2022 Spotlight: Q&A with Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden


Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden has begun his second one-year term as mayor since he joined the council in 2014. Worden also once served as city attorney.

Mayor Dwight Worden

In a Q&A, he discussed housing, the COVID-19 pandemic, whether he’ll run for re-election in 2022 and other issues facing the city. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: The current City Council has been together for a little more than a year now. How well has everyone been able to work together?

Worden: I think it’s definitely getting better. We’re getting used to each other and we have agreement on a lot of things and disagreement on some things and I think we’re coming along in terms of figuring out how to discuss our disagreements in a civil and productive way. Overall, I’m encouraged, and a major part of my mission will be, as the mayor, to facilitate and further that, to make sure that we’re civil to each other and civil to the public, and that everybody who wants to participate in their local city government feels welcome to do so and is treated with respect.

Q: What are some of the key priorities you want to address in the year ahead?

Worden: Most of them are kind of set because we have to deal with them, so we don’t have a choice. We can start with housing. We are in the very final stages of getting our sixth cycle housing element approved. That should happen early in my term.

A key component of that is as soon as the state gives final sign-off, the clock starts on the three years that we have to get a binding agreement for 54 units at the fairgrounds. And if we don’t get that binding agreement with the fairgrounds in three years, then that triggers the need to rezone the north bluff lots for 250 units. A major priority for me is to try to facilitate us getting that agreement done. That’s the biggest sore thumb that sticks out of the whole housing package.

Now here’s my frustration: Then like a hand grenade thrown from left field, we get SB 9, which allows every existing single-family lot to subdivide and to put two units per subdivided lot for a total of up to four units on what we’ve historically viewed as a single-family lot. If we already have a certified housing element and it’s going to meet our state obligations, what’s this? We don’t need to do that to meet our state goals, it’s something we don’t have control over. I think if the state had been at all reasonable about this what they would’ve said is: SB 9 will apply to cities that don’t have a certified housing element, but if you have a certified housing element, you don’t also have to do SB 9. But that’s not where we are.

Solana Beach and other cities have taken some actions to try to figure out how to manage it in their towns. We, in Del Mar, have a bit of an advantage in that Del Mar is entirely within the coastal zone. Solana Beach is not, nor is Encinitas. We have to go through the Coastal Commission, which takes about a year, before we’re in a position to accept any SB 9 applications at all. So we have a year, coincidental with my mayoral term, to figure out what local rules we are going to put in place to manage SB 9, so that’s a priority for me.

Q: What is your view on the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything more the city can do?

Worden: First off, what a bummer. We all went through this, now we’re two years into it, we thought we were over the hump, we were starting to return to normal, and now Omicron is taking people down in the sense of making them sick. I think for the next two weeks to a month, we’re going to be in big trouble. We’re going to see the wave come through of people who traveled for Christmas and New Years, and increased sicknesses. Hopefully the rate of hospitalizations is going to continue to be lower than it was under Delta. But as the talking heads on TV say, when incidents of sickness go up, even if the percentage of hospitalizations is going down, the absolute number of people going to the hospital is going up.

On the good side, I think in a month or so, the indicators are that Omicron is going down. We’re going to have a COVID pill that is going to be available for people who do get sick, and maybe they don’t need to go to the hospital but will be able to take a pill. So that’s a hugely good thing.

So I think the next month is going to be the worst, and then after that there is a lot of good news coming. My hope is that at least by summer we’ll be past Omicron and we’ll be back to a pretty good sense of normal. Would I bet the farm on that? No. It’s just too uncertain, I don’t think anybody can predict.

Q: This is the last year of your second term on the City Council. Do you plan on running for re-election in 2022?

Worden: That’s a decision I will take a look at as it gets closer. Whatever I do, I will remain committed to my city. If there are important things that I think it would matter if I stay on, I would consider running again. On the other hand, eight years is a long time. I believe in turnover. I’ll be in my mid-70s and there are a lot of factors to indicate I might be done. Don’t know yet.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

Worden: I’m hoping that at some point during my term, we’ll be able to go back to live meetings. I feel really bad that Terry Gaasterland spent her entire year as a mayor and never once got to call a meeting to order in our brand new city hall because every single meeting was on Zoom. And we’re all kind of used to Zoom, but it’s really not the same as sitting in the same room and having interactions with people. I’m cautious, I’m not going to support returning to in-person meetings until I’m sure it’s safe. But it is a hope of mine that it will be between now and June.