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Del Mar became a charter city when it incorporated in 1959. Courtesy photo
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Charter city amendment moves forward


DEL MAR — Despite pending state legislation that could make the move irrelevant, council members at the June 18 meeting took another step toward a charter city amendment, holding the second of two required public hearings.

Council members are next scheduled to discuss the topic at the July 16 meeting, when they could adopt a resolution that will let voters have the final say during the November election.

Del Mar became a charter city when it incorporated in 1959. Mayor Dwight Worden said he believes the founders chose to do so because they wanted the ability impose admissions taxes on the Del Mar Fairgrounds, something the city can no longer do as a result of past litigation.

Earlier this year Worden said he read an article about other charter cities that did not have the same level of obligation to comply with certain details of state law.

In April he and his colleagues agreed to move forward with the amendment, which would increase the city’s local control over land use and zoning matters.

“This could be important as Del Mar faces ever increasing State requirements on housing, zoning, land use, and other land use matters,” the staff report states.

Charters can affect several other actions, from prevailing wages to how elections are run. Del Mar’s proposed amendment would not create an exemption from all state laws, and it states the city will be required to act consistently with its community plan.

Del Mar would also still have to comply with its state-certified housing element and the California Coastal Act.

Few residents have weighed in on the issue.

Former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and her husband, Hershell Price, initially opposed the idea until Worden confirmed there would be a requirement that ordinances must be consistent with the community plan.

Laura DeMarco, however, remains skeptical. She said there could be a potential conflict of interest because Worden, who would write the amendment that requires voter approval, will likely be on the November ballot running for re-election.

“Why didn’t Mayor Worden propose it when he was City Attorney from 1979-1983 or for the 2016 election when he was in office instead of waiting till the November 2018 election when he is also a candidate in his first contested election?” she asked in an email to the city.

“I didn’t bring it forward sooner because I didn’t think of it sooner,” Worden said.

Additionally, DeMarco said the money — an estimated $8,000 to $12,000 to put the measure on the ballot, plus costs for attorney and staff time — could be better spent, especially since the proposed amendment was considered a low priority.

“How did the charter amendment jump from #75, far below higher priority items, to surpass other long-standing civic priorities which will now be relegated to the long list of uncompleted projects?” she wrote.

“What is the opportunity cost to the staff and our citizens for other previous higher priority projects that will now not be able to be staffed or funded?” DeMarco added.

“It would be most helpful if the City Council focused the city’s limited resources and already strained staff on more productive and higher value priorities of our citizens like the need for city-wide undergrounding, the Shores master plan, getting the train off our fragile bluffs, improving beach access and safety by providing more than only one legal train crossing, sand replenishment, etc.,” her email stated.

When council first discussed the proposal, it was with the caveat that it wouldn’t impact other high-priority items or overburden staff.

“We said we would move forward until we hit a roadblock,” Worden said. “No one on council derailed it.”

DeMarco also voiced concern the move might be a “backdoor to reinforce (an) interpretation of the community plan on the short-term rental issue to strengthen, potentially, the city’s case in court.”

DeMarco has long been an advocate of vacation rentals. Worden and three of his four colleagues approved an ordinance severely restricting short-term rentals in most residential areas.

The California Coastal Commission recently rejected that proposal in favor of something less restrictive.

The staff report acknowledges the state Senate is currently considering a bill that would require charter cities to comply with general law relating to land use and zoning.

“If SB 1333 becomes state law, the proposed Charter Amendment will have no effect,” the report states.

Worden said the legislation had a “decent chance” of passing but he didn’t think it would survive a court challenge.

Meanwhile, DeMarco continues to voice opposition.

“SB 1333 will close that loophole, so the purpose of this would be moot,” she said.