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Del Mar prioritizes use of city resources

DEL MAR — Presented with a to-do list of 31 projects and not nearly enough money or staff to complete them all, City Council spent more than four hours discussing its priorities for the current and upcoming fiscal years during a Jan. 8 retreat with department heads at Sbicca Bistro.
City Manager Karen Brust said trying to complete all projects in the next year is unrealistic, while Mayor Richard Earnest said the community would be better served if the city focused on completing a few projects well.
In the end, council members directed staff to continue moving forward with half of the projects, deferring the others for at least six to 12 months. Most of the projects that will receive immediate attention are already under way, important to the city’s financial solvency, crucial to public safety or public service delivery or mandated by local, state or federal laws.
The 15 projects staff will be devoting time to are construction of the Torrey Pines Bridge and 21st Street pump station, revenue recovery from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the housing element update, a pedestrian and bicycle circulation element plan, utility undergrounding in the North Hills and Sunset neighborhoods, retiring the Shores property debt, renewing the Winston School lease, creating an ordinance that would broaden the transient occupancy tax to include short-term vacation rentals, reviewing the fairgrounds master plan and environmental impact report, fire safety, the 17th Street beach safety center, adopting form-based code for downtown revitalization, developing a model landscape ordinance and the Southern California Edison beach access.
Council members also want to push forward with a request for proposals to replace City Hall, which Councilman Mark Filanc described as “embarrassing,” although they acknowledged staff time and funding for the project are not available. The Finance Committee will be directed to continue its work on that project until staff can focus more attention on it at the end of the year.
“I’m not for deferring it, period,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said, adding that the city should increase its use of citizen advisory committees.
“Ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do for your city,” he said.
Council did, however, defer action on a pilot program that would narrow Camino del Mar to one southbound lane and add angled parking between 12th and 15th streets. Brian Mooney, interim planning director, will still present updated details on that project next month.
Brust said the number of projects council opted to move forward with “is a work plan (staff) can handle.”
“It’s ambitious but it’s doable,” Brust said. “We need staff to be focused so we can have success this year.” Brust cautioned against adding any more projects because with the bridge, utility undergrounding, beach safety center, pump station and downtown streetscape improvements it will look like the entire city is under construction.
“We may have to go to boats to get people in and out of here,” she joked.
Council members said they would also like to see form-based code, which requires voter approval, on the ballot this November. But before that can happen, the project will require a certified environmental impact report, which was estimated to cost between $125,000 and $150,000. The ballot measure is due to the registrar of voters by Aug. 6, which means the EIR would have to be completed by June. With no current funding and only $50,000 available in the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, it seems likely that project will not move forward this year.
Council also opted to defer its decision on a Tourism Business Improvement District that is being developed by the city’s hoteliers. The district would add a 1 percent fee to all hotel room stays. The money would be used to, among other things, promote tourism within the city.
Overall, Earnest said he was pleased with the results of the meeting. “Nobody likes to say no to things people want, but we have to deliver services within our means,” he said.