DEL MAR — Four meetings held in June at various times and locations to solicit input from hillside residents regarding city services, improvement projects and issues specific to their neighborhood were helpful and productive, although one was “cantankerous at times,” according to Councilwoman Sherryl Parks.
During a gathering she attended with Mayor Al Corti, two controversial proposed projects at the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive were discussed: traffic improvements that include a roundabout and the Watermark residential housing complex.
“I think we assuaged them in some ways, mostly because I told them how much money I make,” Parks said jokingly, referring to the $300 monthly stipend she and her colleagues receive. “They were astounded. It softened their hearts, let’s say that.”
A summary of the gatherings was presented and discussed at the July 20 council meeting.
Economic development, pedestrian mobility, the impact of events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, short-term rentals, private property development, parking, infrastructure and railroad-related issues were among the other topics that were brought up.
There was “a feeling that downtown was in need of revitalization in terms of both appearance and substance of commercial tenants,” and the city “should take an active lead role in revitalization and business development by focusing on infrastructure and allowing private developers to invest in downtown,” according to the staff report.
To reduce automobile dependence and encourage pedestrian mobility, residents suggested increasing the number of crosswalks citywide, slowing traffic on Jimmy Durante and elsewhere with infrastructure changes and implementing a shuttle to transport people from one end of the village to the other.
Future improvements at the intersection of Jimmy Durante and San Dieguito prompted several questions and discussions about a roundabout, synchronized lights and stop signs. An environmental impact report is currently underway to evaluate all three traffic-calming devices.
Residents also asked for increased traffic enforcement in the area. Staff members said they would convey the request to the Sheriff’s Department.
A number of concerns were raised about regulating residential short-term rentals — defined as less than 31 days — which are only allowed at hotels under current zoning laws.
Residents suggested creating rental zones, requiring minimum rental periods by zone and mandating registration with a designated local property manager.
Attendees also had concerns with property development issues such as ongoing vacancies at the Del Mar Plaza, various encroachments on the public right of way and “seemingly perpetual construction of a private residence,” the staff report states.
Residents asked officials to add subterranean conduits throughout the city to facilitate future data cabling and take an active role establishing a citywide Wi-Fi network.
They were told Del Mar is adding utility conduits when a street is opened for other reasons such as water or sewer improvements.
Residents said there seemed to be an increase in the use of manual train horns despite the wayside horn at the 15th Street and Coast Boulevard crossing.
Staff said federal regulations require a manual horn to be used if the conductor perceives a safety risk, such as people on the track.
Meeting attendees also asked if a pedestrian over- and undercrossing could be built adjacent to the San Dieguito Lagoon to better access North Beach without illegally crossing the tracks.
Del Mar has been working with the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority to design such a crossing in conjunction with North County Transit District’s double-tracking project, which would complete the reach-the-beach segment of the Coast to Crest trail.
Funding remains an issue as recent grant applications to help pay for the project were denied by the San Diego Association of Governments.
In total about 40 residents attended the meetings, which were the second in a series of informal gatherings. The first was held last year in the beach community.
Residents in the northern section of the hillside area hosted the meetings in their homes. Councilman Terry Sinnott attended two of the four.
“They were very worthwhile and positive,” he said. “They gave us good information. All the questions were very pertinent … and it sure was valuable for me to hear the issues.
“We’re keeping track of the input and I hope we keep the process going because between major workshops or elections we don’t hear directly from people as much as we would like and this is a great way to do that,” he added.
“They clearly had an opinion about the Watermark project,” Corti said. “Their other concerns were around the fairgrounds and the impact (parking) has in their community and the noise. I thought it was very helpful. It was productive for me to hear different views on it.”
Sinnott said attendees spent most of the time catching up with their neighbors. With some issues in the city pitting residents against each other, he said the meetings kill “a bunch of birds with one stone.”
“Maybe we can put some of the glue back in neighborhoods this way through interactions that are positive,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.
The next series of community conversations, as they are being called, is slated to take place in the neighborhoods near Stratford Court, Luneta Drive, the business district and City Hall.