Del Mar to begin fire evacuation study for referendum proponents

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The city of Del Mar will try to complete a fire evacuation study for the Crest Canyon area in nine months as part of an effort to appease the proponents of a referendum that could overturn a recent zoning change.

A community workshop about that plan will be held in about three months, based on a request from the proponents that the city attorney announced during the council’s April 19 meeting.

Last year the City Council adopted a zoning ordinance that increased the density on the city’s North Commercial parcels, located off Jimmy Durante Boulevard, to 20 units an acre. Council members needed to approve the zoning change to fulfill a commitment made in the city’s housing element for the state’s fifth Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

Del Mar resident Arnie Wiesel, on behalf of a grassroots group called the Del Mar Hillside Community Association, submitted a petition in November to overturn the North Commercial upzone. Wildfire concerns, increased traffic and short-term rental regulation were two of the concerns they had.

The city has since been negotiating with the proponents to meet those concerns in exchange for having them withdraw the petition, which would allow the zoning change to move forward. If an agreement isn’t reached between the two sides, Del Mar residents would vote on whether to approve the North Commercial upzone in an election that is tentatively scheduled for November 2022. Voting against it would lead to development on the bluffs, which is unpopular with most Del Mar residents. The council could also hold a special election on an earlier date.

One of the sticking points between the two sides is when exactly the proponents would withdraw the referendum if the city begins working to address their issues. Council members said they received additional information from the proponents shortly before their meeting this week. It indicated that they want to hold off on withdrawing the referendum until the fire evacuation plan is complete, which they would like to happen in nine months. Del Mar has to work with the city of San Diego, which also has a portion of the Crest Canyon area, to complete the study.

“We just received this and we need to study it a little bit more,” Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker said.

He added that starting the fire evacuation plan “would show some good faith that we’re going to be working on that.”

Del Mar Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden said “It really doesn’t work for me for them to hold off on agreeing to withdraw the referendum until after the fire plan is done.”

“They need to have enough trust in us,” Worden said. “And I think they should because we’ve struggled with how long this is going to take because we’re not going to do a fire evacuation study unless we do it right and do it responsibly.”

He added that he was concerned that failure to have the referendum withdrawn before April 15, when cities in San Diego County had to submit their new housing elements to the state, would result in decertification of Del Mar’s housing element or other penalties.

But with the deadline passed and the housing element submitted to the state, even with the status of the North Commercial upzone pending, council members said they don’t expect to face any consequences over that particular issue.

“We don’t have our feet to the fire anymore,” Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said. “We’re already after April 15, we know we’re OK.”