DEL MAR — With limited financial resources and a list of pricey but needed projects, City Council members made at least some of their priorities clear during a special meeting Feb. 25.
“Things that impact public safety should have high priority and that should be one of the criteria independent of the funding source,” Councilman Don Mosier said after it was noted some projects were given high priority because funding is available.
Mosier said when it comes to public safety, that includes everything from streets and buildings to fencing. “(Do) things that need to be done to protect the city against liability,” he said. “This is part of prioritizing projects. You start with the public safety. … I know we can’t afford everything. Let’s try to afford what we need to afford.”
In particular, Mosier cited fencing on the bluff at Seagrove Park and at the tot lot, an unfunded project estimated to cost $25,000.
According to the staff report, an equal amount of money was budgeted for a survey of vacant and underutilized land.
“If the city has a liability because a fence is falling down, as it is in both of those locations, it’s a better expenditure of funds to replace the fencing and keep the tots from falling off the bluff than it is to survey our underutilized land,” he said.
Councilman Al Corti agreed, also criticizing the baseball field on the Shores property, which he deemed “a joke.”
“The fence is rusted and falling down,” Corti said. “The field is full of holes. … I don’t think as a city we should allow, or can allow, those things to occur.”
The two-year budget plan includes $75,000 for a two-phase project to complete a master plan for the Shores property, which the city purchased in 2008 from the Del Mar Union School District.
Resident Jacqueline Winterer started the meeting by urging council members to develop a civic center and replace the deteriorating City Hall.
“You own the land free and clear for a million years,” she said, suggesting the city build a new City Hall on top of underground parking.
“The public does not want complicated plans,” she said. “It does not want a comprehensive project.
“Your staff is housed in unacceptable conditions,” Winterer added. “The staff cannot speak for itself. It depends on the public. It depends on you to take care of their welfare.”
Winterer said now would be the best time to embark on such a project while interest rates are still low.
“I think that we’ve heard loud and clear from the community that the City Hall property is really important to them,” Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said. “I think we could gain a lot of the community united goals if we looked at that.”
Parks said she would prefer that the city not focus on so many projects at one time. “I think that we make a big mistake by being so fragmented,” she said.
Funding options were also discussed. Del Mar generally pays for projects with cash rather than taking on debt.
“Cash financing has enabled us to weather the recession much, much better than other cities that have gone large in their capital program and incurred debt and other fixed costs,” Mark Delin, assistant city manager, said, adding that if the city were willing to take on debt, now would be the time.
“This is an exceptionally good financing market now,” he said. “We’ve got the lowest long-term interest rates we’ve ever seen. Even though my own tendency is to be quite conservative, this is an unusually good opportunity to contemplate the issuance of debt.”
Council members agreed they first need to determine how much debt the city can take on before considering that as an option to fund some of the projects.
Another priority is establishing continuous sidewalks throughout the city.
Under the current pay-as-you-go system, there are plans to add or improve sidewalks along Camino del Mar in alternating years downtown and in the beach colony. Funding will come from annual TransNet and general fund allocations.
Council members also agreed the vacant maintenance building on the Shores property needs to be removed.
“It is a potential hazard,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “I’m worried about it.”