DEL MAR — City officials have authorized an investigation into alleged misconduct by an unidentified elected official on the Del Mar City Council amidst criticism from Deputy Mayor Dan Quirk about how the city handles discussions about a street repair project.
The alleged conduct includes public disclosure of confidential closed session information and “potential violation of city code, policies and contractual obligations related to interactions with the city manager, city staff and third-party consultants,” City Attorney Leslie Devaney said at the council’s Sept. 5 meeting.
Devaney declined to share which council member is at the center of the inquiry due to the sensitive nature of the investigation, which she said will be led by a third-party investigator and hopefully be completed within 60 days.
“There isn’t an expected time frame on the investigation since the investigator needs to schedule interviews and conduct the independent investigations,” Devaney said in a Sept. 6 email.
The City Council authorized the investigation in early August during a special closed-session-only meeting, but it was not announced until the next open session on Sept. 5. Devaney said this is the first such investigation in her 15 years with the city.
Meanwhile, Quirk has been at the center of a fraught conversation around what should be discussed in closed session.
Last week, Quirk criticized the city for discussing the pricing of a road repair project along San Dieguito Drive in a closed session in July. He also notified Devaney and City Manager Ashley Jones that he would not be attending further closed sessions in which this project would be discussed.
“I believe the closed session format (which is generally used for legal issues and does not allow for normal public participation) was intentionally used to shield the City from legitimate public comment and criticism of the project, including from Council Members and me in particular. I would like the public to know that I am in strong disagreement that any further discussions on this issue be discussed in closed session,” Quirk said in a Sept. 5 email to residents.
The project plans to repair a private stretch of San Dieguito Drive from Oribia Road to Racetrack View Drive after years of residents complaining about the deteriorated road’s numerous potholes, uneven surfacing and drainage issues.
By bringing the deteriorated road up to San Diego County standards, the city plans to take on the regular maintenance that has historically been left to residents.
Devaney said the closed session discussion around the project in July was solely regarding legal issues associated with different funding options and that other project details were not permitted to be discussed except in open session.
She also directly advised Quirk against skipping closed session meetings, stating that it’s important for council members to understand the legal background of specific issues when they discuss them with constituents. Not doing so could land him in legal trouble, she said.
“I again would urge the Deputy Mayor not to recuse himself from hearing about legal issues on any subject. I would not want that to result in personal liability for him and added liability for the city,” Devaney said.
San Dieguito repair project
Following two decades of back-and-forth talks with residents, the city initiated the process of studying repair options for this specific part of San Dieguito Road last fall.
During the past few months, the city held lengthy discussions with residents of the 14 homes in the project area regarding design options developed by Michael Baker International, or MBI.
Residents unanimously supported a minimal design involving repaving the road, widening it to 20 feet, implementing rolling curbs, and enhancing drainage systems.
On Sept. 5, the council approved a second $155,400 task order for MBI to develop further design and construction plans in a 4-1 vote, with Quirk opposing. Actual construction is roughly planned to begin next spring.
“I want to thank everyone, the council, the city staff and the residents for designing a road that we can all agree on,” said Beth Westburg, one of the residents living along the road.
The chosen design also comes with an estimated cost of around $1.3 million — a decrease from the $2.5 million estimation last year — with the option of adding a sewer for another $1 million.
Costs will likely be split between the city and residents via a tax assessment district, although the cost-sharing terms remain to be determined.
Quirk said while he supports repairing the road, he is concerned about the estimated cost. He referred to another quote from a different contractor, Peters Paving & Grading, that residents obtained last August for an estimate of road repair costs, which cited a price of around $179,000.
“Here we have a quote from a contractor, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but … there’s such a huge cost differential there that I think it demands a more in-depth analysis,” he said.
However, Majid Kharrati, one of the Oribia Road residents involved in obtaining the quote, said it was focused on temporary fixes to the road versus the long-term solutions pursued by the city. City officials also agreed and said the two estimates are not comparable.
“That estimate is not for a public street, that estimate is to provide relief,” Kharrati said. “It’s a completely different thing.”
Other San Dieguito Drive and Oribia Road residents did not appear to share Quirk’s concerns about the cost or the closed-session discussion. However, they urged the city to continue developing plans and considering cost-sharing options.
“This is really important, it’s a matter of public safety,” said resident Amy Cheshire. “We need to go on to the next phase and need to make sure we don’t kick this down the road.”