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Council delays survey, opts not to change rules

DEL MAR — A survey to gauge residents’ satisfaction with city services was put on hold at the April 7 meeting after council members deemed it a waste of money that would garner relatively useless information.

Council was slated to award a $15,000 contract to Probolsky Research as part of the consent calendar, which is a list of items approved with a single vote and no discussion.

But Councilman Al Corti asked that the item be pulled because he received requests from residents to expand the scope of the questionnaire.

Corti said he thought it was the proper consultant and didn’t necessarily think the scope should be expanded but he wanted input from his colleagues.

With plans to conduct 125 telephone interviews and a margin of error of plus-or-minus 9 percent, Councilman Don Mosier said the city would be spending “a modest sum to get a very imprecise survey.”

“If the rest of the council wants to do that, that’s fine,” he said. “I would say this is a waste of money.

“I have trouble spending this little money for this little information,” Mosier added. “You either do it right or you don’t do it, and I vote for not doing it.”

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said she opposed the idea from the beginning when it was presented during a goal-setting meeting.

“The information that we’ll glean won’t be worthwhile or trustworthy,” she said.

Mayor Lee Haydu said she had trouble supporting it because the city just conducted a survey for the City Hall replacement project.

Councilman Terry Sinnott, the lone supporter, agreed it should not be done if it would not result in statistically valid data. But, he said, “any service organization — which I think this is a service organization — needs to periodically check in with the customers” to ask how it’s doing.

Sinnott said a survey focused on city services has not been conducted during his four years on the council.

“We owe it to the community,” he said. A similar survey was last conducted in 2006.

Mosier said he was open to other options but saw “serious problems” with this particular survey.

Staff will present alternatives at a future meeting, including less reliance on telephone interviews, which most council members did not support.

In other news, council unanimously agreed to change the name of the Shores Park Master Plan Committee and voted 4-1 not to alter the description of its members.

The advisory committee was established in February to ensure the master planning process for the Shores property is open and inclusive.

Members would primarily identify and prioritize issues, provide input and recommendations for improvements and monitor the planning process for the 5.3-acre site bordered by Camino del Mar, Ninth Street and Stratford Court that the city bought from the Del Mar Union School District in 2008.

City Attorney Leslie Devaney said the language of the mission and work program, which states members must be “objective and unbiased,” may present conflicts of interest for committee members who live or own property near the site.

Under state law, public officials cannot use an official position to influence a governmental decision in which they may have a financial interest.

Devaney said the “objective and unbiased” description might make people who have financial interests in or near the park unable to serve.

Because the intent of the group is to receive input from all stakeholders, including those who may live or own property near the park, there was a recommendation to delete the word “unbiased” and add a sentence stating the committee is advisory with no decision-making authority.

Devaney said the 500-foot rule would not apply if it is clear the committee is advisory.

The proposed new language would clarify that the role of the committee was only advisory and if somebody did have a special interest they would be able to serve, Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.

Corti had concerns with both issues.

He said deleting the word “unbiased” sends a message the city is looking for biased people. “That is not what I want,” he said. On the other hand, he said the committee should include those who live or own property within 500 feet.

“To exclude those who live close is not fair,” he said.

Councilman Don Mosier opposed any changes, especially because it could mean the city would have to readvertise the request for members.

He said the creation of the work plan “was very carefully thought out to clearly get unbiased views from all of the residents.” The proposed revisions would “do away with that objective,” he said.

He also noted most city committees are advisory so adding that language would be “restating the obvious.”

“What we do with that park is something that could change property values and so … I would like to stay with the way that we have it that they should not live within 500 feet,” Mayor Lee Haydu said. “We said that we did not want anyone to apply for this committee that had any special interest. Well, having a home within 500 feet or 300 feet I think is special interest.”

“They’re only advising us as to whether we’re doing a good job in getting the community’s input and coming up with solutions regarding that input,” said Sinnott, who supported the changes. “And when I heard that … we were starting to exclude people because of where they lived, I had a disconnect.

“You do not want to start excluding a lot of people for all kinds of reasons,” Sinnott added. “I want to think of ways that we can include as many people and their ideas as possible so we can come up with the best solution.”

Council is slated to appoint seven people to the committee under the original language at the April 21 meeting.

Going forward, the group will be called the Shores Advisory Committee rather than the Shores Park Master Plan Committee because it is “short and sweet,” Parks said, making it easier to say and simplifying the job of the person taking minutes for meetings.