DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council has agreed to hire a civil engineer and restart its citywide utility undergrounding project after plans were halted last year due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city’s budget.
Del Mar has been planning for undergrounding utility for some time, dating as far back as 2016 when the city passed Measure Q, a one percent sales tax, envisioning money raised with the measure would go into the project. In the spring of 2018, plans began to be made for specific projects to be presented.
However before anything became close to finalized, the city put a hold on the project in 2020 due to the pandemic and was forced to lay off ten percent of its staff. Among them was the Deputy Public Works position that was heavily involved in undergrounding projects.
“The council had to make some really difficult decisions to focus their work plans on things that were absolutely essential,” said Assistant City Manager Kristin Crane.
In January, the city council directed staff to return with options for restarting the project and at their regularly scheduled council meeting staff made the request to hire a principal civil engineer to oversee the undergrounding projects and more.
City staff says they would have asked to bring in someone for this position as part of the regular budget process but with the restarting of undergrounding projects, the position is needed sooner.
“We’re bringing it forward now because council has interest in potentially moving forward in undergrounding so then we say that we need to get (a civil engineer) onboard even sooner because there will be work for them to do,” Interim City Manager Ashley Jones said. “There will be work that other staff may do that help with communication and other things but we need a principal engineer desperately regardless.”
The council voted unanimously to both move forward with undergrounding projects and hire a principal civil engineer with the hope to have them hired with the city by July 1. In the meantime, the public works director will continue to take on as much of the work as they can but their capacity for it is currently limited, according to Jones.
The new position will not be a replacement for the deputy public works position cut by the city in 2020 but would replace some of the resources that the position did previously provide to the city.
“Even though we have these consultants and I’m sure they are going to do a great job, there is still a level of internal work and engineering work that we absolutely have to do and we can’t get around that,” Jones said.
The support for the new hire was unanimous with Councilmember Dave Drucker saying it’s best to start the process now to make the hiring process as easy and quick as possible for the city.
“I think it makes sense for us to start talking about bringing on a civil engineer so that they can be here July 1,” Drucker said. “It’s going to take a while to advertise and interview, et cetera, for that position so I’m receptive to doing that.”