By Bud Emerson
Watching the Del Mar City Council stumble clumsily toward decisions about downtown re(sic)vitalization, it seems they have a bit of amnesia about how the community has evolved over the years. We did not achieve our status as one of the most admired cities in California by “fast tracking” our decision-making processes.
In recent years we seem to be shortcutting a process that has worked extremely well in building a community that is widely envied. Why is the Council mucking around in awning design, bench placement, connecting pathways without utilizing the capabilities of its own Design Review Board and Planning Commission?
Much of what we value in Del Mar has come about using what we call the “Del Mar Way.” Basically this means we use a variety of methods to maximize citizen input before decisions get made by the City Council. Workshops, surveys, neighborhood get-togethers, public hearings, ad hoc citizen committees, boards, and commissions are part of the mix. If it is a big ticket item we ask for voter okay. On occasion when the Council is stuck, we have had to resort to initiatives and referendums.
All of this takes a lot of time and is often frustrating for those who want to cut to the chase. But in the end, we usually struggle our way to a rough consensus that makes it easy for the Council to ratify. The end result is a decision that is “owned” by the citizenry. And the proof is in the pudding. We have a community that we are proud to live in, not to mention the highest property values in the region.
One of our best QC (quality control) mechanisms is the design review process. The Design Review Board members take the time to analyze and think through all of the details of proposed developments. This is not to say that they produce perfect products, but the value of their conscientious work is dramatic when you compare some of the elephantine structures that get built without QC just over the city boundaries in neighboring San Diego.
So why have recent Councils been so willing to reduce the role of the DRB and other citizen committees in their decision process? I think one answer can be found in the fact that very few recent elections have been contested. Few recent Council members have had to get out and walk door to door, listening to what residents have to say. Losing that vital connection to constituents gives the Council members a sense of entitlement. When they stop asking us, we stop participating, and that sense of community ownership dies away. The quality of decisions diminishes. I worry that we are losing something that we will live to regret.
The Del Mar Way works — let’s use it!