DEL MAR — As Del Mar moves forward with several major projects it will do so without two staff members who together have served the city for a combined total of more than 50 years.
Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum and Deputy City Clerk
Smith-Ball will both retire May 2.
Originally from the Boston area, Birnbaum graduated from Vassar College in New York with degrees in political science and education.
After his second cross-country trip he “fell in love with” and moved to California in 1980 and began working for the California Conservation Corps, based out of the Sierra Foothills.
“I had some construction skills so they assigned me to a crew that traveled throughout the state,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in Escondido and one day we went to Cardiff and there was a band playing on the beach. I thought, ‘This is a pretty cool place.’”
He moved to San Diego in 1983 and started working for Del Mar in February 1989 after successfully applying for a job as the senior planner.
“One of my early responsibilities was to help the city develop its Local Coastal Plan, which is a multiyear project,” Birnbaum said. “After many iterations we received the final certification during a meeting in Eureka on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was stranded there for more than a week because of the terrorist attacks,” he added. “I took trains and buses to get back.”
That is among his most memorable moments with the city, he said.
“Generally I have shepherded the city’s review process,” he said. “There is a lot of scrutiny over land use in Del Mar. That’s part of what creates the community character. It’s what the citizens want.
“The review process has been to protect that community character,” he added. “Sometimes it’s resulted in some testy public meetings because what’s best for the city is sometimes difficult. People really love Del Mar, and for good reason. It’s a special place.”
During his 27 years with the city Birnbaum crafted many documents, including the housing element and sidewalk café ordinance, which he said was one of the most interesting.
“There were some particulars that caused concern, and they were justified,” he said. “But ultimately it worked out well.”
His retirement comes as the city is replacing City Hall, developing the Shores property, possibly undergrounding utility poles and considering alternative law enforcement options and new rules for the design review process and short-term rentals.
The latter two are projects he said he wished were completed before his retirement. But he added that the time is right for him to step down.
“The day-to-day demands didn’t allow me to complete those projects,” he said, adding that he also didn’t have much time for outside interests.
“This really is more than a full-time job,” he said. “I had a long history of social activism and that’s fallen off in the last few years.”
Birnbaum served on the boards of various nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and some literacy programs.
“I’m going to take some time to sort out where my skill set can best be used,” he said. “I also have a couple of granddaughters I will get to spend more time with. And I can get back to reading biographies rather than staff reports — not that I don’t love reading staff reports.”
Birnbaum said it’s been a wonderful experience working with the people of Del Mar.
“I’ve tried to give it my all,” he said. “Some people didn’t always like the end result but it was in response to what the community asked for.
“I will miss the interaction with the staff and the residents,” Birnbaum added. “The people are so intelligent and committed. … I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
While some residents weren’t always happy with various outcomes they never faulted Birnbaum. In fact, they and council members consistently and publicly praised him for his hard work, knowledge and professionalism.
“Adam Birnbaum has influenced the character of Del Mar more than any other one individual,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “He has been tireless in implementing our community plan and ensuring that residential development respects the rights of all residents and maintains the village atmosphere that has made Del Mar so popular and unique.”
“Adam has had the patience of Job in making sure our design review processes were fair and reached positive conclusions for everyone,” Councilman Terry Sinnott added. “He has been dedicated to doing what is right for Del Mar.”
Originally from Sharon, Kansas, a town of 200 people, Smith-Ball moved to San Diego with her family in 1962.
She spent 10 years at Hughes Aircraft in Carlsbad. When that location closed she was hired by Del Mar and began working as the deputy city clerk on Dec. 2, 1991, and has assisted three city clerks since then.
In addition to acting in the absence of the city clerk, Smith-Ball’s position includes myriad duties related to the official business of the City Council and its boards, commissions and committees.
She assists in compiling meeting agendas and minutes, ensuring Brown Act compliance, processing agreements, recording official documents, handling legal advertising, providing information to the public and coordinating bid openings.
She also helps conduct municipal elections and is “everyone’s favorite person on April 1 of each year — serving as the official filing officer for the Fair Political Practices.”
She said it is time to “re-evaluate priorities and make adjustments.”
“Retirement is one step toward those adjustments,” Smith-Ball added. “I plan to take advantage of my free time by doing more outdoor activities like sailing, kayaking, hiking, exercising and spending time with friends, the grandkids and family.”
She said she also plans to travel.
“I would love to go search out some of the restaurants on ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ just to see if the food they showcase really is that good,” she said. “But then I would definitely need to exercise more.”
“Connie has been the wonderful, conscientious person that has made our clerk’s office so successful for so many years,” Sinnott said.
“Connie has worked tirelessly to maintain the important function of our City Clerk’s office and has done so with competence, cheerfulness and good humor for many years,” Mosier added.
The latter is evidenced in one of her most memorable moments with the city.
“When I first started working in Del Mar I answered the phone and a resident asked, ‘Where do people go when they die in Del Mar?’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Heaven of course.’”
“We are going to miss them both and I wish them the best in their retirements,” Sinnott said.