Del Mar, referendum proponents continue negotiating petition withdrawal

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The city of Del Mar is closing in on an agreement with a grassroots group to withdraw a petition that could overturn a zoning change that the city needs to meet a state housing mandate.

The petition, submitted by the grassroots Hillside Community Association, could undo a recently passed zoning ordinance that increases the density on the North Commercial area off Jimmy Durante Boulevard to 20 residential units per acre. The city committed to completing that upzone in 2013, as part of the state’s fifth-cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

In addition to the zoning ordinance, which was approved last fall, the council recently passed a Community Plan amendment to facilitate the zoning change. Council members faced an April 15 deadline to pass both of those components.

In exchange for withdrawing the petition, the city has been trying to address the environmental, traffic, parking, short-term rental, fire and other concerns the proponents have about adding residential density to the area. If it is not withdrawn, Del Mar residents would vote on whether to uphold the zoning change in November 2022, or earlier if the City Council decided to hold a special election. If voters reject the zoning change, the city would have to upzone four parcels at the north bluff as an alternative to avoid penalties from the state.

A key issue that the two sides are working out is a wildfire evacuation plan.

“We have some issues relating to the timing that the proponents are requesting that the city to act,” Assistant City Attorney Barry Schultz said during an April 5 council meeting. “There was some additional language that has been floated around that we’re still trying to work through.”

Interim City Manager Ashley Jones said the proponents asked for the city to have the plan in six months, although an initially discussed 12-month period is more likely.

“When we agreed to that, we recognized that that would be tight timing but that we were able to agree to a 12-month period of time in order to produce a plan,” she said. “One of the factors to consider is that a lot of that area is outside the city of Del Mar’s jurisdiction, it’s actually located in the city of San Diego. So we will need to collaborate with the city of San Diego on an evacuation plan.”

Jones also mentioned that Del Mar shares fire management staff with other cities.

“So there’s also a capacity issue in making sure that they have the resources to dedicate to do a good, quality plan,” she said. “We may also find that we need the assistance of a consultant.”

Del Mar resident Arnie Wiesel, who submitted the petition on behalf of the proponents of the petition, said in an interview he’s “hopeful” that the two sides will be able to agree soon on terms to withdraw the petition. He emphasized the fire evacuation concerns.

“The evacuation is critical because it involves the analysis and the understanding that with high density around the traffic circle, and with the traffic circle itself that is already overburdened to the tune of traffic gridlock shutdown, how can you do that?” Wiesel said. “How can you set this stage up in the event that there’s a fire and people have to evacuate? They won’t be able to get through the circle.”

Del Mar Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden said during the council meeting that “it sounds like we have a meeting of the minds on everything except maybe the timing of the fire evacuation plan.”

Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland mentioned the ingress and egress issues for residents in the area.

She added that they need to “make sure we understand their concerns and have a good plan for moving forward.”