Del Mar Update from Dwight Worden

Hello friends! Here is my June 29, 2016 newsletter as your City Councilmember. I'll address a few topical issues for Del Mar in  each of these periodic newsletters, welcoming your feedback! Please feel free to share this with your Del Mar friends and neighbors.

Dwight's July Office Hours

Friday, July 1, 2016 - 9:30-11:30 am 

Stop in to chat--no appointment required.  Location: Del Mar Community Building, 225 9th St., Del Mar. Can't make it, but have something to say? Email me at:

Brief Updates

City Hall:  Demolition kicked off June 11 
Council starts the demolition. Photo Larry Brooks.
Swinging last, I bring down the bricks. Photo Larry Brooks

Temporary Relocation  Effective June 6 city hall is temporarily relocated to Southfair, 2010 Jimmy Durante Blvd., while we build our new city hall. City phone numbers and mailing address remain the same. Stop by--the city offices and council chamber are quite nice, with lots of open space, windows, and air.

I'm very pleased we were able to work this out at Southfair instead of relocating to the Shores property. We avoid the need to buy and move temporary buildings onto the Shores property, we avoid the need to bring in utilities, and we avoid imposing noise and other impacts on neighbors. We worked hard to make this happen. Now that's "The Del Mar Way!" Lots of memories in the old city hall, so while it is exciting to be embarking on a new city hall project, the demolition ceremony was also a bit bittersweet.

Short Term Rentals  Boy, is this a hot topic dividing our community! I've  heard a lot about this issue from all sides--professional property managers in the business and those who on their own rent their homes short term. Generally, they are in support of allowing STRs. On the other side I've heard a lot from permanent residents and long-term renters in opposition. There are good arguments, and good people, on both sides of the debate. 

For me, it comes down to resolving the issue as best we can in conformance with the guidance of our Community Plan. That Plan sets our highest goal as preserving the special residential character of Del Mar. It contemplates quiet neighborhoods of single family homes complemented by a downtown commercial district and designated visitor commercial areas. The Plan and its implementing zoning strictly disallow businesses, except for limited, highly-restricted "home occupations," in our residential areas, while accommodating short term visitors in hotels and motels in the visitor commercial zone. I just don't see how short term rentals fit in our residential zones consistent with our Community Plan or zoning. While the Plan and zoning do not expressly mention short term rentals, as the city attorney has advised, our zoning is "permissive", meaning if a use is not expressly allowed it is disallowed. The goals and text of our Community Plan and zoning, taken as a whole and reasonably read, seem clear to me. They do not currently allow short term rentals.

Del Mar already has a high ratio of hotel/motel rooms whether measured per capita or per square mile. Del Mar has a ratio of 200 motel/hotel rooms per square mile while Solana Beach has 81 per square mile. Del Mar has a per capita ratio of one hotel/motel room for every 12 residents while Solana Beach has one per 45 residents. We are more than doing our fair share as a community to accommodate short term visitors and we shouldn't have to compromise our residential zones. The proliferation of short term rentals has been dramatic in the past few years, and continues to escalate. The proliferation of STRs in residential zones-- in the beach area, on the bluffs along Stratford, and on  the hill--has the potential to profoundly change the fabric of our community forever. I'm for standing our ground and accommodating them where they belong--in the Visitor Commercial zone. 

A majority of council (Mosier, Corti, Sinnott) voted to pursue an "allow but regulate" approach, including in some or all residential zones. A minority (Worden, Parks) voted not to allow short term rentals in our residential zones. Moving forward, I will be working with councilmember Sinnott to try and develop the best possible set of draft regulations to implement the "allow but regulate" approach. I'm not giving up my position that Short Term Rentals don't belong in our residential zones, but I am committed to working with Terry on regulations. That way we can present the two best possible options for the community to consider: (1) Disallow STRs in residential zones and restrict STRs to the Visitor Commercial zone (2) Allow but regulate STRs in some or all residential zones. I'll be advocating for lots of discussion at council and for another community workshop to review whatever draft regulations we come up with. That way we can all decide from an informed basis what we think is best--the "no STRs in residential zones" approach or the "allow but regulate" approach.  If the final decision is to change the rules to allow and regulate short term rentals, that will require zoning code amendments and most likely a Community Plan Amendment as well. I'm hearing lots of input, which I value greatly--keep it coming! Send me your thoughts at:

