Del Mar city and fairgrounds officials try to finalize deal for affordable housing ahead of 2024 deadline

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Both sides are moving forward after a bill by state Sen. Catherine Blakespear to require that housing stalled in committee


With an April 2024 deadline closing in, the city of Del Mar and Del Mar Fairgrounds are still trying to come to terms on an affordable housing project at the fairgrounds with at least 61 units.

Both sides are evaluating potential locations. The city has studied the planning and finances for two areas on the fairgrounds: one near the corner area off Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard, and another next to the fire station.

“As part of the binding agreement we are working on with the Fairgrounds,” Del Mar City Manager Ashley Jones said via email, “we will continue to work collaboratively to determine which of these two sites, or any other potential locations, would be most suitable for affordable housing.”

The housing on the fairgrounds is supposed to account for about half of the 113 affordable units that the city has to provide zoning for as part of the state’s sixth-cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Communication between the city and fairgrounds on that housing dates back about three years, when the city first adopted its housing element with a provision about negotiating with the fairgrounds to add housing on its state-owned land.

If a deal doesn’t happen, the city listed the north bluff as an alternative site to upzone for affordable housing.

But development on the north bluff hasn’t been a popular idea in Del Mar. Three years ago, it was the proposed site of the Marisol hotel ballot measure, which included 22 affordable housing units, but nearly 60% of Del Mar residents voted no.

The north bluff is also the proposed site for a 259-unit complex called Seaside Ridge, which is currently at a standstill. The city has deemed the application for the project incomplete, but the developer believes the project should be eligible to proceed “by right,” meaning it would be allowed to essentially circumvent the city’s zoning regulations. One-third of Seaside Ridge’s units would be reserved for lower-income tenants.

State Sen. Catherine Blakespear introduced a bill, SB 547, that would’ve required the fairgrounds to enter into a lease by April 30, 2024, for an affordable housing development with at least 61 units. But the bill stalled in the Assembly, with members of the Agriculture Committee concerned that it might set precedent for land use at other state fairgrounds.

Blakespear said in an interview that the goal of SB 547 was to “make it clear at the highest level of state ownership that this was an approved and preferred option.”

“If we do have this critical housing shortage, what is the solution for it? It’s not to sprawl out into the backcountry,” Blakespear said. “It’s to have this gentle density, to sprinkle in additional housing in a way that’s acceptable.”

Del Mar council members and residents have been critical of the city’s RHNA assignment of 175 units, including the 113 affordable units. San Diego County is responsible for adding about 170,000 new housing units during the sixth RHNA cycle, which runs from 2021 to 2029. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) divided those units among each community using a methodology based on proximity to jobs and transit. Coastal cities complained that the methodology left them with larger RHNA assignments compared to what they had received in the past.

But Del Mar city officials and Blakespear agreed that the Del Mar Fairgrounds remains a logical host for its fair share of that housing, since the seasonal jobs there played a role in elevating Del Mar’s RHNA assignment.

“Probably at least half of our RHNA numbers are due to the fairgrounds, and the fairgrounds occupies a little less than one-third of our land area,” Del Mar Mayor Tracy Martinez said. “I don’t think any other city that has fairgrounds in it has this uniqueness.”

Del Mar Fairgrounds spokesperson Tristan Hallman said that board President G. Joyce Rowland and CEO Carlene Moore were unavailable for interviews. But he sent a statement from Moore that said the fairgrounds “remains actively engaged with the City of Del Mar regarding the City’s state-mandated need to provide affordable housing.”

“In conjunction with our comprehensive planning process, the District is working quickly and diligently to assess possible sites for housing on our property and to work through potential regulatory issues before our Board of Directors decides whether and how to proceed with a formal agreement with the City,” Moore said.