After a failed Prop J, Del Mar still optimistic about revitalization

By Claire Harlin

From the passing of the Community Plan in 1976 to the Del Mar 2000 Plan created in the 1980s to the 1996 Camino Del Mar Streetscape Plan — among several other milestones — revitalization is no new topic for Del Mar. And while the most recent Village Specific Plan (VSP) might have been the closest Del Mar has been to actually implementing revitalization, city officials and residents on both sides of Prop J say its failure at the polls on Nov. 6 doesn’t mean the city’s hard work on the plan was a waste of time.

“The VSP as a comprehensive plan didn’t pass, but everything leading up to the specific plan still has validity,” said Del Mar Planning and Community Development Director Kathy Garcia. “The solutions will change but the analysis is still valid.”

The community will get a rest from the heated issue until the county’s Registrar of Voters certifies the election in early December, and the city will also wait to move forward on any alternative revitalization efforts until the City Council gives city staff direction to explore other options. While there are still more than 250,000 mail/provisional ballots to be tallied countywide, Prop J campaigners are deeming the measure failed, with 58.3 percent of voters rejecting it and only 41.6 percent in favor (as of presstime for this newspaper).

Howard Gad, a Prop J supporter with the group FOR Del Mar’s Future, said the high turnout — about 2,000 voters, or half of Del Mar residents — was expected, as was the uphill battle the Prop J proponents fought.

“The burden was on the ‘yes’ side because if people don’t understand a measure, they vote no,” he said. “This was a great plan but it covered a lot of ground … Maybe it was too comprehensive.”

He said that many of the supporters have been working on the issue as far back as four years ago when the city attempted to revitalize by convening a form-based code committee. He said it is “ridiculous” that the community didn’t trust a plan that Del Mar’s elected officials and “top-notch” consultants spent well over a year studying and revising.

“Many of these people are residents just like everyone else and they’ve spent hours on end reviewing every aspect of this,” said Gad. “Why would they come forward after all that and present something that’s not good?”

Al Corti, who was elected Nov. 6 to the Del Mar City Council, will assume the uncontested seat on Dec. 4 and he brings to the table hours and hours of time dedicated to studying the VSP, as well as the community’s likes and dislikes. He’s attended at least 60 of 90 public meetings the city held during its drafting of the plan and the educational phase leading up to election. He said the time and money spent on the VSP wasn’t wasted, because the major consensus is that revitalization is still necessary and the city learned a lot in the process. He said as a City Council member he will focus on the parts of the VSP that the community did like, such as building a parking structure on the City Hall property.

“There were a lot of positives that came out of it that we could be doing to revitalize, as opposed to taking it all at once,” he said, adding that he welcomes a break from the VSP, but would like to see discussions resume within the next six months.

“The more dialogue we have with the community, the more we will understand how to move forward, but at this point we need to let the community take a rest from the discussion,” he said.

Dave Druker, who opposed Prop J, leading the group Save Olde Del Mar, said he is both happy and not surprised about the election’s outcome, but it’s time to pick up the pieces.

“It’s very important that the city go though a strong healing process in terms of getting the two opposing sides to start working on projects everyone can agree on that will be beneficial to the city,” Druker said.

He said the failure of Prop J was not a rejection of revitalization, but rather an affirmation of the Community Plan.

“People think the Community Plan is the correct vision for Del Mar and the changes in Del Mar need to be small and planned,” he said. “Development in Del Mar needs to be of human scale, with one story on the west side … Ultimately the amount of development should not be overwhelming. The VSP was too big, too complex and too ambitious.”

Garcia said the Environmental Impact Report, as well as other findings, can be used for future projects, so the resources weren’t wasted. For example, parking studies can still be used for the city’s Parking Management Plan, and the EIR can be used for any relevant development — public or private.

“As far as staff time and planning, we do a lot of research and development, and maybe that data was not used where it was originally intended, but it will still be used for other things,” she said.

City staff await the go-ahead from city council to agendize and move forward with revitalization, however, in the meantime the city has been busy with the Housing Element, Local Coastal Program, development proposals and other initiatives and tasks.

“The election may be over,” she said, “but we haven’t seen it calm down.”