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Del Mar City hall options narrowed to two

DEL MAR — Council members are hoping the 23rd time was the charm that will create the final options for a new city hall complex to be presented to residents, who will then select which plan should move forward.

At the Dec. 1 meeting — public hearing number 23 in 18 months on the subject — council directed staff to return with two options, both of which will include a city hall, town hall and public plaza.

One would be built on grade with surface parking only. The other would be constructed on a “podium” or “deck” with additional tuck-under parking and the flexibility to add commercial uses such as a restaurant sometime in the future.

After the two alternatives are presented and approved by council members, the best method for finding out which one is preferred by residents will be then be selected.

Staff members have been working with election experts, including Everyone Counts, Martin and Chapman and Simply Votes, as well as the county Registrar of Voters. Most can offer an online voting system, Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.

On Nov. 17 City Council asked staff to return with a voting mechanism for three options but it was determined there was still too much confusion on the different choices — an opinion shared by at least once council member.

“I don’t understand this at all,” Sherryl Parks said about the plans at the Dec. 1 meeting. “I’m really sorry. I tried.”

Resident Dwight Worden, who was sworn in as a council member the next day, agreed. He said there appeared to be consensus among residents that a new city hall should be built.

“Beyond that it gets muddied,” Worden said, adding that by giving the public three options to choose from the city was running the risk that no one project would receive a majority of the votes.

Other speakers urged council to move forward with a civic center now because additional uses will trigger Measure B, a voter-approved initiative that governs large downtown developments and could add up to two years to the project and ultimately doom it.

“Build a city hall in such a way that there can be an expansion that would allow other developments using a specific plan and Measure B,” former Councilman Dave Druker said. “To confuse and create a vote right now based upon three options is a total waste of time and effort as far as I’m concerned. Keep this simple.”

Council members unanimously supported that final suggestion and most did not favor holding a fourth workshop to garner public input.

“I’ve seen Del Mar do this before and I don’t like it, which is … not make a decision and we just study it to death,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “I’d hope we can get some good input from the community so we can make a decision and move on.”

City Manager Scott Huth said the area that will be developed — either at grade or on a podium — will drive the final cost.

If residents select the simpler plan there would be little or no opportunity to expand in the future, an option at least one council member did not see as beneficial.

“I think if you want to have a lively civic space you need to get everything up on a podium at street level otherwise you’re just reproducing what we have now,” Councilman Don Mosier said.