Village Specific Plan not quite ready for prime time

By Richard S. Simons

Chairman - Commercial Task Force 1974 Citizens Proposed Revision to the Del Mar General Plan

Once upon a time, many years ago (well, 38 to be precise) the citizens of Del Mar gathered to write the Community Plan and dreamed the dream of a “pedestrian-oriented, economically viable downtown that serves the needs of both visitors and residents,“ a mantra that we repeat to this day while noticing that although some progress has been made, much remains to be done to make the dream a reality.

The Village Specific Plan (VSP) — also known as “Proposition J” on your November ballot — is a serious attempt to realize that dream. It pays close attention to the “economical viability” element of the Community Plan but many alert citizens have noticed that it gives short shrift to some other words that show up prominently in the old Plan: “low density,” “human scale” and “village character”, among others. It is hard to reconcile those words with a plan that almost doubles the amount of commercial space in the downtown area, as well as the allowable floor-area ratio (FAR), runs up building heights on the west side of CDM and introduces 110 residential units to the mix. And it is totally unclear in what way (other than a lot more bars and restaurants) a single square foot of the added commercial area (roughly the equivalent of three plazas!) will be made to be “resident serving.”

The VSP is far-reaching and complicated to the point that reasonable minds can disagree. If, in fact, you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that reasonable minds are disagreeing. The City Council was warned by various knowledgeable people that this would be the case, that the community was split badly on this issue, that we needed more time to come together, but the Council, from its throne of omniscience, decided to throw the dice and put the issue on the November ballot. Thank you, City Council.

The proponents of J would like you to believe that once the development genie is let out of the bottle, it can be shoved back in anytime in the future that it seems to be getting out of control. The experience of those advocating No on J is that you can never get that genie back in the bottle.

If, after you have absorbed all you can of the intricacies of the VSP, you still have some doubts about the wisdom of letting the development genie out of the bottle, I want to assure you that it is OK to say “No.” The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, come what may. Never mind that the proponents of Prop J would like you to believe that if it fails, Del Mar will stagnate for another 40 years, all the while slipping slowly into the sea.

I would like to believe, and I would like you to believe, that after a restful holiday season the adults in town can get together and sort this thing out. I don’t think that “going back to the drawing board” implies “taking it from the top,” as some have suggested. An excellent framework for revitalization has been prepared by our Planning Department; the trouble is just that some of the numbers are uncomfortably out of control. I am confident that with a little (more) time reasonable minds can come to an agreement that a large majority of the populace can accept, as it did those 38 years ago.

On something this important — and expensive — it would seem worthwhile to take the time to get it right.