DEL MAR — Six candidates vying for three available City Council seats in the Nov. 8 election generally agree on most issues facing Del Mar residents.
Mayor Sherryl Parks, Councilman Al Corti, former Councilman and Mayor Dave Druker and residents Jim Benedict, Ellen Haviland and T. Patrick Stubbs answered questions submitted by many of the approximately 80 people who attended a Sept. 29 forum moderated by the League of Women Voters.
It is the first time since 2006 that San Diego’s smallest city has had more candidates than seats available, although in 2010 a candidate withdrew after the filing deadline but before the election.
Property owners in the beach city have been renting out their homes for decades in the summer, especially during the horse racing season at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
With technology making bookings easier, the frequency has increased. Some residents have expressed concerns that the practice is getting out of control, causing traffic, noise, parking and trash issues and changing the community character.
The extent of the problems and complaints has not yet been quantified.
Many who rent out their homes say they depend on the added income and prohibiting them from doing so infringes on their property rights.
Council members are currently trying to decide whether to prohibit rentals of less than 30 days in residential zones or allow them with regulations.
Five of the candidates said the city simply needs to enforce the Community Plan, which does not state rentals of less than 30 days as an allowed use in residential areas. Corti has a different view.
“The Community Plan doesn’t prohibit it nor does it allow it,” he said. “It is a problem. I want it addressed. I think we can address it, and we can do it in a form that works for the entire community.”
To increase safety and comply with federal mandates, North County Transit District recently began ticketing people who cross the tracks or walk in the railroad right of way because they are trespassing.
Del Mar has only one legal crossing on Coast Boulevard. All the candidates said they support working with NCTD to add legal crossings. They also said efforts to remove the tracks from the bluffs must be expedited.
It was an issue that resulted in rare criticism during the forum.
“Eleven years on the NCTD board and 12 years on the City Council, Dave (Druker), there had to be a way to get some safe crossings done,” Stubbs said, noting that other cities have created them. “Del Mar is behind the times on this.”
In November, Del Mar residents will vote on a 1 percent sales tax increase that would generate approximately $1.5 million to $2 million annually. The money could be used for a variety of projects, including utility pole undergrounding, downtown streetscape improvements and implementation of the Shores master plan.
Most residents support the measure because the majority of sales tax in the city is paid by visitors.
All six candidates support the measure and said they will let residents prioritize the spending. But some had additional comments.
Benedict said he hopes undergrounding is at the top of the list. He is a member of the city’s Finance Committee, which proposed the increase as a way to fund undergrounding.
Druker said that because the increase could negatively impact businesses, downtown streetscape improvements should be a high priority.
“The negative impact is the … tone and message that it sends out to the community about how Del Mar feels about the visitors,” said Stubbs, whose comment drew laughs from the audience.
“I didn’t think that was a funny answer,” he said.
Residents will also be deciding if voter approval should be required for proposed developments in a commercial zone that are larger than 25,000 square feet, allow a density bonus or require a specific plan or zoning change.
It was crafted to address Watermark Del Mar, a 48-unit multifamily complex slated for the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive that some residents say is too dense for the site. The developers recently indicated they are working on a somewhat scaled-down version in response to community input.
All but one candidate, Druker, opposes the initiative. Current council members and some residents say it could jeopardize the state-mandated housing element because Watermark includes required affordable housing units.
“Del Mar residents should have the ability for direct say on major developments,” Druker said. “Measure R gives us this ability.”
“If adopted it will stand in the way of so many needed projects,” Parks said.
“I think that Measure R was well-intentioned and I do support the right to vote on big projects but I do not support Measure R,” Haviland said. “I’m worried that it has too many unintended consequences and could be potentially very costly for the city in litigation.”
Stubbs described it as a “frustrated last resort that we do not need.”
Based on community input and a report from the Finance Committee, the city has been researching the possibility of creating its own police department. Residents say response times are too long when they call the Sheriff’s Department.
Support among the candidates is mixed.
“We do not need our own police force,” Druker said, noting that “very few” of the people he spoke with support the idea. “In fact, they’re adamant that we (do) not.”
Druker said the added bureaucracy and potential liability “could kill Del Mar. I am very worried that we are going down this path.”
Benedict, who has been working on the plan for several years as part of the Finance Committee, said there is no liability.
“I do believe that this is a very good thing for us,” he said.
Corti agreed, saying the security services the community desires and needs are not being met by the sheriff’s contract.
“And the sheriff’s contract is spiraling out of control,” he said. “At first I was not in favor of forming our own police department … but after a couple of years of looking at it and dealing with the sheriff and trying to figure out what the alternatives were, there are no alternatives other than to go out on own.”
Parks and Haviland said they need more information before making a decision.
Asked how they would breathe new life into the village, all the candidates said streetscape improvements should be a top priority.
It’s something Parks and Corti said the current City Council is working on.
Stubbs said there should be fewer regulations on businesses. Druker advocated for more parking in the north end of the city, perhaps through an agreement with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and better use of technology.
Ad hoc design review committee
Last year the city created a temporary committee to address the impact some recent residential construction is having on community character and possibly make changes to the design review process.
It was controversial from the start as some residents said appointees to the nine-member group were in favor of limiting development in the city by making the design review process stricter.
Some solutions, such as the creation of a handbook and guide, have been approved. The committee is still working on other possible solutions.
Parks, Druker and Haviland said they support the work of the group. Benedict said it is too early in the process for him to form an opinion. Corti said the design review ordinance should be reviewed occasionally but “I don’t think it’s broken and I don’t think we necessarily need to fix it.”
The candidates were asked to list their top priorities for the city should they be elected.
Haviland listed addressing the short-term rental issue, funding downtown streetscape improvements and completing the work of the design review committee.
Druker said his focus would be on protecting the design review process, downtown streetscape and implementing projects with the additional sales tax money should that measure pass.
Benedict’s top priorities include solving the vacation rental problem, undergrounding utilities and creating a police department.
Parks cited completing the work of the design review committee, budget oversight and conducting neighborhood meetings.
Stubbs said he would focus on downtown revitalization and public safety, especially finding legal ways to cross the railroad tracks.
Corti listed opening the new Civic Center on time and at or under budget, finding safe ways to cross the railroad tracks and putting the additional sales tax money to use.