Del Mar Update from Dwight Worden


Hello friends! Here is my October 2015 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.

In the photo collage above: a September sunset at the Powerhouse; a well-attended clean-up at the River Path Del Mar; trash from our new sidewalk; and Don Mosier and me unveiling the plaque on the Coast to Crest Trail, at the Aug.12 dedication of the Peter Douglas Wetland, named for longtime Coastal Commission executive director and champion-defender of of the California coast.

~Dwight 
Dwight's October Office Hours - Friday, October 2, - 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: dwight@dwightworden.com.


Del Mar Public Spaces
#1 in a series: L'Auberge community meeting space

Del Mar has many public spaces, either owned by the City or other public entities, or private property that is open to public use by right. I'm working to compile an inventory of these areas, many of which are not so well known, to encourage people to get out and enjoy these wonderful spaces. I'll highlight one in each edition of my newsletter. Here's the first one:

L'Auberge Community Meeting Room.  Did you know that the 1989 Specific Plan approved by the voters for the building of L'Auberge (then called the Del Mar Hotel) contained a provision making a community meeting room available 12 times per year at no cost? Here is the relevant excerpt from page 54 of the Specific Plan which summarizes all the public benefits offered as part of the project, including:

"A multi-purpose room (community use twelve times per year). Procedures for use to be determined by the city council."

Hotel Specific Plan - Public Benefits
Page 54 of the Specific Plan includes these public benefits (part of a 15-item list).
City staff reports to me that, as far as it can determine, the City Council has never established procedures for use of this community room. The Del Mar Foundation used it once in approx. 2007, to help launch its community endowment -- but other than that, I'm not aware of the community taking advantage of this benefit that was secured for the public as part of the Specific Plan's "public benefits.". 

It's about time the City Council establishes procedures for this public right, to make sure that the community gets the benefits it bargained for, and I've put that on my "to do list" for the Council.



Downtown
Moving forward post-Prop J 

PROP. J.  Downtown Del Mar--what to do?  We voted down Prop J's comprehensive Specific Plan to "revitalize" downtown with roundabouts, street changes, FAR and zoning revisions, etc. The city attorney has advised that we can still act to improve downtown consistent with the guidance of the Community Plan and current zoning, notwithstanding the defeat of Prop J. I will, however, be watching closely and giving extra scrutiny to any proposal that was a part of Prop J. I'm for doing what we can to improve downtown, but feel we need to return to the voters before we take on anything that was specifically rejected as part of Prop J. Here are some downtown projects that are underway:

STREETSCAPE AND PARKING.  We are embarking on a review and update of the 1996 Streetscape Plan so that we can have a guidance document that is updated and reflects current needs and desires for CDM through the downtown area. 

With respect to parking, we are working on a comprehensive city-wide parking management plan, and it is important to me that we work on a plan for the entire city, rather than piecemeal.  For that reason, I asked that downtown parking issues be removed from a recent Planning Commission agenda. 

As these updates move forward I hope you will get involved and let us know your thoughts. 

CIVIC CENTER. We are moving forward with our new Civic Center planning process, with its new city offices, town hall for council and community meetings, a plaza, a home for the farmers' market, and other improvements. This project will make major improvements to our downtown. The draft EIR is out for public review and comment. You can comment up to October 26, 2016.

GARDEN PROPERTY. The Garden Del Mar property at 10th and CDM has been purchased by Kitchel, and a development proposal with possible proposed revisions to the voter approved Garden Specific Plan may be on the horizon. Any major revisions to the voter approved Specific Plan will require voter approval, while council can sign off on minor changes. 

DOWNTOWN PROMOTION. For the past five years the city had a TBID (Tourist Business Improvement District) that charged a 1% fee to guests in our six downtown hotels, with the funds allocated to promotion of downtown. Recently, council directed that we continue our funding of downtown promotion, but rather than doing this through the poorly performing and cumbersome TBID, we do it by adding 1% to the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) paid by hotel guests (currently 11.5%, taking it to 12.5%, but still under the voter-approved cap of 13%), while eliminating the 1% TBD fee. This will not change total downtown funding, but will shift it fromTBID control to City control, with DMVA poised to act, under city guidance and annual review, as the administrative agent for the handling and expenditure of the funds. This should improve downtown's competitive position.

NEW TENANTS AND PROJECTS. There are some new tenants downtown, and DMVA and our Business Support Advisory Committee are working to help tenants and owners, and to improve and promote downtown.

However, in large part the downtown seems resistant to major change. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why, both those factors beyond city control and those the city can influence.

Here are some key factors the city cannot control:

1. TAX ISSUES. Many of the downtown properties have very low tax bases under Prop 13. Any significant redevelopment would trigger reassessment and major property tax increases. This makes the status quo more desirable to many owners, forming a strong disincentive for owners to revitalize. Nothing the city can do about this fact of life.

