Reflections on 2009 and a look ahead

It has been a privilege to serve as Del Mar’s Mayor in 2009. This past year has been a challenging and yet joyful one: we faced an unparalled economic crisis while celebrating our city’s 50th birthday.

I look back with pride and relief at how our City Council, management team and employees responded to the plummeting economy. The handwriting, as they say, was on the wall in 2008. We could see our sales tax and hotel tax revenues declining as visitors stayed home and tightened their belts, and we knew all too well from past experience that the state would likely raid local government coffers to address the record state deficit. But we responded the “Del Mar way.” Rather than cut services or compromise public safety, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work figuring out once again how to do more with less.

It wasn’t easy, but the end product was a two-year budget that maintains services and protects our quality of life while reducing our budget by 9 percent this year and 8 percent next year.

Fortunately, our property tax revenues remain robust and in fact grew at the highest rate in the county, which is a testament to those residents who wisely fought for cityhood in 1959.

Unfortunately, the cost of “doing the city’s business,” which includes providing services and support to the fairgrounds, continue to rise and our need for critical infrastructure improvements like the Beach Safety Center and our City Hall remain. Increased operational efficiencies, delayed repairs and minimal capital improvements can only go so far, and we must find ways to increase revenues in order to ensure our long-term well being.

Thankfully our well-informed and creative residents and businesses have responded in positive ways. The community approved our increase in the hotel tax rate last November and approved our updated water, sewer and clean water rates. Our residents continue to fundraise to retire the Shores Property Debt and to support the Beach Safety Center project.

And we are making progress on our efforts to revitalize downtown. Measures like horizontal zoning and sidewalk cafes have been a difficult challenge, but we have seen successes and learned from our mistakes.

During my many years of community service, I’ve come to appreciate why change comes slowly to Del Mar. We are fortunate to have interested and engaged residents willing to engage in difficult conversations about our future and how to protect our quality of life. We simply must continue those conversations until we find solutions that work for us.

As I pass the gavel to our next mayor on Monday night, I begin my final year on the City Council. Looking back, I am proud of our accomplishments over the last 50 years and excited about the opportunities that 2010 will bring. It is an honor to serve such a wonderful community.

Thank you.