Initiatives  and Voting 
One initiative has been turned in already (Watermark and voting on commercial zone changes), and another may be coming (Short Term Rentals). Presented with initiatives that have enough signatures, council has two choices: (1) adopt the initiatives without change, or (2) put them on the ballot. In deciding how to go council can send them for a 30 day study and report by staff before choosing option 1 or 2.

Historically, initiatives have been presented in Del Mar when there was a perceived need to "go over the head" of council because the council was out of step with the community. This was true when Measure B was passed in the 1980s requiring public votes on the Plaza and Hotel projects (council had approved a much larger Plaza project, over strong community opposition, and Measure B was the response). It was also the case with the Beach Protection Initiative which addressed removal of private encroachments from public beach property--an issue council had tried but been unable to resolve for years.  That's the purpose of California's initiative and referendum law--to let the voters go over the heads of their elected representatives when those representatives are out of step with the electorate.  I'm a strong supporter of that right.

It strikes me that the current two initiatives are different. Concern over the Watermark project propels one, but council hasn't even reviewed that project and the EIR isn't even done.  Whether there is a need to go "over the heads" of council remains to be seen. It will require a 4/5ths vote of council to amend the Community Plan to accommodate Watermark. That's a steep hill to climb. Ironically, the initiative may actually result in a lower threshold for approval.

Those concerned about Watermark could have engaged in the public review process, including DRB, Planning Commission and City Council consideration, with EIR in hand to inform the review process, watched to see what council would do, and then qualified a referendum if unhappy with the result, giving the voters the final say. With a Nov. ballot initiative, voters will actually have LESS information in hand than they would have had, with EIR documents and perspectives and analysis from community members as well as staff as part of the review processes. Concern over short term rentals propels the other initiative but we have no final decision on that topic either. If council adopts new regulations governing short term rentals those displeased can qualify a referendum to give the voters the final say. My preference would be to let the process run its course first and then take these issues to the ballot only if needed. But, if  the people want the right to vote on these issues up front and the petitions are certified, that's fine. I  respect  and  value  the right of the people to assert their right to vote on important matters.

1% Sales Tax increase: Good for Del Mar? Our Finance Committee brought council a recommendation that a 1% increase in the local sales tax be placed on the November ballot. In short, their argument was that the new revenue (about $1.5-$2 million per year) could fund important city projects like undergrounding of the remaining utility lines and poles in town, the Shores Park Plan implementation, and streetscape improvements in our downtown. Importantly, they note that most of the sales tax paid in Del Mar comes from sales at the Fairgrounds and that, overall, 80%+ of all sales tax is paid by visitors, not by locals. They argue, persuasively, that adding 1% to the local sales tax is one of the few ways to get the 3 million+ people who visit Del Mar every year to contribute to the costs of services and facilities our little town provides for them. We are a town of only about 4,500 people, but we pay 100% of the costs of lifeguard, police, and other services and facilities used by visitors.

So, what's the problem? Here are some of the arguments I've heard against the idea: (1) Some Del Marians have already paid, through assessment districts, to underground utilities in their neighborhoods and it's not fair to give this "free" to the rest of town. (2) Although the sales tax would cover the cost of undergrounding citywide ($15 million+), residents would still have to pay for the laterals from the public street to their house (3) We shouldn't rely on sales tax at the fairgrounds--the future of racing and the fairgrounds is uncertain (4) Increasing sales taxes will hurt the competitiveness of local businesses. (5) Councils can't be trusted to spend this money wisely.