2. FINANCING. Financing is expensive and often difficult to obtain, especially as banks and lenders have tightened their requirements after the economic downturn of 2008. Many a dream to revitalize in Del Mar has died in the face of financing difficulties (think Garden Del Mar), and an owner's understandable reluctance to take on major new debt. Nothing the city can do about these facts of life either.

2.   GEOGRAPHY. We do not have a classic downtown of multiple square blocks with access from every direction and an easily walkable crticial mass area. We have one main through street with strip commercial, and only two entries to our downtown. We have no access from the west due to the ocean, none from the east due to hills, and a bit of a drive to get to CDM from the north and south. This makes fostering a vibrant downtown more difficult. Nothing the city can do about our geography.

3. COMPETITION. Competition for commercial business is heavy, and continues to increase. The Cedros Design District, downtown Solana Beach, the remodeled Flower Hill, Del Mar Heights, Carmel Valley, and elsewhere are all serious competitors for shopping, restaurants, and as destinations. We can improve our efforts to promote what is special about our own downtown - see TBID discussion above - and in the longer term, perhaps we can find proactive steps to enticing desirable businesses to locate here.

4. GRANDFATHER RIGHTS & CODE COMPLIANCE . Many of our downtown buildings and businesses hold "grandfather rights" to operate notwithstanding non-compliance with parking, zoning, accessibility, and building code standards. For most, redevelopment would require giving up these rights, and would require very expensive upgrades addressing parking, electrical, window glazing, energy standards, ADA, etc. That can be a major disincentive to redevelop.

If you owned an existing building in downtown Del Mar with a low tax basis and a positive cash flow from tenants and grandfather rights, would you want to give up these benefits to take on an expensive redevelopment with its financial risks and headaches? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe you would just keep it as is, deposit your rent checks every month, and eventually leave the property to your kids, letting them get a stepped up basis, thereby avoiding the hefty capital gains tax you might pay if you sold.

Here are some things that the city can potentially influence:

1. PARKING. We are adding about 100 new spaces at the new city hall project (160 total). We can add spaces elsewhere as well, and we are working on updating our Streetscape Plan (1996) and work is underway on a comprehensive parking management plan.

2. MEASURE B. Measure B requires a public vote on projects bigger than a certain size (lots 25,000 square ft. or larger, and projects with floor area of 11,500 sq. feet or larger). Currently there are no commercial lots in downtown big enough to trigger Measure B (the Garden Del Mar site already has a Measure B voter-approved Specific Plan). The city hall property is big enough but is zoned Public Facilities, as is the Shores property (but a proposal to re-zone an expansion area on the city hall property for a commercial use would likely trigger Measure B). If someone wanted to buy several adjoining lots for a development project, that could potentially trigger Measure B, but we haven't seen proposals like that come forward.

Even so, some consider Measure B an obstacle to downtown redevelopment, and perception can foster reality. I'm a strong supporter of Del Mar voters having the right to vote on major projects, but I am willing to take a look at Measure B (passed in the 1980s) and consider revisions to update our voting process to what we need today.

 3.   ZONING AND DESIGN REVIEW .  To the extent there is a need to update zoning and design review requirements for downtown, that is within the city's purview. For example, if we want to encourage mixed use residential and commercial, modernize parking standards, encourage streetscape improvements, etc. the city has a say.

4.   DEVELOPMENT REVIEW PROCESS. Some perceive that navigating the Del Mar development review process is unnecessarily difficult, and an impediment to downtown revitalization. We are currently engaged in an advisory committee review regarding the development review process for residential property, and perhaps we should conduct a similar review for commercial property next.
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Doofus Award of the Month: Litterbugs who are trashing our new sidewalk 
Trash Along the New Sidewalk After the Riverpath cleanup event last Saturday, one participant walked home along the new sidewalk on Jimmy Durante, from the Watermark property to the Seaview intersection, and collected 8.2 pounds of trash, "highlights" of which are shown above. I'm guessing some of this came from pedestrians, and some from cars, and I'm hoping most of it came from non-Del Mar residents. Starbucks "won" the fast-food trash award, but places as far away as Jack in the Box and In and Out Burger were represented. Fairgrounds events and parking were represented -- you know that Kaaboo wristband was simply too heavy to take all the way to a trashcan -- and glass competed with plastic for bragging rights. Way to uglify our beautiful new sidewalk! And if you are out for a walk, consider taking a glove and trash bag and picking up some of trash to keep our new sidewalk beautiful.


Got Issues of Concern This Summer? 
Send me an email -- dwight@dwightworden.com -- and let me know. I'll see what I can do! 

Thanks for taking the time to read this update, and for sharing your thoughts with me.


~Dwight