Changes made to design and planning group requirements

DEL MAR — In an effort to clarify the qualifications for Planning Commission and Design Review Board members, City Council at the Sept. 5 meeting changed the wording of the eligibility requirements for both quasi-judicial bodies.

According to the municipal code, appointees to the two panels had to be “qualified electors,” which are generally defined as people 18 or older who have lived in a city, state or county for at least 30 days prior to an election and are registered to vote there.

Council unanimously approved changes that require members to be registered voters in Del Mar who maintain residency for no less than six months prior to their appointment.

Residency is defined as anyone “who maintains residence and is physically present” in the city for no less than six months per calendar year.

Committee membership will be terminated for those who don’t meet the residency requirement.

Council members Dwight Worden and Ellie Haviland asked staff in June to research eligibility requirements for the two groups to address concerns about residency.

Jennifer Gavin, an associate planner, said she looked at wording used by other cities and found most use the term “residency” in their eligibility requirements.

While voters are supposed to register for and vote in the precincts of their permanent residence, that may not always be the case, the staff report states.

Although council members said they adopted the new language to avoid ambiguity, Tina Thomas took it personally.

She said she is legally registered to vote in Del Mar. She and her husband, also a Del Mar business owner, have owned property in the beach community for 10 years but don’t currently live there because their home is under construction. When the work is completed early next year Thomas said it will be their primary residence.

She considers herself a community member who volunteers, dines and shops in the city.

“I’m as involved as anyone can be,” said Thomas, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of California Berkeley.

Since 2015 she has unsuccessfully applied four times to serve on the Design Review Board and twice for an ad hoc committee created to review the processes used by that panel.

Appointments to the DRB and similar committees have been controversial. Council has been accused of selecting members who will make the design review process more difficult, thereby limiting growth and infringing on property rights.

Thomas said she believes the changes were targeted at her.

“Why has this come up right now?” she asked, noting the new language doesn’t apply to any current members on either committee. “Is this even an established recurring problem? Is City Council taking action when there is no demonstrated need to do so?

“In my many applications … there has been exactly one (person) who fits this category: me,” she added.

She said from her personal experience it appears City Council “seems to care far more about making sure that their appointed members share an ideology of a specific group in Del Mar versus their actual qualifications.”

Thomas said as an architect she is qualified to serve on boards that make design and development decisions. She believes she has never been selected because she is not “on the right side.”

Haviland disagreed.

“The right side for a DRB is someone who understands our design review ordinance,” she said. “That’s the only side that’s important to me when I’m considering potential DRB candidates.

“It’s really important to understand the context of our municipal code and our design review ordinances,” she added. “I think living here is an important component of doing that. It’s not something that’s unique to Del Mar. It’s something that’s common in other cities. This isn’t some out-of-the-blue suggestion.”

“I don’t view this as a change so much as it is a clarification and avoiding having to deal with the difficulties of using the standard of being a qualified elector,” Worden said. “Somebody who has registered (to vote) who maybe is in and out of town but really isn’t a resident — do we want to be pushed into challenging their voting qualifications? I don’t think so.

“(T)o serve on one of our two quasi-judicial bodies which are making decisions about people’s property rights, we’ve always had, I think, a residency standard,” he added. “It’s just poorly worded, and this would clear that up.”

Thomas said it’s the circumstances under which she wasn’t appointed that are bothersome. A deadline was once extended because, council members said, there were not enough applicants, even though three people applied for two open positions.

Other times, people with little or no architectural experience were chosen over her.

But she said her opposition to the amendment is not a personal statement about those who have been selected.

“All the appointed committee members rightfully deserve recognition for their willingness to serve,” she said. She also said she is not “pro or con anything”

“I’m a fair-minded, logical person and a qualified listener,” she said. “I’m not trying to put through any personal agenda.

“The last time it kind of hurt my feelings,” Thomas added. “They obviously don’t want me but I’m not going to give up.”

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