DEL MAR — It’s been just about a year since the city closed escrow on a 5.3-acre lot it purchased from the Del Mar Union School District.
In the 12 months leading up to the sale, a fundraising group solicited about $5 million in donations to secure the deal that will hopefully ensure the site, on the southwest corner of Camino del Mar and Ninth Street, will remain open space.
In the year that has followed, however, Friends of Del Mar Parks has barely put a dent in the more than $3.7 million needed to pay off the debt. But Joe Sullivan, the group’s president, said he recently began seeing “small anecdotal signs that maybe the campaign is turning.”
“The contributions are picking up a bit,” Sullivan told council members at the May 18 meeting.
The group received $10,000 in April and another $7,000 during the first two weeks of May. Sullivan offered a few possible explanations for the recent flurry of activity.
“Maybe we’re beginning to get used to the new normal in terms of our own financial affairs,” he said.
Sullivan also said the group recently revived its efforts after taking a “softer” approach earlier this year so it didn’t compete with the fundraising efforts of the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation, which was trying to raise about $1.5 million from many of the same donors.
Friends of Del Mar Parks mailed fliers to residents reminding them of the $41/36 campaign, which asks every Del Mar household for a monthly pledge of $41 for 36 months. If everyone participated at that level, the loan would be paid, Sullivan said.
Of the $238,000 the group has raised since escrow closed, $133,000 was already paid to the city, and $74,500 went to administrative expenses. Sullivan said he is “reasonably optimistic” fundraising efforts will enable the group to make the June 30 and Aug. 13 payments of $47,038 and $28,944, respectively. About $17,000 is still needed by the end of June or the city will have to tap into the open space acquisition fund.
According to a city staff report, without additional contributions from the Friends of Del Mar Parks, the acquisition reserve will be exhausted through payment of the debt during the first quarter of fiscal year 2010-2011. The general fund will then bear the burden for the remaining three quarters. A public meeting is scheduled for June 15 to discuss the issue and explore available options to retire the debt before the loan due date in November 2011.
The property once served as the district’s first school, Del Mar Shores Elementary, which closed nearly 35 years ago. The buildings are currently used as district administrative offices and by the private Winston School. Residents and community sports groups utilize the playing fields.
Friends of Del Mar Parks is conducting an ongoing survey on its Web site to help determine future use of the site. To date, 36 percent of respondents favor a fenced dog park, while a children’s play area and baseball, softball and soccer fields each were selected as top priorities among 32 percent of survey takers.
Based on other input received during the past year, Friends of Del Mar Parks created a “vision” for the property that also includes a community garden, a high priority for 27 percent of respondents; basketball and tennis courts; the historic Alvarado House, currently located at the Del Mar Fairgrounds; and ocean-facing benches and picnic tables.
Sullivan said the “vision” is not an official plan for the park, but a visual representation of potential uses. “We expect that a full planning process involving many members of the community and initiated by City Council will be conducted after the loan is paid in full,” he said.
Residents can take the survey at www.delmarshores.org. Follow the link under Shores Park.
Meanwhile, a recent inspection identified several potential safety issues with playground equipment, the batting cage supports, fencing and the bleachers. Gopher holes and owners not cleaning up after their pets are creating safety and health hazards on the fields.
Resident Steve McDowell, a member of the Del Mar Little League board of directors, said his group will work with the city to resolve issues concerning the ball fields, including fencing, which he said is identical to what is used at three area elementary schools.