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Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland was accused by Councilman Dave Druker of potential Brown Act violations during a recent council meeting. File photos/The Coast News graphic
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland was accused by Councilman Dave Druker of potential Brown Act violations during a recent council meeting. File photos/The Coast News graphic
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Del Mar councilwoman accused of Brown Act violations

DEL MAR — Amid discussions of a controversial bluff stabilization project in Del Mar this week, Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland was accused of violating the Brown Act after reportedly privately communicating about the project with other council members outside of a public meeting.

The accusations arose during the Del Mar City Council’s June 6 meeting, when members received a presentation regarding the San Diego Association of Governments’ design modifications to the planned Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project and were asked to provide feedback to be presented to the California Coastal Commission during their June 8 discussion of the project.

Prior to the presentation, Councilman Dave Druker stated that an elected official, later identified as Gaasterland, had violated the law by communicating separately about the agenda item with three of the five council members including himself, Councilwoman Tracy Martinez and Mayor Dwight Worden outside of a public meeting, and called on the person to recuse themselves.

The Brown Act prohibits a majority of any legislative body from discussing subjects under their purview outside of a public meeting, including using “a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries” to discuss these matters outside of a public meeting.

“It has come to my attention that one of my colleagues communicated with three other council members about this item, and I do not find that to be an acceptable type of behavior,” said Druker, who ultimately recused himself in protest after Gaasterland refused to do so herself.

Gaasterland expressed her remorse at giving any indication of violating public trust, but added that she believed two of the conversations were related to separate subcommittee business rather than the agenda item about the bluff project.

“I can understand the perception, and I’m one where if there is the perception of bias, [I try] to explain very carefully why there is no bias,” Gaasterland said. “Transparency is important to me.”

Gaasterland said she and Martinez communicated about the bluffs stabilization project on June 1 in their capacity as co-members of the Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, when the two sent out a notice to residents about the upcoming Coastal Commission discussion.

She also claimed that a May 27 phone call with Druker was related to her and Druker’s purview as liaisons for a city subcommittee, although she did not clarify which one. Gaasterland and Druker both serve as liaisons for the subcommittee on safe rail crossing and bluff stabilization, among others.

Druker, however, claimed his discussions with Gaasterland were directly related to the City Council’s planned agenda item, stating that they discussed the bluff stabilization project “in full” over the phone after clarifying with her that she had not spoken with other council members about the topic already.

Gaasterland characterized the conversation differently.

“I was uncomfortable with the conversation, because last time he called me about an item that was upcoming I had to recuse [myself.] So, I got off the call, and I do not see that conversation with Councilmember Druker as part of this at all,” she said.

Also on June 1, Gaasterland responded to an email from Worden which contained the commission’s analysis of the bluff stabilization project, expressing her opinion that there should be safe railroad crossings on 11th and 7th streets in Del Mar.

Following Druker’s complaints, Gaasterland admitted during the meeting that she should not have sent that communication to Worden. However, she added that the timeline for the council to discuss the bluff stabilization project was very short, which presented a challenge.

“I understand that I should not have sent that,” she told fellow council members on Monday. “I had no intent to break the Brown Act at all.”

Worden clarified that he sent the email with the Coastal Commission’s analysis to city staff as well as Gaasterland, since she serves as his alternate on SANDAG’s shoreline working group.

“At the time I sent her the copy of that email, I did not know she had spoken to any other council member, and I did not know about her e-blast,” Worden said, referring to the email she sent in conjunction with Martinez. “I did not violate the Brown Act. I did not talk to three or more council members, and I did not share an email with three or more council members. What Terry did, Terry will have to answer for and explain, and she did, to some extent.”

Worden added that he did not respond to Gaasterland’s emailed response expressing her opinion about safe crossings.

Looking ahead, Worden said he and Druker have requested for city staff to schedule an overview of the council’s responsibilities under the Brown Act for a future meeting, stating that it is important to address any confusions “sooner rather than later.”

“The Brown Act is super important — it’s California’s sunshine law. It precludes public officials from speaking to each other on more than a quorum level,” Worden said. “I would agree with [Druker] that, if there is a situation where business is being discussed out of a public meeting, that is not an insignificant matter.”

Druker added that the discussion will include clarification on how discussions related to subcommittees impact the Brown Act.

The bluff stabilization project has faced heavy opposition in Del Mar, as it proposes implementing sea walls which, while important to preserving the long-term stability of the bluffs, is expected to cause some damage to the local environment.

Council members have also expressed frustrations about the Coastal Commission’s delay in distributing their analysis of the project until last week, as it only gave the city a matter of days to meet and provide feedback.

Despite discussions about potential Brown Act violations, the council agreed to designate Gaasterland as the representative at the June 8 Coastal Commission meeting and present the council’s feedback.

City Attorney Leslie Devaney and City Manager Ashley Jones did not respond to requests for comment from The Coast News.