DEL MAR — The city is moving forward with a plan to inform residents about Proposition J, a ballot measure to approve a specific plan for downtown revitalization, despite claims by some that the campaign is more advocacy than education.
At the Sept. 10 meeting, staff outlined a five-component outreach program that included mailing to all residents, property owners and businesses an executive summary of the adopted plan that will go before voters in November. It will be similar to what was done during the notice of preparation and draft release process, Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.
Summary sheets with charts, frequently asked questions with the answers, the full version of the specific plan, the environmental impact report and the executive summary will be posted on the city website.
Staff also plans to hold two question-and-answer sessions — one on a weekday evening and the other on a weekend day.
“We’ve been receiving these questions and what we’d like to do is make sure that the information is disseminated to everyone,” Garcia said. “Rather than just responding in an email or haphazardly at the (City Hall) counter we’d like to … aggregate the ones that are very, very similar and then post the answers on the website so that those answers are available for everyone to see.”
“It’s appalling that this city has used staff time to create a biased report and is presenting it as educational material,” resident and former Councilwoman Brooke Eisenberg-Pike said. “It was my understanding that once the ordinance was passed by the city to be placed on the ballot as Proposition J neither the staff nor council could lobby in favor of it.
“Of course I’m aware that each council member retains his or her First Amendment rights and they can lobby as a citizen,” she said. “However, it is an entirely different matter when staff is directed to use their time and our money to prepare lobbying documents masquerading as educational material.”
Eisenberg-Pike accused council members of removing the 15th Street roundabout solely because a group of restaurant owners said they wouldn’t support the plan with it.
“This was done entirely to placate a well-funded group, many of whom are not even residents,” she said. “It was not done to create a better plan.”
Resident Linda Rock disagreed. “Many people voiced concern over that,” she said.
City Manager Scott Huth said there were numerous meetings with business owners and residents to discuss the impacts at that intersection with Camino del Mar.
“There were a whole bunch of things going on at 15th Street,” he said. “It’s the most complex intersection. We could see at the beginning of summer there were several issues.”
Eisenberg-Pike noted that during her time as a council member the city didn’t offer education programs for the specific plans for Plaza Del Mar or L’Auberge Del Mar.
“You have undoubtedly been told that this educational masquerade is legal,” she said. “That is because the city attorney’s job is to protect the council and not the public. Isn’t there one of you with a gut feeling that this is not the spirit of the law?
“You’re dividing the community by your underhanded manipulation of the process,” she said.
Councilwoman Lee Haydu noted the city didn’t engage in an outreach program for prior specific plans because they were presented by private developers.
“There is really no bright line test that distinguishes between educational and campaign activity,” City Attorney Leslie Devaney said. “It’s kind of like you know it by the abstracts.
She said distributing bumper stickers that said Vote No On or Vote Yes On “obviously is problematic.” She said the defining question is whether the city is ramping up its efforts or spending more money to inform the public. She also said the summary must be fair and accurate and not omit facts.
“I have … realized that it is Del Mar’s way of doing things … to do a lot of outreach with its citizenry,” Devaney said. “What they’re doing now seems in common practice for the city.
“You have an obligation as a city to answer questions from your electorate,” she said. “You also have arguably an obligation to dispel inaccurate information.
“When staff spends a lot of time at the front counter answering questions for some people … you’re only providing information to a few people,” Devaney said.
Council members supported the outreach program but opted to hold off on sending a mailer until a mock-up could be presented at the Sept. 24 meeting.
“I think we all understand what we can do and what we cannot do,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “I think it would be a frank abdication of responsibility to go silent at this point when we have a 452-page document to explain to our citizens.”
“I think there is a pretty bright line between advocacy and education,” Mayor Carl Hilliard, an attorney, said, noting the fact pattern “has been very careful measured so as not to cross the line.”
“In its simplest form advocacy means a recommendation to vote yes or no,” he said. “We’re not doing that.
“I think we’re on dead solid ground,” he said. “The people that are objecting are doing it on the basis of their feeling or their opinion. They haven’t cited any authority, none whatsoever.
“They are arguing that giving the facts to the public in a fair, impartial presentation is wrong and that’s because they’re opposed, not because they harbor any real belief that we’re advocating. … I think we ought to do what’s set forth in the government code … and let the people that are going to complain anyway complain away.”