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Frustration airs at council priority meeting

DEL MAR — A Sept. 9 special workshop meant to review rather than rehash previously set council priorities resulted in more frustration for at least one council member and half of the four residents who attended. 

The goal was to provide a status and schedule update on 20 must-do city projects that include the housing element, a new City Hall, the Torrey Pines Bridge retrofit, sidewalk, street and drainage projects, parking management plans, fairgrounds issues, pension and safety costs, traffic improvements, the community plan update and a master plan for the Shores property.

Council members and the public could also ask questions and provide feedback.

But as the items were presented, Councilman Al Corti said he was frustrated that everything seems to be moving forward at a snail’s pace.

In previous meetings council discussed improving sidewalks throughout the city, a project estimated to cost $4 million.

Because that much money isn’t available in one lump sum, the improvements have been done piecemeal as funds become available. Council members earlier directed staff to look into borrowing $2 million against the city’s future TransNet funds to accelerate the project.

“I thought we’ve had multiple public meetings and discussions and it seemed like there was consensus amongst the council and from the public testimony it is a priority,” Corti said. “If we’re all in agreement with that I guess that’s somewhat where my frustration comes in. … At best I heard is (we’ll) come back in the next couple of meetings.

“Why can’t we lay out the 20 steps for getting from here to there … to accomplish (what) the public wants to accomplish and then stay on track to accomplish that as opposed to, ‘We’re going to get back to you in the next couple of months with a piece of information,’” he asked.

“What’s held up the decision point is the other things that we want to do as a city that we have to figure out the financing,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said.

“I share your frustration, but the fact is we’re revenue constrained,” Councilman Don Mosier added. “We decided that paying down the pension and setting up a pension reserve is a priority, and we’ve done that. So that constrains how much money and how much flexibility we have.

“I’d be really opposed to going into debt right now — we’ve got several other projects on our plate — to do some of these sidewalk extensions,” Mosier said. “For me, extending the sidewalks from Del Mar Heights Road and Fourth down to Carmel Valley is a low priority. And I would not spend a couple million dollars to do that. So there are some council decisions and public input that are necessary to do this. But because we’re revenue constrained, everything’s a tradeoff. We’re going to deal with our pension obligations. That means we’re not going to have as much money to put into some of these other projects. That’s why we have public meetings and discussions.”

Corti said he understood but again voiced frustration when the parking management plan was addressed.

“We make it a priority,” he said. “Talk about it in multiple meetings. We talk about progress. The progress is, we figured out how to change two signs down by the hotel to tell people where to park and we came up with the in-lieu fee, which we said we were going to do two years ago.

“I don’t need five pages of what’s been done,” he added. “When’s it going to get done? How do we get it done? Get it on the agenda. What are the components? I just heard that we’re going to study this and we’re going to study that. I never heard anything where it’s going to get done.”

“Welcome to city government,” Mosier said. “I think things move slowly for a number of reasons. One is, it is an open process where we take input from residents.

“Secondly, we’re constrained not only by finances but by staff time,” he added. “We have a very small staff and they can only do so many things at one time. And yes, compared to private business … everything seems to take three to four times as long. It is a municipality and you’ve got to follow all these rules and you’ve got to come back to council each time.

“When I first got on council I was frustrated,” Mosier said. “I’ve just become a lot more patient.”

“You’re going to feel frustrated,” Councilwoman Lee Haydu said. “That’s just the way it is. I don’t think we can move anything any faster. If we could move things faster, things would have been done years ago, maybe.”

When talk turned to plans to give the city more say over development at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Corti reiterated his irritation, noting that he attended a meeting of the stakeholders that included representatives from the fairgrounds and Solana Beach.

“My sense is that there would never be an agreement and we’re just going to talk about these things,” he said. “Del Mar wants to put some zoning protections on the property for our benefit. I believe that can be done fairly easy. If, in fact, that’s what we’re trying to do then why aren’t we approaching it that way?”

“It is our ultimate responsibility to plan that area but we’re trying to do it in a way that involves as many as the stakeholders as possible so that the product is a regional solution,” Sinnott answered.

Resident Jim Benedict suggested holding a community workshop, similar to the Vision 2020 that took place many years ago, to determine what the public priorities are.

“Don’t ask your friends,” Benedict said. “Ask the community. Seriously think about doing that again. That worked very well.”

Resident Sharon Hilliard said a similar process already took place a few years ago.

“We all sat down here on a series of roundtables about most of the items that you’re talking about right now,” she said. “We did have a list of priorities, and the community did come down and comment as to what they wanted to see. Can’t we fish that out of the files or do we have to reinvent the wheel again?”

Hilliard said her priorities include undergrounding utility lines in the city and creating citywide public Wi-Fi.

Resident Bill Michalsky reiterated his previous requests that the parking management plan not be done piecemeal.

“I believe it needs to be done as one package,” he said. “It might be a little more painful but I think at the end we’ll end up with a better product that’s more satisfactory to the community.”

The final item on the agenda was a summary of the meeting results, but that was not provided. Council members did, however, agree to put off work on the master plan for the Shores property until city staff members have a little less on their plates because that will be a very time-consuming, resident-involved process.

They also agreed to hold a workshop on a new City Hall before the end of the year.


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