Looking back and ahead: Q&A with Del Mar Mayor Tracy Martinez

Tracy Martinez
Tracy Martinez
(Laura Jucha)

In her third year on the Del Mar City Council, Tracy Martinez just began her first one-year term as mayor. In a Q&A, she discussed the city’s return to in-person meetings, affordable housing, plans to move the rail off the bluffs and other issues facing the city. Answers were lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.

Q: How would you assess your first two years on the City Council?

Martinez: I would call it a great learning experience. It had its challenges with being remote. We haven’t had live meetings in-person in over two and a half years, so that was an interesting way to start my term on council. I think we had a really good start. Some of our accomplishments as a council were hiring a dynamic, fantastic new city manager. That started the first month I was on council, we hired Ashley Jones, who was the city clerk and is now city manager. Completing the sixth cycle housing element that will take us from June of 2021 to 2029. City Council approved that, HCD has not certified it yet, but we’re hopeful that will come in the very near future. Starting undergrounding. The dilemma was to go with two other previously identified areas or to go with the Tewa, which was a much smaller project. The council voted to do that, it wasn’t a unanimous vote but I believe it was the right vote because it was a great test run for us and we had a lot of lessons learned from that. And that is almost complete. We’ll have one remaining pole that we hope to take down in a ceremony on Jan. 14. Staying afloat during the pandemic we had to totally redo our budget because our income depends a lot on transient occupancy tax and sales tax.

Q: You’re going to be the first Del Mar mayor in about three years to lead in-person meetings. What’s that going to be like and how will the city respond to case numbers?

Martinez: We’re flexible enough that if we need to go back to remote, we will do that, and we’re offering a hybrid opportunity so residents can participate virtually. The council, however, will be in the chambers in person. We’re going to space out the chairs, we’re offering masks and hoping people will wear those if they so choose. We have opportunities for people to participate either way. I think we all know, and I sure know as a nurse, that as the flu rates and COVID rates can go up quite dramatically, then it’s too risky to be back in person. We can pivot back into remote.

Q: What are some of the key issues facing the city in 2023?

Martinez: I think the main thing is getting the train off the bluff, focusing on affordable housing. We had a lot of delays in infrastructure due to our budget because of the pandemic , so get repaving going, landscaping that’s been delayed and other projects that we haven’t really been able to identify, so we’ll be able to get back to some strategic planning now that we have income coming in as tourism returns and sales tax income has increased.

Q: Where do things stand between the city and the Del Mar Fairgrounds over the affordable housing that the city wants to add on the fairgrounds?

Martinez: We need to put housing on the fairgrounds. Del Mar is really landlocked with two lagoons and the ocean. We don’t have a lot of open space. And so, the main push is to get housing on the fairgrounds, and we’re in a time crunch. In our housing element, we need to have an MOU in place by October of 2024, and we’re trying to preserve the north bluff from being overdeveloped on that fragile, delicate, beautiful bluff. We’d like to get at least 54 units on the fairgrounds, and for that we’ll need one and a half to two acres. We want to make this mutually beneficial, not just for the fairgrounds but for Del Mar as well.

Q: You’ve been vocal about potential impacts to residents of building an inland tunnel to get the train off the bluffs. How do you want that planning to proceed?

Martinez: The train needs to come off the bluff. It needs it from a safety standpoint and it’s an environmental hazard. So that’s a given, and I think NCTD agrees to that. The issue is where does the train go? They looked at five routes, have narrowed it down hypothetically to two routes. The frustration I have with that is that they’ve done that with virtually no community input. I personally went up to L.A. to see a train tunnel that was built next to Koreatown and the Disney symphony hall, and did the whole tour, talked to them. One of the things that concerns many residents here is the impact. Because what’s different from that tunnel and what would happen here in Del Mar is that the tunnel could be right next to residents. It’s very noisy, people worry about the impact of their foundation. Personally, I could not support a tunnel that has a negative impact on homes or would include eminent domain. So every time somebody says (the tunnel will be) built in Del Mar I say possibly, we haven’t made that decision, because until you get an environmental impact report, you get community input, you understand how it would impact homes off jimmy Durante and off Carmel Valley Road, I don’t think that I can support anything other than there is no doubt that the train is a huge contributor to the erosion, and we need to get it off the bluff.