Here are my responses. I'd be glad to discuss in more detail with anyone interested:

(1) Equity for those in assessment districts .  As one councilmember, I support reimbursing those already in undergrounding assessment districts if that is legally possible. If it is not legal, then perhaps we can reimburse these folks for the portion they paid to underground in the public right of way, identify other projects to fund in these neighborhoods, or otherwise even out the equity to some extent. Bottom line, though, it is still in the interest of folks already in assessment districts to support undergrounding of the rest of the city (which will be at no additional cost to these residents, remembering they already have laterals) as it will improve the overall appearance of the city, reduce fire hazards, and otherwise improve all property values in town.

(2) Paying for Laterals. As a councilmember I also support finding a way to pay/reimburse for lateral extensions with the sales tax if that is legally possible. If not, I am for finding a way to assist homeowners in financing these extensions if they need help. For most people the cost of a lateral extension is not that much and is truly minor compared to the benefit received from undergrounding.

(3) The future of fairgrounds taxes. The future of horse racing in California may well be uncertain. The future of fairs and exhibits like car shows seem pretty secure and that is where much of the sales tax comes from. Del Mar already follows a Finance Committee-recommended policy of never committing more than 50% of our free cash flow on any project. This is a safety valve that can accommodate fluctuations at the fairgrounds. Fairgrounds sales tax revenues could drop by up to 50% and we would still be OK under this policy.

(4) Impact to local businesses. An added 1% on the sales tax bill means an added $1 on a $100 meal at a Del Mar restaurant. There is no cost to the local business--it collects and passes through that extra dollar. It seems quite unlikely that this will drive business elsewhere. How often do you investigate the sales tax rate before choosing which area restaurant you will patronize?

(5) Shores Park Plan. We are well into master planning for the Shores Park property. Sadly, though, we have no funds to implement that plan. This 1% sales tax could fill that gap and make a really cool park a reality in the not too distant future.

(6) Streetscape. Camino Del Mar between 15th and 9th (if not all the way to 4th) could use a face-lift to improve sidewalks, beautify with landscaping, and otherwise improve the walkability, bikeability, and appearance of this key part of downtown. A 1% sales tax could help fund these needed streetscape improvements, which is otherwise another unfunded goal, in the process helping our local businesses.

(7) Council can't be trusted. The ballot measure we are looking at would require a simple majority for passage. That type of Measure cannot commit to specific projects, but rather, must raise revenue for the city's discretionary general fund. If the measure commits, irrevocably, to specific projects, then a 2/3 voter approval is required. So, council is going as far as it can legally to assure the community where these funds will go -- to projects like undergrounding, Shores Park, and streetscape, recognizing that these commitments are not legally binding.  Council is also looking to commit to a sunset clause in the measure so the 1% tax will expire. 

Finally, I have advocated, and council has agreed, to do a professional survey of the community to see if it supports this measure. That survey is underway. If it shows community support, the measure will go on the ballot. If not, we can pull it off. 

If these assurances are not enough for some, I can understand and will respect their right to vote "no." For me, it is hard to say "no" to collecting 80%+ of the cost of projects that will bring long-term benefit to out little village, like undergrounding, Shores Park, and streetscape, from visitors. We have very limited ability to have visitors pay their fair share of the costs they impose on our City, and this is a simple, effective way to do that. And, I'm for giving the voters the final say.  I'm hoping for a good public debate and I'll be happy with whatever choice our voters make.

Here's a 1978 photo of Del Mar City staff. How many of these folks can you name? Hint: The photo includes Lou Terrell as Mayor and Bob Nelson as city manager. 

Honoring Ivan Gayler & NCI
It was my privilege to present the City Proclamation recognizing Ivan Gayler and Nature and Culture International, headquartered in Del Mar, for their significant work protecting key ecosystems and habitats in some of the most environmentally important and endangered areas of the planet.  Over 7 million acres protected in 6 countries - truly an impressive accomplishment!