DEL MAR — What sounded like a simple and more cost-effective solution to a potential overdevelopment problem drew about half a dozen attorneys and a land surveyor to the June 18 meeting and put the skids on an ordinance that would have redefined how the allowable size of oceanfront homes is calculated.
To ensure protection of their beaches, Del Mar voters in 1988 approved the beach preservation initiative — also called Measure D — that established the shoreline protection area, or SPA, which runs north to south along the shoreline.
Development within the SPA was limited, “generally only when deemed necessary to protect persons and property,” the staff report states.
Because public use and access are allowed, city staff likened the area to a “thoroughfare” dedicated for public use. As a result, the SPA was not included when the floor area ratio was calculated for beachfront development projects.
In 2017, the Planning Commission determined the SPA should be used to dictate the maximum size of a new or remodeled home, resulting in larger allowable development.
Currently, 27 homes are affected.
In April, resident Richard Thompson submitted to the city a notice of intent to circulate a petition to change the Planning Commission interpretation.
At their June 4 meeting, council members agreed it might be easier and less expensive — ballot initiatives can cost the city about $10,000 — to make the changes by creating an ordinance that specifically excludes the SPA.
In the two weeks that followed, the city received letters from several attorneys.
“With all due respect, have you lost your minds?” asked Joseph Preis, who represents an Ocean Front property owner.
Jason Kirby said he picked up four new clients on a Saturday.
“There is something wrong … when (new) clients are calling on the weekend to address something that the City Council was up to,” he said. “That should be a red flag to you that something here is not right.”
Resident Laura DeMarco said another warning sign should have been no one showing up at the June 4 meeting to oppose the proposed ordinance that was to take the place of the initiative.
Some of the more than one dozen speakers at the June 18 meeting said the petition has little to do with Thompson’s desire to limit the size of homes built on the beach and more to do with a proposed project next to his oceanfront home.
“I’m calling a spade a spade,” Bill Evans said. “Rick Thompson is attempting to stop his neighbor from building a house on the lot that they’ve owned for over 90 years.
“He likes the view over that empty lot to the south, so he’s cooked up this to stop her from building her house,” he added. “The rest is smoke and mirrors. … He’s acting like a child.”
“It was contentious from the start,” Thompson’s neighbor, Sandra Naftzger, said, adding that she “did everything by the rules” for her project and made several changes to her plans to accommodate Thompson’s concerns.
Her attorney, Matthew Peterson, said the interpretation that a 2007 amendment was misleading in incorrect.
“Staff’s suggestion that prior to November of 2017 the city has always excluded the SPA areas from FAR is not true,” he said. “I’ve had clients that have had properties that have been entitled with permits and approvals including portions of the SPA area.
He said any changes in the code could have “many unintended consequences.”
“There’s many people whose family life savings are going to be destroyed by this,” Peterson said. “You’ve been pressured by one individual who has used the initiative process in a way that it should never be used. This is called ballot-box zoning. … It results in things that you didn’t anticipate and it’s not good planning.”
“There’s no gray areas here,” professional land surveyor Michael Pallamary said. “The SPA is not a property line. I know that because I’m the one that’s established most of the property lines out here. It’s what I’m legally licensed to do.
“Absent an offer from the property owners, the only way the city can acquire the SPA lands as a right of way would be by condemnation,” he added.
He said the change would result in people paying twice as much for half the use of their land.
“It’s foolish. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Pallamary added. “If you were to adopt this ordinance, I can guarantee it would be rejected by the courts because it’s illegal and it’s unconstitutional.”
Thompson said he started the initiative process to right a wrong.
“After 30 years of history you can’t call it anything other than a reinterpretation,” he said, calling some of the accusations hurtful. “The sand was never meant to be used in calculating the size of my lot (or floor area ratios). … To have sharp lawyering change those in the dead of night is scary.”
Council members unanimously agreed not to move forward with the ordinance.
Mayor Dwight Worden said his first thought was that without the change houses could be built 20 percent to 30 percent larger than the norm for the area.
“I thought rather than put the community through the time, expense and political turmoil of an election, if it’s a simple problem we just need to reinstate the status quo that’s existed for years,” he said.
“As a result of public hearings and input, I’ve learned additional facts,” he added. “It’s a lot more complicated than I thought.”
Worden said he disagrees that Thompson had other motives because even if the ordinance did move forward it wouldn’t have been retroactive so it wouldn’t have affected Naftzger’s project.
Thompson can still submit the initiative for the November ballot if he collects 310 signatures representing 10 percent of registered voters.
DeMarco said some people who signed the petition have been asking how to remove their names. To do so, contact the city clerk.