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Plan to temporarily move City Hall nixed

DEL MAR — A proposal to use soon-to-be-vacant space on the Shores property to generate income or temporarily house City Hall was strongly opposed by residents and the majority of council members, who directed staff at the July 11 meeting not to pursue the plan any further.
Del Mar Union School District must vacate the Ninth Street property, formerly home to Del Mar Shores Elementary, by July 18, according to an agreement between the district and the city, which bought the site in 2008.
The district is required to remove all accessory structures, including two modular office trailers.
After visiting the site, Councilmen Mark Filanc and Terry Sinnott saw a possible opportunity to use the trailers and administration building as a temporary home while the current City Hall site is redeveloped. That project is planned to take place from September 2012 to July 2016.
Although staff likely would not have to be relocated until mid-2014, it could move now at an estimated cost of $120,000 plus $39,000 annually for data communications.
According to the staff report, if the city chose to wait three years it could rent the facilities for a profit; however, tenants would be limited to groups such as private or public schools or nonprofit organizations serving a public function.
Resident Jacqueline Winterer had several problems with the proposal, including a lack of parking on Ninth Street that would limit public access to City Hall.
“Now maybe this is a desirable move,” she joked, adding more seriously that the plan is contrary to other ongoing city projects.
Noting the many empty storefronts, she asked if the city planned to compete with the business community.
“Through your revitalization plans you want to facilitate the replacement of privately owned old buildings with new ones,” Winterer said. “And yet you want the city to buy these decayed structures. Is this a case of do as I say, but not as I do?
“This proposal is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog,” she said. “We have enough city-owned dilapidated buildings. Please don’t buy new ones.”
Joe Sullivan said the district should remove the trailers. The city could rent the remaining facility on a short-term basis and buy new trailers if the site is used as a temporary City Hall.
“I believe this recommendation — removing the old buildings now and replacing them only when needed — keeps faith with the community who were promised open space and playing fields at the Shores park and keeps the pressure on us to find a long-term solution for a new City Hall that is worthy of Del Mar,” said Sullivan, president of Friends of Del Mar Parks, a citizens group that raised more than $5 million for the Shores purchase.
Council members Carl Hilliard and Lee Haydu and Mayor Don Mosier agreed with residents. “I am adamantly opposed to this,” Mosier said.
“Fiscally it’s irresponsible to even consider this because we’re buying another set of old buildings that we would have to improve even for temporary occupancy,” Mosier said, adding that he was also bothered by the process that brought the plan forward.
“I’m really frankly upset that so much staff time has gone into something that came from only two council members,” he said.
“I understand that the opportunity sort of popped up, but in the future I think the process is that it comes to full council before this much staff time is involved,” Mosier said. “It’s sinking a lot of money that we don’t have into something that doesn’t accomplish very much.”
Noting that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to demolish and rebuild City Hall at the same time on the same property, Sinnott said he saw the plan as an opportunity that “bootstraps you up into flexible options.”
“It would force us to answer the question of the City Hall probably sooner rather than later,” he said.
Filanc said it was just an idea. “I don’t think we burned up that much staff time,” he said. “It’s all part of one solution to make this work.”
Filanc said it was productive to have a conversation now “so when the time comes we’re ready for it. Right now it’s pie in the sky and it’s been pie in the sky for 30 years,” he said.
“We don’t have to all agree on everything,” Mosier said. “Having a healthy debate in public is fine. It’s part of the public process.
“Sometimes opportunities do pop up that make sense,” he said. “This one didn’t quite reach that.”