Del Mar City Council discusses priorities

By Kristina Houck

A review of the Del Mar City Council’s priorities turned into a discussion about how council members and staff could more effectively meet the city’s goals during a special meeting and workshop on Sept. 9.

Council members and city staff reviewed more than two dozen priorities for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years, including some that have already been met such as a pension reserve fund the council established at its Sept. 3 meeting and a fee for the city’s in-lieu parking fee program the council approved in July.

The list included short-term goals such as repairs to Torrey Pines Bridge and sidewalk and street improvements, as well as long-term plans for new city facilities, capital improvement projects and parking management.

Council members also discussed future topics for council agendas, which include Watermark Del Mar, a proposed one- and two-story multi-unit housing project for the vacant property southwest of the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road. Developers invited community members to learn about Watermark Del Mar during an open house in July, but a development application for the residential project has not yet been submitted.

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks suggested establishing a subcommittee to explore potential grants, private-public partnerships and other revenue generating ideas to help fund some of the city’s capital improvement projects.

Mayor Terry Sinnott said he would like to continue discussion of undergrounding the city’s electric lines to improve safety, reliability and the aesthetic environment. In 2012, SDG&E completed the undergrounding of utility lines along the east side of Camino del Mar and removed all previously existing overhead power lines, but the city doesn’t have enough money to fund new projects.

Councilman Don Mosier said he would like to hold a workshop on building a new City Hall, and Del Mar resident Sharon Hilliard urged the city to explore citywide public WiFi.

Councilman Al Corti expressed concern that some of the items on the list wouldn’t get done.

“When I see a priority list put together, and I read that it will be done in 2014, 2015, I don’t look at that as something that may slip if something else comes up,” he said.

Corti added he wasn’t criticizing staff or trying to create new priorities, “but if these are the things we decided with the public, let’s do it.”

The city has wanted to replace its outdated, 57-year-old facility on Camino Del Mar for years. The Del Mar Community Plan was developed in 1976 and was last updated in 1985.

Corti noted that it took five years for the council to approve the fee for the city’s in-lieu parking fee program.

“I just want us to give staff direction as to what the true priority is,” Corti said. “And to the extent the public disagrees with where we’re going, let them chime in and tell us otherwise. That’s where I get my frustration.”

Although council members disagreed on which priorities were more important, they agreed that building a new City Hall is a top priority.

“We are housing many of our employees in a substandard building with not very good working conditions,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “You complain about how much work we’re going to get out of people, but look at the working conditions — we’re getting a lot of work out of people working in very bad conditions.”

Del Mar resident Jim Benedict said he would like to see a new City Hall, but urged the council to get input from citizens. He said community members could give their thoughts on a new City Hall as well as other council priorities at workshops similar to the Del Mar’s Vision 2020 workshops, where residents and community leaders came up with a list of goals they wanted Del Mar to achieve by the year 2020.

“In all of the issues that have come up here, the concern is where we should prioritize them,” Benedict said. “Ask the community. Don’t ask your friends; ask the community.”

City Manager Scott Huth said city staff on Sept. 16 would present a “forecasting financial puzzle” so the council could better rank its priorities.

“We have a great group of people in all of our departments. They’re always striving to do the best they can for the community. Saying, ‘No,’ really isn’t on anybody’s list, so we try to just get it done,” Huth said. “I think your points are well taken. We need to dialogue with you a little bit more and be able to focus some of that attention on the highest priorities that you set and get work done.”

The council agreed that the priority list should be categorized into operational tasks and long-term projects. Some council members also suggested postponing the creation of a master plan for the Shores property to 2014 to allow more time for other tasks.

“We can’t do everything,” said Deputy Mayor Lee Haydu, and her colleagues agreed.

“I would encourage us to be tracking a little bit more how we’re doing on those priorities,” Sinnott said. “What’s going well? What progress are we making?

“If that is presented in various forms, it can then be shared with the public, and the public can have even more confidence that we are making progress.”