches an upcoming ballot.

Council members said they hope to reach a settlement with the proponents by their March 15 meeting.

The zoning change, which the city committed to in 2013 but still hasn’t completed, is a key component of the city’s plan to add affordable housing. If overturned by voters, the city could face penalties from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

A referendum on the new North Commercial zoning, which would allow up to 20 residential units per acre off Jimmy Durante Boulevard, is tentatively set for November 2022. The City Council could also set an earlier date to better accommodate an April 15 deadline to complete its new housing element, which shows the state how the city will add new housing. Del Mar interim City Manager Ashley Jones said the cost of a special election would likely be in the range of $100,000 to $175,000.

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland and City Councilman Dave Druker were previously selected by the council to negotiate with the petitioners, Del Mar resident Arnie Wiesel and a grassroots group called the Hillside Community Association.

The concerns of the petitioners include traffic congestion that could be hazardous in emergency situations, adverse environmental impacts, the height of new multi-unit structures and unwanted short-term rental usage of new units. Gaasterland said the petitioners are “warmly receptive to assurance” that their concerns will be addressed if they withdraw the petition.

“Most of the things they’ve suggested,” City Councilman Dwight Worden added, “I think there’s a chance we can do something with them.”

If the petition is withdrawn, the City Council would still have to approve a Community Plan amendment to incorporate the North Commercial zoning change, in addition to the zoning ordinance that was approved last fall.

Wiesel, who helped gather signatures of about 600 Del Mar voters to qualify the petition for the ballot, said he thinks the current iteration of the City Council is receptive to addressing his concerns.

“I can’t project what I would do,” he said about withdrawing the petition, “but I can tell you I’m very encouraged and I hope to be part of what’s most positive for our community here, especially the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.”