The Coast News Group
An aerial view of the Del Mar coastline. File photo
Community Commentary Opinion

Commentary: Pay to play in Del Mar

By Frank Stonebanks

The Del Mar Foundation (DMF), a 501c3 tax exempt organization, generously donated $180,000 to the City of Del Mar for specific purchases and expenditures to help make up for City budget cuts due to COVID-19.

On its face, the gift was good spirited and will support safety, the lagoon, and arts in Del Mar.

However, the timing during the start of a campaign season is very poor, to say the least.

The gift was actively negotiated by the Del Mar Foundation Executive Committee, led by Bob Gans as Past President and Betty Wheeler, partner of Councilman Dwight Worden and incoming President of the DMF.

It was finalized and announced just days before Gans’s recent, new status as a candidate for Del Mar City Council. The DMF “donation” to the City has all the appearance of a donation for political purposes and a campaign ethics violation.

The restrictions on the gift also appear to illegally override City Council and voter priorities.

The DMF stipulated in its letter to the City what the funds would pay for even though the Council and City staff defined “essential” items back in May and voted unanimously in June to use any extra revenues to reimburse the General Fund Reserve and the raided Measure Q fund.

In another contradiction to Council policy, the DMF gift stipulated that two committees, Arts and Lagoon, be reactivated ahead of priorities already set by Council. All committees were previously suspended in March due to COVID-19.

Mayor Ellie Haviland was actively involved in the gift negotiations, is Council liaison for both the Arts and Lagoon committees, and during the negotiation was weighing a run for re-election.

This donation and reactivation of her two committees had the strong appearance of benefiting Haviland’s political standing and potential campaign efforts.

The DMF donation also makes possible the use of $22,000 of City reserves to fund two part-time deputy sheriffs to work for 4 months to fine and/or imprison people who leave their house without a mask on. Social media exploded with cries of government over-reach when this was announced.

Perhaps the City can kill two birds with one stone by having them patrol the train tracks on their lunch hour to cite violators for heading to the beach!

In short, Del Mar Foundation’s gift paved the way for Council Candidate Bob Gans, as well as Ellie Haviland, to gain visibility and credit ahead of a political election, and circumvented elected representatives’ priorities. As such, I won’t be donating to the Del Mar Foundation ever again. And from what I hear, I am not the only donor who is furious.

Frank Stonebanks is a Del Mar resident.


Levi McCallister August 16, 2020 at 10:31 am

Why was my comment removed? The author mis-represents his residency bringing down the credibility of your publication….

Levi McCallister August 15, 2020 at 11:49 am

Always nice to see a yahoo that doesn’t live in the City of Del Mar, volunteer time or donate to worthy causes disparage those that invest their time, spirit and good-will to make the community a better place. Maybe Mr. Stonebanks should move to the City of Del Mar before making such ignorant and distasteful comments.

Cheers to the Del Mar Foundation, which as Del Mar’s oldest 501(c)(3) has The mission ” to promote civic pride and cohesiveness, acquire and preserve open space, improve beaches and parklands, raise and grant funds, and sponsor diverse cultural programs and community events in Del Mar.”

Shame on the naysayers that do nothing for others in their community like this author.

annette wiesel August 13, 2020 at 12:15 pm

Thank you for exposing the shady inner works of politics.

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