Del Mar discusses postponing revitalization vote

By Claire Harlin

The results of a recent survey show half of Del Mar voters support the City Council’s proposed downtown revitalization plan, and for some officials and residents, that’s not reassuring enough to put the measure on the November ballot.

The survey, presented July 30 at a special council meeting held at Indigo Hotel, showed that 52 percent of voters support the plan, which involves the certification of new development standards and mobility features such as roundabouts. The survey, conducted by True North Research, also revealed that 36 percent of voters do not support the plan, and the rest were not sure. The top reason for opposition was roundabouts, and the second-highest point of concern was that the plan may increase traffic along Camino del Mar and on neighboring streets.

Tom Shepard, a local political consultant who more than a decade ago led a support campaign for the Del Mar Plaza development, said there are a few red flags raised from the survey.

“If there’s any uncertainty, people tend to default to a ‘no’ vote and the intensity of positive arguments is less than the intensity of negative arguments,” said Shepard, who served as mayor of Del Mar in the 1970s. He added that the city is in a “problematic position in getting this measure approved by voters, as evidenced by this survey.”

A number of residents and one member of the council strongly suggested delaying the vote and giving the community more time to get information. Officials also brought up the idea of installing “demonstration” roundabouts in the residential beach colony area along Camino del Mar north of downtown to test their operation before installing them in the Village.

“Is there any way we can sequence this and use more time to test roundabouts for mobility?” asked Councilman Terry Sinnott. “If it goes to vote now we are risking the whole package.”

Sinnott made clear that he thinks the plan will be successful if implemented, but he is worried that forcing it on the ballot might result in the failure of a good plan.

The council discussed “splitting up” the measure and moving forward with development standards such as floor-area ratio and building height, while holding off on mobility measures such as roundabouts. There were mixed feelings expressed on this option.

City Manager Scott Huth said postponing a vote on the traffic-related elements of the plan will allow for further analyzing. Planning and Community Development Kathy Garcia said, however, that some members of the community have expressed that the success of the development part of the plan is dependent on changes to mobility, and vice versa.

“Some people think the two are intertwined,” she said.

Councilman Don Mosier called the survey “daunting.”

“Clearly our outreach has not convinced citizens this is a good plan,” he said. “It will be a very close election, but I’m not willing to give up on a very good plan.”

Mosier said he doesn’t want to take roundabouts out of the plan, and he said he’s not convinced delaying the vote will garner more positive support.

“If voters don’t want this, then that’s how they will respond,” he said.

If the council decides to delay the vote until next spring, it could cost the city upward of $100,000 to hold a special election.

Shepard said there would most likely be a much lower turnout for a special election, but the electorate will be more informed than that of a general election with a longer ballot.

“A lot of the people who would show up in November would not participate in a special election,” he said.

Other options include combining this item with another special election if one comes up in the future, or waiting until the primaries in June 2014.

“It’s hard to find anyone who really wants this plan, and people are scared to death of it,” said longtime resident Hershel Price. “It’s gonna get killed; it’s going to die. That’s my prediction. June 2014 is looking really good.”

The council will hold its next meeting on this topic on Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Del Mar council chambers at 1050 Camino del Mar. Then the council will discuss certification of the Village Specific Plan Environmental Impact Report.

To view the survey results and get more information on Village revitalization, visit