DEL MAR — Three candidates seeking election to the Del Mar City Council this November answered residents’ questions about the relocation of the railroad tracks, climate change, housing and other critical issues at a virtual forum on Monday hosted by the League of Women Voters of North County San Diego.
Incumbents Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and Mayor Dwight Worden are seeking reelection for two open seats this November against local entrepreneur Steve Quirk, the identical twin brother of current Councilmember Dan Quirk. The top two vote-getters will be elected to the council.
Gaasterland was first elected to the council in 2018, and Worden has served on the council since 2014 after holding the position of city attorney from 1977 to 1983. Quirk is the founder of two technology start-ups, and if elected, the Quirk brothers would control 40% of the council.
In response to a question about the candidates’ number-one goal for the coming term, Worden said he is focused on protecting the city from the usurpation of local control by the state.
Gaasterland said her main goal is protecting residents’ property values, and Quirk identified the need to follow through on burying power lines and fixing damaged streets.
“Measure Q was passed six years ago, and no poles have come down yet. Every single resident can see this and feel this every day. I will focus relentlessly on doing this as quickly as possible,” Quirk said.
The topic of relocating the Coaster railroad tracks off the deteriorating Del Mar bluffs and into tunnels under the city came up multiple times throughout the forum.
Candidates were asked about their views on the two final sites where the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is considering relocating the railroad, one of which is referred to as the West Alignment approximately 1,000 feet east of the bluffs on Camino Del Mar.
The other is the East Alignment through Crest Canyon over 2,000 feet east of the existing tracks.
Worden said the Crest Canyon alignment appears to be the better option, although there is still research on the feasibility of both locations. He acknowledged that while some are not happy with the idea of a tunnel running through the city, elected officials will need to be willing to consider one of the options to move things forward.
“If we don’t find a viable tunnel that works for Del Mar, we won’t get the railway off the bluff, and we won’t be able to protect the bluff. We need to be able to choose one,” Worden said.
Gaasterland said she cannot support the Camino Del Mar alignment and will push for consideration of a third location option if the East Alignment also does not seem like a good fit.
“If it’s not feasible, we need to be looking at that third route. I will continue to bring all these concerns to SANDAG at future meetings,” said Gaasterland, one of the Del Mar representatives on SANDAG’s board of directors.
Quirk said he could not support either of the options from SANDAG, saying that a tunnel running under Del Mar would “destroy our way of life.”
Candidates were also asked what they consider “overdevelopment” in Del Mar. Gaasterland defined it as any development in a flood zone, designated open space or area that would impede evacuation from a fire.
Quirk defined overdevelopment as anything exceeding single-family homes in the city. In contrast, Worden described it as anything that does not comply with the city’s community plan, including the state’s guidelines allowing the development of multiple accessory dwelling units in backyards.
The discussion of developing housing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds was also a hot topic at Monday’s forum. Del Mar faces state requirements to build over 100 affordable housing units by 2029, and the Fairgrounds is one of three pieces of public land where the city hopes to implement around 60 of these units.
While the Fairgrounds option appears feasible at this point, many unknowns remain regarding whether the city will have support from the California Coastal Commission and the state, which owns the land.
Gaasterland and Worden said they are focused on seeing through the city’s current plan but that the city has to consider alternative building sites if it doesn’t work. Gaasterland said she is open to the possibility of constructing units in the central commercial zone. Worden noted that the city has already designated the former site of the Marisol development on the North Bluff as a fallback.
“I wish it were a hypothetical what our fallback plan is, but it’s not,” Worden said.
Quirk said it was pointless to consider hypotheticals about alternative places to develop affordable housing, arguing that it causes unnecessary debate.
All three candidates agreed it should be updated when asked about updating the city’s current climate action plan and whether it should be legally binding to prevent negative impacts on the environment. Worden supported making it legally binding, Gaasterland said she would be open to the discussion, and Quirk said he opposed the idea.
While it was not the topic of a specific question, both Gaasterland and Quirk mentioned that they oppose the North County Transit District’s plan to place fencing along the bluff, and Gaasterland added that she would continue pushing for the creation of another safe railroad crossing at the bluffs.
A recording of the virtual forum is available at delmar.12milesout.com.