Why all residents’ voices must be heard

By Richard Earnest

Mayor, Del Mar

It is likely that two of the most contentious projects currently facing Del Mar residents are the North Hills and Sunset Utility undergrounding districts. On Feb. 2, the city held a Special Council Meeting to discuss the North Hills Preliminary Engineering Report. The council received oral comments from 46 residents, most of whom oppose the district, and received written statements from 66 residents, the majority of whom support the district.

The decision on how to proceed has been an agonizing one for council. For some of our residents, undergrounding could not have occurred at a worse time and will be a considerable financial hardship. While some financial assistance will be available through the program offered through Del Mar Community Connections, there is no guarantee of how much funding will be available and how many residents can be helped.

While I consider the financial difficulties that undergrounding will present for many of our residents, I must also weigh the countless hours that the volunteer resident steering committees have worked trying to move their districts forward, as well as the unrefundable monies that were provided in excess of $100,000 by the neighbors to support the undergrounding process.

In North Hills, 79 percent of the residents submitted petitions in favor of forming the district and residents raised $38,540 from their neighbors to see the district move forward.

In Sunset, 70 percent of the residents submitted petitions in favor and a total of $65,550 in funding was raised.

These funds have been completely spent for engineering costs and cannot be returned to the residents who expected the council to allow them to decide what was best for themselves. For this reason, if the council were to cancel the district before the vote it would squander the efforts and funds of the many residents that have contributed, and would run the risk of not seeing the democratic process through to the end.

At the same time, I recognize the amount of courage that it took for some of our residents to testify in public about their personal situation. We should do all we can to minimize the potential negative economic consequences for those affected.

The positive results of our efforts to underground utilities in Del Mar should not contribute to the economic hardship of our neighbors.

The only possible way to ensure a fair and democratic outcome is to allow the assessment ballot procedure to continue so that the voice of all citizens can be heard. If a majority favors formation of the districts, the City Council will still have a difficult decision before it when it considers those who cannot afford undergrounding and those who have worked so hard to make it a reality.

We recognize that undergrounding is a resident-led project and we should see the process through. I can assure you that I am listening to all voices in the community and know that we are faced with a very difficult decision, which will affect all of us.