Del Mar Mesa closer to parks, trails beautification with engineer’s report

By Suzanne Evans

“An assessment engineer’s report is the heart and soul of a Maintenance Assessment District,” said Del Mar Mesa board member and developer Paul Metcalf, whose vision of La Jolla’s Bird Rock has culminated in a more walkable, tranquil MAD community with roundabouts slowing traffic.

Metcalf and the Del Mar Mesa planning board have long championed their own MAD that provides a structure for property owners to vote, assessing themselves to pay and receive services, called a “special benefit,” above and beyond what the City normally provides.

Metcalf, John Eardensohn of Latitude 33 land planning engineering, and Andy Field, city MAD manager for open space, park and recreation, presented to the Del Mar Mesa board June 14 a review of proposed Del Mar Mesa Maintenance Assessment District areas and a Latitude’s Engineer’s Report of potential yearly assessment fees for parcel owners.

In sculpting a MAD for Del Mar Mesa, Metcalf said the board will choose from a long list of levels of maintenance service (high/medium/low), ranging from litter removal to trail maintenance and determine the areas the community feels should be maintained. Highlighting benefits to parkways, trails, and level of service, the Assessment Engineer’s Report will identify maintenance improvements and assign reasonable costs.

Eardensohn explained the formation of the Del Mar Mesa MAD as a rural community with a “dark sky” (no bright lights at night), open character, and no standard curbs or decomposed granite trails. It is formed by one vote for each developable property within it, not including the Grand Del Mar Hotel. The Del Mar Mesa Specific Plan places regulations on lot sizes, lighting, fencing and street design.

Subdivisions scattered over the mesa include Del Mar Mesa Estates, Whitehorse Farms, Silver Oaks, Bougainvillea, a portion of the golf course; a rudimentary trail, and some smaller subdivisions, ending in Duck Pond Ranch in the east. A trail around the outer edge of the maintenance district is included in the MAD, Eardensohn said. Pardee Homes will provide landscaping and irrigation services for its in-progress Shaw Lorenz development.

Fee Assessments are apportioned to properties based on factors of parcel area, land use intensity, number of residential units, building square footage, property trip (traffic) generation, etc. Weed and litter removal might be at the low end of services provided, while trail maintenance, sweeping concrete/paved areas, and fence repair would be at a higher level.

Metcalf was quick to note that service fees are preliminary estimates, “not set in stone.” At the low end, the benefit fee could be $360 a year; at the high end, it could be as much as $670 per year. Large lots, such as those with horse corrals, would have a greater benefit fee, but could get a 50 percent fee reduction if they maintain their own facilities. Any increase above a set maximum fee would require a vote of property owners, board member Lisa Ross clarified.

The MAD manager could be a city staff member on a contract basis, visiting the mesa several times a week to walk all its trails, with an approximate annual budget of $100,000, or a Del Mar Mesa property owner, including a volunteer. In comparison, “La Jolla Bird Rock’s annual budget is $30,000,” Metcalf said. It could cost $13,000 for a nonprofit such as “Friends of Del Mar Mesa” to operate. Line items and cost could be modified.

“It’s an investment in our community,” chair Gary Levitt said. “If we don’t do (the maintenance), the city won’t do it. Some places (like Whitehorse, Bougainvillea, and Duck Pond) are doing a great job of maintenance.” Levitt said subdivisions with their own Homeowners Associations will maintain their own street frontages.

“Now I want a park,” Ross said, referring to the desolate patch of weeds at the east end of the mesa, waiting to become a long-awaited recreation area. “The community needs (examples) to see what they are getting for their money.” Metcalf has on file a preliminary questionnaire that can be sent out to the community, inviting them to future board meetings. Levitt said board members will meet soon in a smaller group and then schedule another meeting with the city.