Del Mar explores polling, forums as outreach options

By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

Improving transparency and strengthening communication with the community were topics of discussion at the Del Mar City Council meeting on Aug. 8.

After a presentation on community outreach by Councilmembers Lee Haydu and Terry Sinnot, the council explored the possibilities of implementing tools like hosted “community conversations” and web-based surveys of residents.

“We could have informal two-way conversations to make sure we are listening to what’s going on in local neighborhoods because each neighborhood is different,” Haydu said, suggesting Del Mar could be split into nine specific meeting areas, such as Sunset, North Hills, South Hills, Stratford 1, Stratford 2 and Ocean View/Pines. Meetings could have two council members present, Sinnot and Haydu suggested, and be held monthly (except in August, July and December) to ensure that each neighborhood has one “community conversation” per year.

The council welcomed the idea of holding regular meetings, however some members pointed out that it often takes a hot-button issue to draw people to a forum.

“We have a number of community conversations, but usually when someone is upset,” said Deputy Mayor Carl Hilliard. “You have to have an issue that causes them to come.”

Sinnot said success of the meetings may actually be measured by nobody showing up, meaning everyone is content.

“It’s an effort to address things in an open, proactive way,” he said.

Another aspect of the report by Sinnot and Haydu brought up the possibility of seeking community input through use of online surveys.

“A current problem we have is that communication is one-way and doesn’t seek input in a formal way,” Sinnot said. “How can we get residents more involved?”

He said surveys could be an immediate, convenient way to gage opinion of specific issues affecting Del Mar, such as a new solid-waste franchise, redevelopment or the Village Specific Plan.

Mayor Don Mosier said polling is often not a science, but a political tool.

“You can get them to say what you want,” he said, adding that poll results often carry with them certain expectations. “If you don’t do it well, you shouldn’t do it at all.”

Community member Bill Michaelsky said it seems web-based polling is often inaccurate, and he thinks holding “community conversations” is a better outreach method.

“We poll ourselves to death in this country, and we have to see how that benefits us, if at all,” he said. “The idea of polling doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.”