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Del Mar City Council candidates address issues in public forum

DEL MAR — Candidates at a Sept. 13 public forum shared their stances on the most controversial Del Mar issues, from the city’s affordable housing requirement to short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

The four candidates — Dan Quirk, Terry Gaasterland, Brian Fletcher and incumbent Mayor Dwight Worden — are vying for two open City Council seats in the upcoming November election.

The event, hosted by the League of Women Voters, drew about 60 people.

Brian Fletcher
Dwight Worden
Terry Gaasterland
Dan Quirk

For the most part, candidates were in agreement on central issues, Gaasterland noted as attendees filed out of the Del Mar Town Hall. Gaasterland is a professor of computational biology and genomics and a member of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at the University of California San Diego. She is also a former Finance Committee member, former chairwoman of the Sea-Level Rise Stakeholder-Technical Advisory Committee and a current Design Review Board member.

A question on affordable housing prompted potential solutions from candidates, such as using existing units on the fairgrounds. Quirk pointed out the empty dirt lot next to the Public Works building as a possible, unused space.

Quirk’s experience involves working with the Finance Committee, and leading the effort to pass Measure Q, a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax rise meant to raise funds for city projects. He’s also passionate about ending homelessness, and volunteers at Father Joe’s Villages in downtown San Diego.

In a phone call days after the forum, Quirk said finding solutions to affordable housing is the No. 1 issue facing candidates at this time.

“That’s probably the most controversial at this point … understanding the best, least-impactful way to satisfy our (affordable housing) requirements.”

When it comes to the bluff-top resort on the border of Del Mar and Solana Beach, Gaasterland was vocal about putting it to a public vote. Quirk supports a major scale-down of the project, particularly after witnessing public response. Worden supports a public vote, if the resort “is still controversial when it comes before City Council.”

Worden, who is seeking a second term, is a longtime Del Mar resident and former City Attorney and lawyer. He has been a volunteer for several local nonprofits and city advisory committees, according to his campaign website.

Candidates were positive about the future of Del Mar. When asked about the road ahead, Fletcher — a local businessman and great-grandson of Col. Ed Fletcher, who helped developed early Del Mar more than 100 years ago — anticipated the completion of the downtown Streetscape project, the 941 Camino Del Mar development and utility undergrounding. Fletcher was also vocal about keeping Del Mar safe and replenishing the beaches.

Quirk and Worden both envisioned a brighter future for the Del Mar Plaza — turning it into “something like Liberty Station” in Point Loma, Quirk said.

Quirk, Dwight and Gaasterland all supported the general concept of the “7/28” principle — referring to the rule drafted by City Council this year that would limit short-term rentals to minimum seven-day stays, for 28 days out of the year. Fletcher was against the city’s action of suing the California Coastal Commission.

All candidates agreed that the railroad tracks should be removed from the bluffs, and possibly redirected inland.

Candidates parted ways on how to deal with the city’s adaptation plan, which addresses future sea-level rise, storm surge, coastal flooding and erosion in Del Mar. Worden “strongly believes” the adaptation plan should be submitted as a Local Coastal Program (LCP) Amendment, which would require Coastal Commission approval. Quirk and Gaasterland both supported the adaptation plan being added to the community plan — and not as an LCP Amendment.

Several attendees were satisfied with the range of topics covered, and candidates’ responses. Though Merrily McLellan, who has lived in Del Mar for about five years, was hoping to hear more about the candidates’ stances on managed retreat — planning that would remove sea walls, homes and infrastructure from the seafront — she otherwise found the forum to be “enlightening.”

Anne Farrell, who was on the city’s ad hoc development review process citizens advisory committee, is looking to hear more “cross-conversation between candidates,” she said, particularly in reference to developments like the bluff-top resort.

“I think what was clear is how many issues face the city,” Farrell said.

Jennifer Lonbom, a retired CPA and mother who has lived in Del Mar for 10 years, was impressed with the candidates, and is awaiting a tough decision — though she particularly admired Gaasterland’s “brainy past” and approachability.

“She didn’t seem like a politician,” Lonbom said. “She seemed like a concerned citizen.”

Attendee Joel Holliday is looking for more details after watching the short, one-minute maximum Q&A, though he said the forum gave him a “general sense of where people stand.”

“I’ve got an open mind at this point,” Holliday said.

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