The Coast News Group
Del Mar City Hall. File photo
Del Mar City Hall. File photo
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Del Mar looks to business and financial recovery, improving communication

DEL MAR — A recent Del Mar City Council discussion about guiding values and priorities touched on myriad subjects, including business recovery, stabilized city finances and improving communication with residents and amongst councilmembers.

“I only have one [topmost] goal for the next four years, and that is that we get out of our fiscal crisis,” Councilman Dave Druker said at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting. “All we’re going to be doing at this point is keeping the doors open and … essential services the city provides.”

“We’re going to be enduring [the effects of COVID] and then trying to recover from it for quite a few years,” City Manager CJ Johnson said.

“The finances of Del Mar are too much related to tourism,” Druker said. “Tourism is just not going to come back, specifically at the Fairgrounds [a major driver of sales tax revenue], until June 2022. And then we’ve got another year after that, where we are going to be just paying back all the pension reserves and building up our contingency reserve,” which the council earlier tapped to plug a COVID-induced budget shortfall.

Del Mar also depends more heavily on hotel taxes than other North County coastal cities, as The Coast News reported June. At the time, Del Mar faced revenue contraction over the present fiscal year on the order of 20%, compared to 3% in Encinitas and 4% in Solana Beach.

Councilmembers didn’t discuss whether or how to diversify revenues in the future.

“Fostering business recovery, including the Fairgrounds,” ranked among “major challenges” Mayor Terry Gaasterland anticipates over the next year, she said.

State and county COVID-19 restrictions “obliterated” the Fairgrounds’ business model, which “is almost exclusively reliant upon events and mass gatherings,” according to a November financial report.

“Dealing with the Fairgrounds future is a priority for us, we want to be a player in whatever’s going to happen over there,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “Their future is up in the air.”

Some business owners “feel … we could be friendlier and more flexible,” Councilwoman Tracy Martinez said. “[We should] look for ways to say yes, instead of no” to businesses. “We can maybe streamline … or fast-track permits.”

Though Druker cautioned: “The regulations are in place, just like with our residents, to ensure that the development of Del Mar is done on an orderly basis. … The business community is going to have to show how [scaling back regulations] will make their business more successful.”

Councilmembers generally agreed they want to communicate well, both with each other and with the public. Though they offered differing perspectives on what that should look like.

“The major thing, in terms of how can we each facilitate a good working relationship, is for us to understand that our interpretation of the facts is not going to be the same,” Druker said. “Just because it’s … 60 degrees out right now, for some of us that means it’s cold, [for] some it means it’s hot, [for] some it means it’s just right.”

“The facts are the facts,” Worden said. “We should start with the premise that if it’s 60 degrees out, it’s 60 degrees out.”

More than just philosophical musing, these differing views have directly impacted policy and the recent city council election.

For instance, councilmembers for months have disagreed about whether plausible alternatives to a controversial affordable housing plan exist at all, much less how to adjudicate them. The subject hot on the campaign trail, and also fueled a recent voter referendum to overturn a related controversial re-zoning decision.

Councilmembers have also long disagreed about whether official jobs forecasts, which help drive cities’ state-mandated affordable housing targets, are valid.

“Social equity drives me, and I am concerned about Del Mar that we don’t have as much of that as we should and could,” Worden said. “There’s more written in our draft housing [plan] about social equity than there is about [affordable housing target] numbers, and [yet] we spend most of our time talking about the [methodology used to derive the] numbers.”

Presently, “the [official] vision for the city of Del Mar is to be a residential community with a vibrant downtown, and a tranquil place of natural beauty where residents and visitors feel safe, and enjoy opportunities for recreation and entertainment,” City Clerk Ashley Jones said.

Councilmembers didn’t respond to a request for comment.